What are the critical factors to consider when choosing an international school for your children? Education consultant Santhi Latha gives her advice.
Many parents are opting for an international school education because of concerns about the quality of education in the public school system. The increase in the number of international schools in the country is testament to a growing need. There are now more than 100 international schools nationally offering a range of international curricula, with tuition fees ranging from between RM25,000 and RM100,000 per year.
Parents looking for an international school for their children are now inundated with options. While there are a variety of considerations that may influence the decision making process, as a general rule, there are three key factors.
Parents making the decision to educate their children at an international school are conscious that it is a large financial commitment, and, as such, try to ensure that they are able to afford the long-term commitment before signing up. While the majority of international schools increase their tuition fees by about 2-5% per year (something parents need to confirm with the individual schools), the main costs for parents come in the first year of enrolment because of the need to pay registration fees, the refundable deposits, and a host of other miscellaneous fees, which can be substantial. Because of this, parents are strongly encouraged to do some advance financial planning when deciding to enrol their children at an international school.
As a consequence of the financial commitment, parents are selective about when to enroll their children in an international school. The common options are to enrol the child at the following points:
(1) Primary 1: This means a commitment of at least 11 years in this system.
(2) Secondary 1: This is a good option as the transition can be seamless, particularly where the child has had constant exposure to the English Language in their early years.
(3) Secondary 4: This is useful, particularly if the child is being enrolled into a British curriculum school. Key factors that influence parents to enrol their child at this point are as follows: the financial commitment is for a mere two years; and the child will be able to complete their pre-tertiary education with an international syllabus and, arguably, have better options for higher education.
The location of the school and the travelling time required for the child, particularly for primary school, play a big role in the decision-making process. Parents are usually keen to ensure that the child does not spend more than an hour travelling each way; and that the transportation facilities available are safe, reliable and affordable.
In considering this, parents must not only take into account the main school schedule, but also consider the implications of children staying back after school for a variety of extracurricular activities. Many international schools have a robust structure of activities outside school hours, and access to these may mean that alternative transportation arrangements will have to be available for the child on certain days of the week. This may, in turn, have cost and other implications for the family.
Reputation of the School
Parents usually explore this by looking at several factors including the following:
(1) The academic performance of the school: This must be considered when making a decision as the results attained by the school are reflective of the quality of teaching and learning that takes place. Parents should ask questions about the number of students who sit for the international assessments each year, and the pass and score rates to understand this.
(2) The ratio of expatriate teachers versus local teachers: While much has been said elsewhere about the ratio of expatriate teachers and how this may be important, the fact is that the country of origin of a particular teacher or group of teachers is less important than their academic qualifications. What is important is whether the teachers are trained and how; whether the school has a structured platform to ensure effective delivery of the curriculum (as opposed to leaving it entirely in a teacher’s hands about how the curriculum is covered); and how regularly the students are assessed at the school.
While a larger proportion of expatriate teachers may mean that the school may have to charge higher fees to cover their costs, this does not necessarily mean that the quality of education at such a school is assured. It is imperative that parents are able to ask the right questions when making this decision, and, arguably, the country of origin of the teaching faculty may not be as critical a factor as generally perceived.
(3) The general administration of the school: What support mechanisms are in place to ensure that the school administration is responsive to parent and student concerns is a good indicator about whether you and your child are likely to be happy with the school. How quickly the school responds to email or phone inquiries about the children, and how accessible the Head Teacher or Principal is, count for a lot in determining the efficiency of the school administration.
There are many more factors that parents take into account, including the focus given to academic and non-academic content, the actual curriculum used, and the age of commencement and completion of school education.
As parents grapple with the choices available to them, it is recommended that the child be included in the decision-making process, as it sets the tone for adjustment and commitment on the part of both parents and the child. Not all international schools are the same, nor are all parents and students equally committed to reaching exactly the same goals. Parents often compare schools without taking into account the key strengths and weaknesses of a school in relation to their child’s needs. The trick is to find the right balance.