An international relocation with children gives a unique insight into the cultural values and norms of a society. While much in education remains the same the world over, there are aspects that are culturally contingent and it is often these unexpected differences that are the most challenging and exhilarating to a relocating family.
We asked our consultants to tell us what they wish they had know about the education system before they moved and here are some of their answers:
The most obvious difference is the Southern Hemisphere’s school year commences late January and extends to the week before Christmas for public schools or early December for private schools. This can affect your child’s age-appropriate year group and requires some liaison between school admission staff and assessment of areas covered in different subjects, etc.
The age of which a child may begin a formal school program varies from one province to the next and parents should be aware of this as it may be very different from the country you are moving from. For example, children are allowed to begin formal schooling in a full day Junior Kindergarten program in Ontario but in Alberta, Nursery School or Junior Kindergarten is not offered except privately for a fee and formal schooling does not begin until Kindergarten when your child is old enough. Each province uses a different birth date birth date to determine eligibility.
The private and international schools have long waiting lists and all charge higher (and in many cases, much higher) tuition fees than public schools.
Several of the top schools in Hong Kong are double streamed, meaning they have both a particular national curriculum and an international curriculum and all pupils must study the school’s native language from P2 upwards, and it’s a serious commitment from P3 onwards. As a result, Mandarin is not introduced until P3.
For parents who wish to send their children to the local school, it is really important to understand how the various tracks in the education system work together in the canton where you will live. Understanding the cantons schooling system is a critical component to your child’s schooling success. Unlike in many countries, in Switzerland only a relatively small percentage of students attend academic high school (in German, this is called Gymnasium) and after 9th grade many students continue on to do an apprenticeship for four days per week while attending a corresponding vocational school for one day.
All schools have regular inspections and reports on these are published. You can use the school name and the postcode (an area code similar to the American zip code; a combination of 6 to 8 digits and letters at the end of the address) to instigate a search. If you have access to the internet search the ‘Ofsted’ site under ‘inspection reports’ and use the postcode information to narrow the school search. For Independent schools check the ‘Good Schools Guide’ or the Independent School Council website to view inspection reports. If you have no internet access, visit the school and ask them for a copy when you request a prospectus.
The school year is likely to be organized differently from your home country with limited breaks (half-terms) mid semester and shorter breaks in December and Spring. The stretch between the Jewish New Year and Thanksgiving can feel particularly long for families used to a half term in October. There is a very long break in the summer. Attendance at daily or sleep away camps is customary.