Samuel Fraser, Head of Asia Research, ISC Research

An Education Consultant based in South East Asia Sam is focused on the research field. He is currently the Head of Asia Research at ISC Research. ISC Research is the leading provider of data and intelligence within the world’s English-medium K-12 international schools market. The company produces independent, primary sourced market data, and also supplies trends and intelligence to inform investment and development potential within the market. Products and services include a range of reports and a database platform. ISC Research was established in 1994 and has specialized in the international education sector since then.

There has never been so much opportunity for children to receive an international education. Sending your child overseas to board is no longer the only solution.  If you live in or near any major Asian city, you may be aware of at least one international school, if not many.

 More Schools, More Opportunities

Just 20 years ago, the international schools that existed, mostly served expatriate children. They were few and far between, and not many local families had the opportunity or the means to get their child admitted to their local international school.

However, as more international schools have opened, so they have become accessible to many more families, both expatriate and local. Today there are almost 11,000 international schools around the world, including 31 countries with over 100 international schools. They include China with 884 schools, India with 708, UAE with 664. A growing number of countries in South East Asia have seen dramatic growth in international schools in recent years too. Malaysia now has 283 international schools, Thailand has 216 and Vietnam has 126.

Learning In An International School

At any good international school, children will be following an international curriculum and working towards internationally recognized qualifications. Most, if not all of their lessons will be conducted in English and taught by skilled teachers from a wide range of countries.

32% of all international schools today are bilingual, and a growing number of international schools offer opportunities where learning conversations occur in the local language or in mother tongue. For many children, English will be a second or additional language. They will be learning alongside expatriate children originating from many countries, as well as many local children too.

The growing number of schools means that there’s more competition, particularly in some cities with a high density of international schools. For example, Mumbai has 98 international schools, Karachi has 101, Bangkok 119, Tokyo 129, Beijing 151 and the top city for international schools is Dubai with 309.

 Making A Choice

Many parents today are looking at the long-term benefits of investing in their child’s education; aspiring for them the best higher education and global career opportunities. As a result, they are researching and visiting a wide range of international schools before making a final choice for their child. School selection is a personal decision based on many different factors. It may be influenced by the approach to teaching and learning, the curriculum being delivered, the learning resources, the school’s facilities or specialist provision, and the potential pathways that the school offers to universities around the world.

It is important to highlight here that no school can guarantee university places; admissions success is entirely down to the selection criteria of the particular university. Beware of any school advertising itself as a ‘guaranteed route to Harvard’ – there is no guaranteed route. The important message to all parents is to think about your child and their needs. They will flourish as a learner and as an individual in the environment and with the community that best suits them.

Curriculum And Qualifications

International schools vary enormously in size, learning approach, curriculum, facilities, teachers, location and the fees that they charge. In major expatriate cities, there is now a wide range of options which include British schools or international schools offering a British style of curriculum and examinations, American schools and those international schools with a US orientation to their learning approach, International Baccalaureate (IB) schools, and many more.

It helps to have some understanding of what type of curriculum you want your child to be learning. Sometimes international schools will deliver a national curriculum (such as the National Curriculum of England), often adapted with a more international focus to make it relevant for all children in the school. Children do benefit from learning within the context of the country they are living in as well as from an international perspective. The International Baccalaureate programs (PYP, MYP, IBDP, and IBCP), the International Primary and Middle Years Curriculum (IPC and IMYC), and the Cambridge international curriculum programs are all highly respected international curricula options. These internationally minded, learning-focused curricula, which are designed for all children in all countries wherever they are living and learning, can be a badge of quality for an international school and often suggest a strong focus on the learning needs of all children.

The qualifications achieved will be dependent on the curriculum that has been delivered. For example, a US curriculum will normally lead to Advanced Placement examinations. A British school will typically work towards A levels or International A levels. The curriculum your child will be expected to follow, and the qualifications they will be able to achieve, may impact the higher education opportunities available to them.

Time spent researching all the options within a locality is important for parents. If possible, visit the school, take a tour while lessons are in progress, talk with the school leaders and the teachers. Whenever you can, talk to current students and parents.

Identifying Quality

If you have a number of international schools on your shortlist, you might want to consider if they are members of respected international school organizations. Around 30% of all international schools are members of at least one international school organization. These include COBIS (the Council of British International Schools), EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council of Schools), FOBISIA (Federation of British International Schools in Asia) and several others. Many of these organisations have codes of practice and standards that schools have to maintain in order to remain as members. This can be a valuable assurance guide for parents.

Parents are also increasingly using independent inspection reports or accreditation as a way to identify quality schools. 19% of all international schools are currently accredited. A school that has been accredited will be able to display evidence of this, and their accreditation can be verified by the accreditation provider. Some schools may say they are in the process of applying for accreditation. In a situation like this, it’s worth investigating how long that accreditation process has been going on for. No accreditation process should take more than two years, so be wary of a school that claims it has been going through accreditation for the last six years.

 More Choice To Come

The international schools market continues to grow and many new schools opened their doors for the very first time this September. Within ten years, the number of international schools around the world is expected to have reached 18,900. Needless to say, the competition for places at many good schools will continue. By 2029, the number of students learning in international schools is anticipated to reach 10.6 million; almost double the 5.6 million students who are attending today.

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