“She’s a Kiwi but she went to school in Singapore!” The rumours quickly circulated, the day Hayley joined our fourth form social studies class. We hadn’t heard of international schools and Hayley seemed exotic and worldly. In hindsight, of more significance, Hayley was well-adjusted and slotted in to a new school with more ease then most newcomers. Her ability to adapt socially, academically and culturally was an advertisement for her international schooling education.

One website, ourkids.net, boasts that international schools will boost a child’s personality, academics and career potential. Another, Newsweek, says that international schools offer a holistic education which helps students learn to develop tolerance and form friendships which transcend traditional barriers and differences. It suggests day to day situations become opportunities to educate the students beyond their own cultural mind sets.

The first international schools were founded in the late 19th century to cater for families constantly on the move. Diplomats, missionaries and people who worked for international companies helped found the international school system in an effort to provide an education for their children. Initially they were based on nationality, for example, French families would send their children to schools based on a French curriculum; similarly, American military families often attended Department of Defense Dependents Schools.

Gradually, globalisation has helped expand the scope of international schools beyond these national boundaries. While many international schools use curricula based on the school’s country of origin, such as a British or American curriculum, others adopt an international curriculum like the International Baccalaureate or the Cambridge International Examination system. The rationale is that a student’s education needs to be transferable, as there is more transience in international schools.

Generally, international schools receive a lot of praise. The standard of teaching tends to be high and students typically emerge with a quality education. One of the main criticisms directed at international schools is that they only cater for wealthy and privileged students and serve to widen the inequality in education.

Lauranne Croot, a recruitment agent from Teachanywhere says that in some international schools the fee-paying parents can dictate to the teachers they want teaching their children. A swift glance of the blogs and online forums suggest that this is true in some cases, with some teachers recounting instances of being blackmailed by parents.

The other common concern emerging on the forums was the way international schools are commercialising education. Certainly, many do operate like a company, with a director at the forefront of the operation, some allegedly with more interest in the commercial side than the staff or pupils.

However, the business model can work to the benefit of all if run under effective leadership. Academic Colleges Group (ACG) is an example of a successful growing educational business, with many teachers and students singing its praises. With seven schools in New Zealand, two in Vietnam and one in Indonesia, ACG has over 5000 students and 500 teaching staff from 40 countries, and caters from kindergarten to university entrance. It uses the Cambridge system.

Interestingly, and perhaps fuel for the inequality argument, some international schools are not available to local families. This will soon be the case for New Zealand International School (NZIS) in Jakarta, Indonesia, which currently has 329 students from 34 different nationalities. Some Indonesian families used to send their children to NZIS but a new law prohibiting Indonesian children to attend international schools until the age of 10 is set to come into play next year.

NZIS principal, Raewyn Ashby told Eduvac earlier this year that she understands the reasoning behind the law change.

“They want to maintain their language and their culture. Particularly civics and religion is very strong here, and if you lose that, the more westernised the country becomes.”

However, parents like to make their own choices and the law change has not been favoured by everyone.

Ashby says she is conscious of giving back to the local community. The school employs Indonesian Bahasa among its secondary staff. There are also a large number of teaching assistants, with some joining as part of a year-long internship programme after having graduated with an English degree from local universities.

Despite the politics, Ashby told Eduvac that they haven’t lost sight of their educational goals.

“Many schools are run as businesses. But we are not here for business, we are actually here for education and to be able to use the skills of our teachers who come here and have much to offer.”

It certainly seems each international school differs from the next and any attempt to classify them is difficult. For every critic, there is an advocate. It has been said the true test of a school is whether you would send your own children to your school. In Hayley’s instance, the answer is yes. Now married with three children, she hopes they will experience the benefits of an international school, just like she did.

Source: Education Review


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