Five Benefits of an International School Education

By Ian Gross | Parents Avenue’s Columnist 
Ian Gross is the Principal at Kinabalu International School, Sabah, Malaysia and is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education through Bath University, UK.
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International Schools have boomed in the past two decades. What was once the privilege of the expatriate worker has now become a definite reality for many local families. Globally there are over ten thousand international schools offering a wide variety of curricular and facilities. An international school can be defined as one that offers a curriculum, usually in English, that is not taught in the local state schools of the host country and usually employs expatriate teachers to support the children in non-national exams, preparing them for universities outside of the host country.

The idea of an international school education is not new, going back to the 19th century and the British author, Charles Dickens, was a strong advocate, stating, “the pupils in passing from one nation and language to another, would find no notable change in the course of study”. Spring Grove School, the first international style school, was built on the outskirts of London on what is now Heathrow Terminal 5 in 1866, sadly no longer in existence. This was followed by the International School of Geneva in Switzerland and the International School of Yokahama in Japan, both in 1924 and both recognised as the first true international schools.


International Schools developed gradually through the need of expatriate workers and their families. Children educated overseas needed to be able to return to their home countries and continue their education without disruption. Up until the 1990’s there were about 1000 recognised international schools serving a predominantly expatriate market with a minority of local students. Since then there has been an explosion of international school growth, particularly across Asia where just under 60% of the international schools can be found. The student body is made up of 80% local students with the expatriates becoming the minority.


So what has driven the rise in international schools? Governments of many countries have given attractive incentives to international schools to be developed: tax incentives, free or cost reduced land, removing limitations for local students to attend non-state schools to name but a few. What was previously an enticement for expatriate workers to relocate has become a discussion amongst local families as a serious option for their child’s future. It is worth looking at the benefits an international school education can give your child. Once the decision to put your child into an international school has been made, then comes the choice of school and that is another challenge in itself.

#1 Access To Universities

It has long been accepted that having a university degree increases the chances of better jobs and a better salary. Universities worldwide have also for a long time, accepted overseas students (as long as the student can show they have language proficiency). As university entrance has become more competitive, parents and students look to what gives them an advantage. Having globally recognised and transferable qualifications gives overseas students a definite advantage. Parents have become increasingly aware that a US, UK or IB style school education supports their child’s likelihood in gaining university placement and often with the chance of scholarships. Universities are keen to attract well educated overseas students especially when the fees they charge can be so much higher than local students.


#2 Dissatisfaction with State Education

Reading the news from around the world, you will quickly pick up on similar stories and developments regardless of the country, particularly when governments often change so frequently. Lack of funds for government schools, changing educational policies, teacher dissatisfaction, teacher shortages, etc. Previously there were not many options, your child is born and your child goes to the local school. Unless you had great wealth where you could send your child overseas, there was not much choice and often it would not be questioned. Governments have been only too happy to support the growth of international schools to remove some of the burden and to help resolve some of their local educational issues. As the choice for schools has grown and as the global middle class has grown, more and more parents have looked at alternative schooling options to their own education previously.

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#3 Global Middle Class

Since before the start of this century, global wealth has been increasing. In particular are the families that have reached levels of wealth beyond what is needed to simply live. Often with this new affluence comes a more global mind-set as families look to others with affluence to emulate their lifestyle. This global awareness leads to a desire to have what others have. What was once for the very rich is now available to the new global middle class (or global elite) and, this includes education. With a lack of private schools, parents look to the international schools as a means to capitalise on their wealth and support their children’s future.


It is not simply buying an education, it is the social capital that comes with it. To know your child is mixing with other families of the same wealth and wealthier is an attractive proposition. Social networks have, for a long time, been seen as part of an elite. Having your child become part of this opens up the possibilities in the future for continued networking and social development. How often do you hear of someone who was promoted or won a contract, simply because of who they knew? International schools discreetly enable the growth of these type of networking opportunities that continue beyond the school years.


#4 Global Marketplace

As the world has opened up, so to have the opportunities for our children to travel for work. The world has seen a huge increase in multi-national corporations. This has become known as globalisation. Coca Cola, McDonald’s, BMW, Amazon, Google, Marriott to name just a few, are all easily recognised brands that can be found in most cities around the world. These global brands employ millions of staff collectively, either locally or overseas. For young adults wanting to work with them requires more than good qualifications. They need to be globally minded, they need to be able to understand business from different viewpoints. Being culturally aware is a distinct advantage and an international education supports and develops this understanding. A local education does not always equip young adults to be competitive on a global stage whether in a global company at home or overseas.


Image Source: Kinabalu International School
#5 Opportunities & Facilities

Good international schools are child-centred. They focus on the development and growth of the individual. An important aspect of child-centred education is the opportunity to learn through experience and to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. International schools are generally private and require fees as they often have no other source of income. These fees can be used to develop the school and employ well qualified staff who can be given professional development to support and enhance the teaching of your children. The schools are not just about the lessons and have many extra-curricular activities after school finishes with the opportunity of national and international competition and travel.


Often, international schools are better resourced than local schools and have extensive facilities that support the learning and give greater opportunities for learning activities outside of the classroom. International schools allow children to try new things and to be challenged physically as well as mentally. Theatres, creative arts, design spaces, music rooms, enhanced sports facilities, swimming pools, climbing walls, up to date technologies, are just some of the enriched facilities and resources that are common place in many international schools. Learning will recognise the individual needs of your children, whether it is learning difficulties, physical restrictions, or helping your child to be pushed academically as they are naturally gifted. International schools usually get to know your child better than state schools, teacher to student ratios are small and often with younger classes there is more than one adult present in the class.


Education is changing to allow children to understand the changing world they live in. An international education in a good international school has the understanding of this change at its heart and supports your child to be equipped and successful in this new global landscape. Families will have different reasons and motives for sending their child to an international school and the choice to do this is just the first step. As mentioned earlier, an even bigger choice is which international school? How do you know which is the right one for your child? 


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