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Schools: What every expat parent should ask

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Students at ISR. Photo: International School on the Rhine
08:45 CET+01:00
Your child's education is one of the most important long-term decisions you will ever make. It will not only impact your child's university and career choice, but also your child's friends and character.

Amazingly, it is also one of the least-researched topics by parents. Many parents invest more time researching the purchase of a car than where they will send their children to school. Instead of looking into schools themselves, parents often simply select a school based on recommendations from a few neighbours and friends. 

And when choosing a school abroad, the choice becomes further complicated. What sort of school should you choose for your child? A place just like home? Something more “local”? Or something broadly international?

While every family's particular circumstances may vary, below are a few basic question every expat parent should consider when making a decision about their children's schooling.

1. Is your family's 'center of gravity' local or global?

First, it's important to consider your family's situation. Is relocation abroad permanent, or will you move again? How frequently will you move?

In addition, you may want to consider whether or not your children have dual citizenship. Dual passports can open many doors, but won't take you as far without the appropriate education. Would a certain type of school or international certificate be a good choice? Consider carefully how the school's international outlook meshes with yours.

2. How engaged do you want to be in the school community?

Think of your child's school as a community, of which you and your child are a part. How involved do you want to be? What is the community like? Ask yourself how connected the families in the network are, and how quickly they integrate. Examine links to the local community and look for social activities.

3. How easy is it to get to the school?

You may already have moved abroad, but it's still all about location, location, location. Particularly when you're living in an unfamiliar place, it's important to know you'll be able to manage and understand local transportation options and how your child will get to school. Time and security are both factors to be considered.

If you can't drive your child to school, look into options like a school bus system or car-pooling. No one wants their child to walk down a dark road on a cold and rainy evening on the way home from a city bus stop – so think about it before you enrol.

4. How much is it going to cost?

For many families, finances play a key role in choosing a school. Decide if you are looking for a public school or a private school, and be aware that public schools may come with limitations on your ability to pick and change schools.

Bear in mind that schools in Germany with religious affiliation may charge special fees, and private schools may have  a mixture of public and private funding (generally referred to asErgänzungsschule” or “Ersatzschule”) or could run entirely on tuition. If the school receives funding from the state, then the state also typically influences the curriculum – decide how you feel about that and what you are willing to pay. Whether your employer has agreed to cover some of your child's education expenses is another factor to consider.

5. What sort of student support is available?

Your child will be spending a lot of time at school, so it's critical that there is support available for whatever your child may need. This includes the general environment and atmosphere of the school, but also other resources both inside and outside the classroom.

Does the school have a nurse's office? What about counselling? Do links to the local community provide students with internship opportunities, or at least career advice? You should also think about the potential dark side, the issues no one wants to think about – is there someone your child can turn to in all situations, and are things like drinking and drugs an issue at the school? Do they have clear policies? Are the policies actually implemented?

6. What are the school's facilities like?

The physical attributes and resources of the school are important as well, particularly in an increasingly technological world.  Is the school building modern and equipped with state of the art technology? Does the school offer Interactive White Boards? Are there ample PCs for students to use to research subjects? Are there filters on what can be accessed by students?  

In order to ensure your child's balanced school life, also consider what sport, music, and art facilities are available. Is there space for students to burn off energy during breaks? Is there an art or music studio? And meals also matter. Do students get lunch at school? If so, is it cooked on site? If your child has a special diet, make sure the school can accommodate those needs.

7. How stable is the school community?

High turnover and uncertainty can make leaning difficult, so it's important to look at the stability of the school community. How long do the students and teachers stay in general? Continuity is critical for children in terms of building long-term friendships, which are also an important part of a healthy school life. Consider how long your family will be staying, but also how long the other families and students will be there.

8. How much do academics matter?

Finally – but fundamentally – decide on your definition of education, and whether or not the school in question meets your standards.

For some parents educationis primarily oriented towards their religion, whereas for others it's about academics and extracurricular activities. Perhaps you want your child to hit the books hard each day, or maybe you prefer plenty of activities and school trips. Learning can take place both inside and outside the classroom, so what is the proper balance for you and your child.

If sport, music, or art is of a particular importance, then most large cities will have schools with departments focused on enhancing these skills. Which language predominates the classes, are there opportunities to learn different languages, exotic languages such as Mandarin? Take a look at the school's academic record and reputation as well. Look for local and regional rankings, including grade point average.

These are just some of the issues that need to be considered before making a final choice. It's a lot to think about. Luckily, many schools offer a trial day in order for families and potential students to get a first impression. This gives you and your child an opportunity to “test” the school and see what the school's atmosphere is like. 

If you have prioritize a school with an excellent reputation, high academic standards, and a stable international community, then you might want to check out ISR International School on the Rhine in the Düsseldorf area. 

ISR is a privately financed, non-profit school with a full-day academic program in the Düsseldorf, Neuss and Cologne region, which seeks to develop students into well-rounded, multi-lingual, self-aware and socially-responsible global citizens. It offers an excellent, international education with a holistic concept from Kindergarten to grade 12.

ISR offers an English language summer school program over three weeks this year, July 6-31, including boarding facilities, if you would like to give ISR a trial run.  You can see if ISR will become your home away from home.  

Click here to learn more.

This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by International School on the Rhine.  

All photos courtesy of International School on the Rhine. 

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