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Editorial: Should you send your child to an international or a local school?

Updated 13 Mar 2012

The question of what school your child will attend in a new country is one that many expats have to face. Having been to an international school and having many friends who went to both local and international schools, Aneil Fatania offers some insights into the pros and cons of local and international schools.

One of the principle concerns many expats face is ensuring that their children receive the best possible education while living abroad; this, however, is a feat that can be fraught with complications. 

While every country’s education system is different, and while one must be wary of making sweeping country-wide generalisations about education, there are some universal conclusions that one can draw about certain types of schools.

While not every expat will have the option of sending their child to either a local school or an international one, those that do will need to realise that it’s important to understand the benefits and disadvantages of these two different types of schools. 

Quality and cost

In some countries, such as France, the state education system is of a high standard and local schools will often offer an education system that is as good as or even better than the curricula adhered to at various international schools, and most importantly, it won’t cost you a penny.

This is not necessarily always the case though, so first and foremost, expats should research the local public system, and evaluate whether or not it would be a plausible option. This process includes consulting with individual schools, with networks of expats who’ve had similar experiences and with families who have students currently enrolled in the schools. 

Also for consideration is the fact that international schools around the world almost always have higher fees than public schools, yet they may not necessarily offer anything close to the quality of education or facilities that certain public or state schools can offer.

Cultural pros and cons

Furthermore, aside from offering the same level of quality, local schools also have the potential to provide a platform on which children can quickly become fluent in the local language. Chances are that children who attend local schools will also learn and understand the customs and culture of the local country much quicker; something which is important, especially if you intend to stay in a country long-term. 

Being part of a local school community will also help you, as a parent, to become more involved in local events and issues, thereby giving you greater insight and appreciation for the country you’re in.  

On the other hand, children who go to international schools often find themselves neither part of the culture of the country they are in, nor the country they are from, merely an approximation of it.  

Thus, when they go to university they may find that many of their peers have completely different cultural touchstones, despite the fact that they went through the same education system.

If your child is attending an international school, it may be worth getting them involved in extramural activities, such as sports or social clubs, outside of their school. This may help them to meet and make friends with children from the local community, and it may encourage them to become better acquainted with the local language and culture.

University and college admission

The opportunities for further studies abroad or in a child’s home country may be more limited with a local school. Sending your child to an international school helps to broaden these prospects, and provides the opportunity to choose between a local university or one in your home country (depending on the teaching of your child’s first language).  At a time when university slots are scarce and fees are high, increasing the number of institutions your child can apply to may be worthwhile.

A compromise

Making a decision between local and international schools is often very difficult, and there are a lot of competing interests that must be balanced.  However, a good compromise is to send your children to a local school when they are young so that they get the benefit of becoming bilingual, then sending them to an international school for the last portion of their education.

This ensures that they get the best of both worlds; a second language, an experience of the local culture, local and international friends and a leg-up on furthering their education either in their adopted country or abroad. 

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