Choosing the right international school

The writer advises parents to look for a school that strives to be a vibrant hub within the communities it serves, besides offering a perfect curriculum and extra-curricular activities.

If you are a Myanmar parent, or any parent, choosing the right school for your child is going to be one of the most important decisions you make. This choice will shape your child’s future, so it is important to be fully informed before deciding which school or schooling system will give your children the best start in life, and set them up for success later on.

When choosing an international school, the first thing many families consider is the curriculum. How different is it to the national curriculum? Will it grow and nurture my child in the right areas? And in the long run, will it serve my child well?

Additionally, if you are an international parent, or a Myanmar parent that is likely to travel abroad for short term contracts taking your family with you, picking a curriculum that offers a seamless transition and minimal disruption to your child’s education will be of the utmost importance. The way in which the British curriculum is structured and split into Key Stages, around assessments, particularly in the Senior School, seem to fit well with other school systems such as the Australian system and German (Thuringia) curriculum.

Each school will teach in its own style but one of the key differences between the American system, International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and British curriculum, is the way in which students progress through the school and their modes of assessment.

Contrast between American and British international schools

Students in American international schools are normally assessed at the end of their academic career. Students are offered Advanced Placement courses and apply to universities with their High School Diploma.

In contrast, in British international schools (like Dulwich College Yangon) the Senior School is made up of three Key Stages, structured around two assessments. In Years 7 to 9, students aged 11-13 continue to follow Key Stage 3 of the English National Curriculum and prepare for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) program. Students in British international schools will often sit the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) exams.

International schools offer students the opportunity to take some IGCSE exams a year before their peers and in some schools will start teaching the IGCSE syllabus a year early, thus offering particularly gifted students the opportunity to excel at their own speed, rather than solely within the confines of an institution. The GCSE/IGCSE syllabus spans two years, covering Key Stage 4 for students aged 14-15.

In the UK, students aged 16 begin Key Stage 5 and select three or four subjects to study in depth at A Level though many British international schools now choose to offer the IB Diploma program to students in Key Stage 5. Both the A Level and IB Diploma program span two years and the results are used by students in their university applications to top universities.

Considering the breadth of the academic program

Regardless of whether you opt for a British, American or Baccalaureate style school, you will want to consider the breadth of the academic program and the choice it offers students. Perhaps your child is particularly passionate about a certain sport, musical instrument, or has a gift for languages. Or perhaps academia is of the utmost importance to your family and you want to make sure that the school has enough of an academic focus. Checking a school’s results should speak for themselves in this case.

Some schools ask prospective students to interview or sit entrance exams. Though this may seem like an intimating prospect, or even unnecessary, this is a really important part of the decision process in whether the school is right for a particular student. If there is one point at which it might be prudent to pause and consider — this is it. If you can, go to the open day, meet the teachers and take the test to make sure the academic level is suited to your child. After all, they will be examined by the same standards throughout their school years.

One tip that many offer to those families considering international schools is to ask about the teachers. There are many schools around the world that feature ‘international’ in their name, but unfortunately this title doesn’t account for much; many are not accredited by internationally recognized academic bodies. Asking about the background and qualifications of the teaching staff can differentiate one international school from another. Teacher to student ratio is another key differentiator, particularly in the early years.

Many parents also like to learn about the extra-curricular activities on offer, and international schools tend to offer a very broad spectrum. After-school activities give students the opportunity to learn and develop new skills or devote time to an interest, and overall grow into a well-rounded individual with strong social and inter-personal skills.

Learning takes place beyond the classroom

University counselors understand that the top universities are looking for more than excellent academic performance, and all those applying to the leading institutions will have impeccable results, but it is the learning that takes place beyond the classroom that can make them stand out from their peers. International school students studying throughout Asia Pacific gain scholarships to some of the best universities worldwide and the schools believe that this is due to the broad experiences their students have been exposed to at the colleges.

Taking part in extracurricular activities, such as the International or Duke of Edinburgh Award, is just one of the ways that students can demonstrate their resilience, attitude to challenge and further differentiate themselves.

Many international schools become a center for the community, as a result of a schools culture, which is invariably created by people – the students, teachers and parents who fill the school with activity and excitement and bring the campus to life. Some elements of the school culture may come from the heritage, the core values of those who set up and found the school.

If you take Dulwich College Yangon as an example – the school draws upon over 400 years of excellence and tradition from the founding school in London, Dulwich College. This heritage informs the pastoral care system at the colleges and the character traits that inform the culture of the Dulwich family of schools. Courage, perseverance, imagination, collaboration, service and a spirit of fun are traits evident in the way students and teachers interact with each other and the wider community.

At an international school, parents will make up an integral part of the community, welcomed into the school and encouraged to be involved in their child’s education. It is not uncommon for new families to be welcomed into the school and often arranged social events like coffee mornings, networking lunches, book sales and farmers markets that bring the community into the school. Parents also offer great support and appreciation for the teachers.

Look for an international school that strives to be a vibrant hub within the communities it serves. Often, the schools may run community programs and foster a strong sense of community through the organization of events and activities relating to sports, music, photography, language learning courses. These programs are run beyond the school day and are open to the wider community.

Source : Myanmar Times

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