We don’t all wait to move abroad until we retire – some of us want to see more of the world and experience life abroad and take our children on this journey with us. However, what this invariably means for expatriating parents is that they have to face a very real challenge when working out how best to handle the educational needs of their children once they’re living abroad.
We don’t all choose or necessarily have the choice to live overseas in a first world nation with excellent education establishments on our doorstep. Even if we do, we soon realise that concerns about schooling aren’t limited to those parents who move to countries where schools are known to be sub standard or where education is vastly expensive. Even in countries such as the United Kingdom, where the free state education system is regarded as one of the best in the world, parents are sometimes faced with the fact that the schools they have access to are overcrowded, poorly taught or rife with drugs, bullies and thieves.
Therefore, what are the real and workable choices that all expatriate parents have when it comes to the quality and consistent education of their expat children?
In this report we’re going to look at your options, examining the pros and cons of each. We are going to arm you with the facts about what is possible so that you can do the very best for your children. After all, as adults we know that knowledge is power – and we want our children to be empowered too.
State Schooling Abroad
If you’re moving abroad and are certain that your move will be a permanent one to your chosen nation, then if free state schooling exists, it is an option that you might like to consider. You need to be fairly certain that you will not move country again however, as this may upset your child’s schooling significantly and for a second time.
If the country you’re moving to speaks a different language to your child’s mother tongue then state schooling will only really be appropriate if your child is young enough to integrate socially and linguistically. It will not be an ideal option if your child is above the age of about 9 years old when learning a language and “fitting in” becomes much more difficult. Furthermore, if you’re moving your child abroad and they are approaching the critical years when traditionally exams are undertaken, you need to think very carefully at how they will be able to adapt to a new school system at this stressful point in their lives.
The positive aspects of state schooling your children in your new nation of choice will be that yes, they may learn any new language more quickly and they will certainly make friends and benefit from invaluable social interaction very early on. This can help them make the transition from home to abroad more smoothly as they build up their own support network of friends. Cons include the fact that the curriculum studied may be significantly different to that which your child is used to. There may be emphasis placed on certain cultural or religious topics that you feel are inappropriate for your child and ultimately, the quality of teaching and the quality of the learning environment and experience for your child may be substandard.
Boarding School Back Home
If you want to maintain consistency for your child you may choose to send them to a boarding school in the nation you’re moving away from. If they’re already attending this school then the only real hurdle you will have to overcome is speed and ease of access to your child in an emergency. However, if your child does not already attend a boarding school, the thought of having to move away from home at a relatively young age may be very traumatic. On top of that not having constant support from their parents and of having to make new friends whilst facing feelings of abandonment could create an absolutely horrendous experience for your child. You need to think incredibly carefully about your child, and about whether you feel they are robust enough to cope with such a transition – and whether, if they can cope, they will benefit significantly from your financial sacrifice. After all, quality boarding schools are not cheap!
The third option increasingly open to expatriate parents is an international school education in their new nation of choice. There are international schools in many nations worldwide – and because education is an easy way for some to make money, more international schools are springing up all the time. The benefits associated with using an international school for the education of your child is that your child can potentially continue studying the same curriculum in the same language as they are used to already. What’s more, some international schools form part of a network, and if you have to relocate again, you may be able to move your child from one school in the network to another, maintaining consistency of schooling.
International schools are not without their issues. They are expensive for a start! Additionally your child may not integrate with local children which could make it more difficult for them to feel at home in your new nation. You may have to travel quite a distance to get your child to school, you may face a long waiting list to get your child into the school you want. Far worse than all of these cons is the fact that the teachers in many international schools are not actually qualified to teach! Do not assume that just because a school is teaching an American, British or French curriculum for example, that the teachers will be qualified to teach that curriculum. Each school needs to be assessed closely on its own merits and you need to look beyond exam achievements to see how well-qualified and experienced key teaching staff are. Also take note of what the facilities are like at the school, what their policies are on integration, anti-bullying and student support.
Home Schooling Your Expatriate Children
If you’re not comfortable with the options discussed so far, there is a fourth alternative that you might like to consider…however, it is a controversial option that is significantly underrated in terms of its merits, and significantly criticised by those ignorant of its benefits. The fourth option is home schooling your children. A recent feature in the British newspaper the Sunday Times really brought the debate about home schooling into the public domain by highlighting that this less than conventional approach can have incredibly broad, deeply beneficial and lasting advantages.
