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FAQ: Concerns About Schooling When Moving Abroad

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When moving abroad, for professional purposes, or otherwise, educational concerns for your children are paramount. This FAQ, by our experts is intended to provide advice and piece of mind.

International versus local – are local schools ever the right option?

When you move abroad you have an opportunity to reconsider what kind of education you want for your child and what you want the overseas experience to be.  International schools, which can refer to either your home national school in a different country or an international baccalaureate program (see below) will make for an easier transition – both on the way over and when you repatriate.  The language will be the same, your child will meet other children of common backgrounds, and curriculum and teaching style will be similar.  As parents, you will have an automatic community of peers with the same concerns about their children as you have, who are open and accepting to newcomers.  International schools are the easy answer, but the easy answer is not always the right answer.

Giving your child a window into a different culture is typically of value to parents who decide to move internationally when their children are of school age.  In a local school in abroad children have an authentic opportunity to see how other cultures live, play, learn and interact with each other.  Even when the language of instruction is different, local schooling should not be ruled out automatically.  At certain ages immersion in a foreign language is not prohibitively difficult and the opportunity to learn a foreign language during youth will teach your child not only that language, but the building blocks to learn other new languages with ease.  In local schools abroad your children will also learn skills that will be important to them as adults – for example that not every culture shares the same values and how to navigate unfamiliar waters and negotiate when the rules of engagement are different.

Whether to use local or international schools is a decision that should reflect your objectives for your children when living overseas, their grade, your plans after the current international assignment, your child’s personality as well as his or her wishes (for older children).  Logistics such as budget for schooling and location inevitably also enter into the decision.

Ease of adjustment need not be the primary reason for your decision as there are opportunities such as distance learning, tutoring, and test preparation to help make the transition easier both on the way over and on the way back.

All schools are fully enrolled: is it possible to jump the waiting list?

There is no uniform answer. There are schools throughout the world that have absolute policies that prohibit families from moving ahead of another on the wait list, except if they conform to their particular procedures, i.e., sibling priority. These schools tend to be firm because the majority of their applicants are high level executives at leading companies, and they have no way of distinguishing between one and another. Their boards are comprised of people from all of these companies, and they cannot favor one trustee’s firm at the expense of another.

In contrast, there are schools where board contacts can make a difference, where companies have purchased seats (or debentures) for their employees, where relationships with admissions personnel can be advantageous. At School Choice International, we have excellent relationships with schools in many countries because we have a reputation for sending them children and families who will be a good fit, both academically, and socially. As a result, schools take our recommendations seriously and even phone us when they have chance vacancies.

What do I do if my child is excluded for being foreign?

Go and see the school immediately and express your concern. Exclusion is a form of bullying and the school should have clear ways of dealing with it. Encourage the school to explore different cultures in their lessons and to use your child to discuss their culture if s/he is willing. Whether or not the school assists you, it is wise to provide your child with intensive instruction in the language of his or her peers.

What do we do if my child is out of step when we repatriate?

There are cultures to which it is extremely difficult to repatriate, and those where it is easier. If you are coming from a culture where repatriation is difficult and you are not very adventurous, it may be wise to try to keep your child in a national school when you move abroad so that s/he can study your home country curriculum.
An alternative is the international baccalaureate program, which can be found at the primary, middle and degree levels in every country worldwide. This degree is accepted and respected by universities globally and, if you know you are on an international career track, your child can continue on with the same curriculum in every country.

If national schools are not available or are full in the area to which you are moving, you may have no choice but to enroll your child in a local school. It generally is possible to speak with the school your child is leaving and the school you anticipate s/he would attend on repatriation to obtain curriculum materials. These can be used to prepare him or her for repatriation either after school, or during summers, particularly during the last half year before returning home.

If you are parents who want your child to embrace the overseas experience without marring it by studying two curricula, it is alright to allow him or her to fully experience the time abroad without worrying about repatriation. When you return home it is possible to look for a school experienced with children who have moved from other countries whose staff will help your child adapt academically and socially.

