By World Family Education
National schools may be a great option for some families, especially those desiring to adapt as much as possible to local culture and language.
OVERVIEWBenefits of National School Education
- School provides language and cultural immersion.
- It frees parents from some educational responsibilities.
- Students have access to school-related activities.
- School may have high academic standards.
- School may have a comfortable and positive learning environment.
- Students will have a routine and continuity with local friends.
- A teacher may potentially follow students through primary grades.
Potential Difficulties of National School Education
- There is a potential of not being accepted by peers.
- Motivation at the school may be more negative than positive.
- Teaching methods may be more rote and shallow than expected.
- Higher-level thinking skills and subject integration may not be valued.
- High level of language acquisition is needed for success.
- Discipline may be viewed and implemented very differently than expected.
- There may be a distinct difference in discipline in the class compared to unstructured settings.
- Investment in remediation and supplemental instruction (home language) may be significant.
- There is potential for underpaid teachers and poorly maintained buildings.
- Parental choice and involvement may be lower than expected.
- There is a possibility of unwanted cultural and religious pressures.
Things to Consider
- What are your goals for language and culture acquisition, and will you be in the country long enough to benefit?
- What are your goals for academics, and will a local school enhance the chance for higher education?
- How well do you know your child’s personality, temperament, learning styles, motivation, and health status?
- Do you have a reliable way of knowing when your child is under stress or discomfort?
- How much time and how many resources do you have to support and supplement your child’s education?
- Does your child have any special learning/behavioral needs, and can the school meet those?
- Will you need to supplement learning in your home language, and how will you do that?
- Do you have access to tutors and extracurricular activities?
- Do you have local friends/advocates who can help you navigate the local school experience?
- How will choosing a local school impact your work?
- What worldview and philosophical approaches to education will be different from those in your home country?
- What are the roles of the teacher in and out of the classroom?
- Are you prepared for the many cultural traditions and expectations that are assumed, but not written?
- Have other international families used the local school you are considering?
- Have you talked to community members and school parents about the reputation and quality of the school?
- How open and accommodating is the school to international students?
- Does the school offer a transition period with flexibility and leniency in grades and policy?
- Does the school allow for part-time attendance in general or as a transition strategy?
- Does the school offer support for culture and language acquisition, such as tutoring or mentoring?
- Does the school maintain the facilities and provide a safe environment?
- How much will you as a parent be able to participate in the classroom if needed?
Schools in your host country will be either public or private. Both will likely follow similar guidelines in terms of educational outcomes and national test results, but they will go about the process in different ways.
It would helpful to get a picture of the general education system in your host country. You can find your host country in this Wikipedia list of education entries for each country. Also, World Education News and Reviews has a nice educational profile for most countries you may find yourself in.
If you are considering using a local public school, be sure to check educational regulations and visa requirements, and make sure you are eligible to enter your kids in the school. You should account for any differences in how your host country calculates age/grade placements. Make sure their school calendar matches your transition and travel schedule.
In most local public schools, instruction is in the local language, so if needed, be sure there is some type of remediation and language learning support available. If your child is entering at a very young age, this may not be an issue. In some countries, schools are experimenting with dual language programs mixing local and major international languages like English, and this might be a great option for some families.
Read more from World Family Education about Helping Your Child Learn a New Language, which includes resources for language-learning.
Make sure you have a good understanding of the school’s local accreditation and any international accreditation it may have earned. (See the most widely used international accrediting bodies at the World Family Education page about International School Accreditation.) Many private schools will offer instruction in English or other major international language, and this may be a major variable to consider.
Keep in mind that the curriculum will be different than your home country’s system. It might mean that you need to find a way to systematically and periodically assess how your child is progressing in relation to peers in your home country. You may need to supplement areas of weakness with materials from your home country. This may be particularly true in areas related to your home country’s language. You should educate yourself about academic assessments in your home country.
Whether you choose a public or private local school, do some research and find out what people are saying about the school. Ideally, talk to parents of current students if possible. Try to get an idea of the culture of the school. Ask about realistic academic goals and pressures, discipline models and methods, peer pressure and bullying, and how international students have fared in the past.
Local Culture & Religion
Local schools will be strongly influenced by local culture and norms that will impact the school’s view of students, role of the teacher and parents, motivation and discipline models, and definition of success. These will be assumed to be understood by all but are not written in policy.
Consider the religious climate in the schools you look at. In countries with a strong national religion, you may find a strong religious bias in the public schools. Private schools may also have bias, but in a different direction than the public schools.
Monitor Your Child
Once you have settled your child in a local school, keep close watch on their stress levels. Make communication a priority, and stay connected with the school and teachers in a friendly, supportive way. Monitor your child’s progress, especially in language and culture acquisition and fluency. Make use of local language tuition if needed. Your child should be evaluated periodically for progress in your home language so that you can supplement with tutoring as needed.
Why choose a local school overseas? — Article at Expat Child that covers a few things to consider when deciding if your child should attend a national school.
Why local schools can be better for expat kids — A great explanation for why a national school can be your child’s best educational option.
Singapore: Should Expats Enroll Their Child in a Local or International School in Singapore? — A comparison between schools in Singapore that considers the pros and cons of each kind.
The Netherlands: Going local: Dutch public schools for expat families — Why one family chose to send their children to national schools in the Netherlands, and the challenges and successes they faced there.
United Kingdom: Placing a Foreign Student in a UK School — An overview of what foreigners may face when they place their children in a UK national school.