In the feature, a high achieving Oxford University law student explains how his parents chose to home school him after his primary school in the UK closed when he was 8 years old, leaving them with less than ideal local state school choices for his ongoing studies. The student, who is the subject of the feature, doesn’t avoid the controversy that surrounds home schooling, and instead meets every criticism head on with evidence to counter the negative, closed minded opinions that most people seem to hold true when it comes to the thought of parents teaching their children at home.
The cons of home schooling for expatriate parents are similar to those faced by the Sunday Times’ featured student – for example, social integration issues. Expats also have to think about how exclusive home schooling could restrict their child’s language development if they’re living in a country where their child’s mother tongue is not spoken. Of course, each of these issues is relatively simply overcome though – your child could spend their nursery years at a local kindergarten and make friends and learn the language there. Older children could be encouraged to get involved with local events, clubs and sports teams in a bid to help them socially interact, make local friends and develop their language skills. Expatriate parents can also reach out to other expats in the area and arrange times and events so that their children can get together.
You see, home schooling is all about taking absolute control and responsibility for your child’s education, and the more you put in to it the better the results will be. Home schooling for expatriate children can make absolute sense because it ensures a child’s education is not interrupted by a move abroad. It ensures children are not subjected to racial bullying at school, it means you can keep a very close eye on their development and supplement your own teaching with external tutorial support where necessary. One of the biggest benefits of all though is that you can develop an exceptionally close and rewarding bond with your children.
For some expat parents it is a choice which they embrace, for others it is born out of necessity. Maria Spencer expatriated to live in South America when her children were 3 and 5 years old – their nursery years were spent at a local ‘jardin’ or kindergarten where they made many friends, learnt exceptionally good Spanish and thrived. However, when it came time for them to move on to primary level education, the options open to Maria were less than ideal. One school had such huge class sizes that teachers were overwhelmed, another had such severe discipline issues that a pupil’s physical wellbeing was at threat on a daily basis, and another had such basic hygiene issues that would not be acceptable to any of us.
In addition to these stresses, Maria found that her children were learning very little in a teaching environment where pupils were simply copying facts off a chalkboard and where they were actively discouraged from asking any questions whatsoever. “Home schooling for me went from a serious consideration to an actual reality almost overnight when I researched the support networks available for parents and their student children, and realised how much better my children could fare under my own personal tutelage.
“I have faced massive criticism from those who don’t understand the benefits and rewards my children are embracing, and if I couldn’t see how my children have flourished I would perhaps have begun to doubt my decision. However, I wake up to the proof that I made the right decision every day when I’m the one being dragged into the classroom by my kids who have a million questions they want my help researching and answering!
“Of course I’d be a liar if I said it was plain sailing from the outset! Some days I wake up and like all of us, I think I’d rather not have to switch into work mode. What’s more, it can be frustrating when your children reach a point in a given subject where they perhaps get stuck. However, I now realise that instead of being left behind, which is what would happen in a school environment if they were stuck on a subject, I can invest additional time in getting them successfully beyond anything which they find particularly difficult.”
In reality Maria Spencer did not take the decision to home school her children lightly, she spent months researching resources that are available to guide her and support her children. A robust internet connection is ideal to reach out and get the teaching support and resources you need. Many educational support sites have demo lessons that you can try out with your children making it easy to assess which ones they favour without spending a dime.
There are many good learning sites for very reasonable monthly fees. Most sites offer the option to cancel or suspend the membership easily. You need to spend time looking for an option that suits you and you may need to combine two or more learning resource sites to cover your curriculum. Full program curriculum with materials and lesson plans included are available at a higher price if a home schooling parent feels they need that level of support and resources.
Cons you may need to consider and counter include being together at home with your children all day. This can be balanced by encouraging your children to go to after school clubs and events and having spouse, partner or friend support to take care of your children for a few hours to give you each the space you need. You also need to be time disciplined daily to ensure that you get enough hours of schooling in each week – and your children have to accept and understand that when you’re in teacher mode, they listen!
Parents who home school seldom get the support and recognition they deserve and this can lead to feelings of inadequacy. You can counter these by looking at how far your children have advanced. Finally, home schooling is a massive commitment – but the rewards are manifold, after all, just being able to take your vacations in term time is brilliant!