What do I do if we have to move back earlier than anticipated?

Uncertainty is the unpalatable part of relocating and there are circumstances that may force you to return earlier than anticipated.  Contact your children’s former school to see if they still have places.  Even if there are, however, chances are the children will have been changed by their experiences and the former school may no longer be the best fit. You may want to take this as an opportunity to look at different schools for them to attend upon your return, taking into account the changes that have inevitably affected their needs in a learning environment.

I’ve been hearing about the International Baccalaureate; What is it?

The International Baccalaureate is an analytical model of learning with children as active participants in the educational process.  It is administered by a non-profit educational foundation started in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968.  According to the foundation, the International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peacefulworld through inter-cultural understanding and respect.”   Initially, offering the pre-university diploma for internationally mobile students, the International Baccalaureate has expanded to a three stage educational program that spans students from 3 – 19 years:

  • Primary Years Program    3 – 12 years
  • Middle Years Program     11 – 16 years
  • IB Diploma                        16 – 19 years

The IB Diploma is one of the most challenging school-leaving qualifications in the world. The IB Diploma is offered in English, French or Spanish.  Students study six subjects, three at a higher level and three at a standard level.  The subjects are chosen from six categories:

  • Language (Literature in native language)
  • Individuals and Societies (History, Geography, Philosophy etc)
  • Mathematics and Computer Science
  • The Arts (Drama, Music, Art)
  • Experimental Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology etc)
  • Second Language

In addition students have to fulfill three other core requirements:

  • Extended Essay – to be written on a topic of the student’s choice following tightly defined guidelines and to be submitted in the final year.
  • Theory of Knowledge – which asks students to reflect on how they know what they know.
  • Creativity, Action and Service – which requires a certain number of hours are committed to the arts, sporting activities and community service.

 How are students assessed through the IB?

Each subject is scored out of 7 and the Extended Essay in combination with the TOK (Theory of Knowledge) is marked out of  a maximum of 3.  The final IB Diploma is then scored out of a total of 45 points with a grade of 24 and above required for an actual IB Diploma.

IB Diplomas are criterion-based not norm-referenced, which means that results are determined by performance against set standards not by each student’s position in the overall rank order. Therefore, the number of students gaining the top mark of 7 in a particular subject does not fluctuate dramatically from year to year and the results are not subject to political interference.


What are the advantages of the International Baccalaureate?

  • IB Programs are internationally recognized and smooth the educational transitions of globally mobile students so that their education is not adversely effected by relocation.
  • IB World Schools are subject to a strict accreditation process monitored by the International Baccalaureate Organization so you can be sure the school is offering a quality education.
  • IB teachers participate in many professional development opportunities to continually promote their awareness of current educational practices and new thinking.
  • IB teaching methods and curricula are research based and draw on the best practices from educational systems around the world.
  • IB students graduating with the IB Diploma are able to study at universities all around the world, often with advanced credit.

 What are the disadvantages of the International Baccalaureate?

  • The IB Organization dictates the educational framework but not the curriculum so what is taught still varies from school to school.  This means that despite the global approach, students transferring from one International Baccalaureate school to another still may repeat or miss subjects, and some subjects may not be offered by the new school.
  • Although all IB schools are centrally accredited, not all IB schools are the same.  Some are definitely more academic than others.  To find out where a school stands academically, check whether they publish their IB Diploma results online (a score of 36 and above is necessary for entry to the top universities) and if they list the universities their students ultimately attend.  The more academic schools are happy to publish their success in this way, the less academic will use a different set of criteria to define success.
  • The standard of the IB Diploma is extremely high and the most competitive universities demand students achieve high scores across all six subjects.  If a student is weak or struggles in any one subject it will pull down their ultimate score.  For students who excel only in the sciences or the arts or the humanities, more specialized exam systems may allow them to achieve better results.

 How do you find out more?

The International Baccalaureate Organization has a very comprehensive website including listings of IB schools worldwide:

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