The Expat Friend Blog

Choosing a School Overseas?

One of the hardest things about moving overseas is how it will affect your loved ones, but especially children, if you have them. It was the one thing that I spent the most sleepless nights on. There are many issues to consider, including how they'll adapt to their new lives, whether they'll make new friends and how best to continue their education. If you plan on sending them to school, you'll have to think about whether your children will do better in a private, local or international setting. 

If you plan on sending them to school, you'll have to think about whether your children will do better in a private, local or international setting. 

In Cape Town, we sent our children to a local former Model C school, which received government funding but was administered and largely funded by the parent body. Here in Mauritius, they attend an international school. Though each provided very different experiences they have enjoyed both. In South Africa, we decided to wait until we arrived before finding a school as it was too difficult to arrange from a distance. We taught them at home for a few months until we'd found the right place. Though it took a while to establish a routine, home-schooling was nice while it lasted, and gave us time to explore our local area and settle them into their new lives. 

We asked work colleagues and our neighbours for their views on local schools and eventually chose one not far from where we lived. It was absolutely the best choice, and our children loved it. We had to have an interview, and they needed to complete a few tests before being accepted. It gave them an amazing opportunity to learn local languages including Xhosa and Afrikaans, and find out about the history and culture of their new adopted country. A proportion of the fees paid went towards funding scholarships for gifted children from less privileged areas, and our children made friends with people from all kinds of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.  

One of the biggest obstacles we found was that our daughters were put back a year, due to the fact that South African children start school a year later than their UK counterparts. Rather than place them with older kids, the school thought it best to keep them with children their own age. Luckily, parts of the curriculum were different, so they had new things to learn about and weren't bored. It was also helpful for my oldest daughter who had struggled at times with maths in the UK; she was able to go back over some of the things she found difficult to understand and preferred the South African way of teaching the subject. She now studies mathematics at a higher level. 

In Mauritius we chose an international school, as being on a small island there was considerably less choice. We decided to send them to an English speaking school because our children were older and had no French language skills. They're currently learning French and, as many Mauritians send their children to English schools, are surrounded by French speakers all the time. This has given them a much gentler introduction to the language. Though this type of schooling is expensive and sounds quite grand, we find the level of teaching is comparable to the other schools that they have attended.

Though there are lots of positives, one of the biggest drawbacks of sending them to an international school is that some children are only there for a short time, and then move on. This can make things easier when you're the newbie, but much harder when you have made good friends and then lose them. 

If you're wondering about the potential advantages and disadvantages to the different school systems, here are a few things we have found out through our own experiences: 

International School

Positives 

  • they will meet lots of children in the same situation as them
  • they'll potentially have friends from lots of different countries 
  • can follow the same curriculum no matter where they are living 
  • local people often send their kids to international schools too
  • will be taught in your child's first language 
  • can offer a good selection of school trips and after school activities  

Negatives

  • can be VERY expensive (fees, uniforms, school trips, equipment etc)
  • kids often come and go so they can make and lose good friends easily 
  • quality can vary greatly from school to school

Local School 

Positives

  • they will be fully immersed in the culture and language of your new country
  • they'll make local friends 
  • it's a much cheaper option

Negatives 

  • older children might find it hard to adapt to new languages or teaching methods
  • the curriculum might not be compatible with that of your home country 
  • the year structure might be different (some children start school earlier / later in life)

Questions to ask yourself before making a decision 

  • How long are you planning on staying? If you're thinking more short-term then might an international school that follows the same, or a similar, curriculum be the best option?
  • If your child is young, might a local school be a better choice initially? Small children integrate and learn the language/customs comparatively easily. 
  • If your child is older, or you plan to stay indefinitely, what kind of further education is available to them? If you're from the UK for example and want them to do A'levels you'll need to check what the school offers. Many international schools offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) instead.  
  • Do you plan to home-school? If so, it's worth remembering that in some countries it's illegal. These include Germany, Greece, Sweden and the Netherlands. 

You can find out more about our experiences of educating our children overseas in my book.

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