By Gregory Joseph Cairnduff, Director, The Australian International School, Bangkok
Families in Transition from One Country to Another. Choosing a School for your child
For families newly arrived in a new country, choosing a school for their child is one of the most important decisions they will make in their transition period.
How can parents judge the quality of a school and whether it will serve the needs of their child or children?
The school information in this article refers to international schools only. It does not refer to other private schools or government schools.
Members of AustCham, would be well aware of the stresses on expatriate families arriving in a new country to settle for a known or an undetermined period of time.
The transition to a new country, a new culture, a new home, a new way of life, can be an exciting, but highly stressful period for families. For some, it may be their first experience of expatriate life, for others who move fairly regularly, there may be a more “here we go again” feeling for the family whose members are used to moving.
In either of these cases, moving to another country is filled with decision making about matters critical to family happiness. Housing; living location; security; educational services; healthcare; availability of transport; cost of living; frequency of travel away from the extended family, are among some of the key immediate issues faced by expatriate families.
These are not the only challenges. There are other challenges faced by families transitioning to a new country – social isolation, loss of extended family support, homesickness, language and cultural barriers and cultural adjustment, can be among these.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of contemporary research on families in transition from one country to another. A quick on line check will bring up much helpful, insightful information based on the research. Some of the information is provided in academic papers and some in concise articles providing hints and lists of valuable tips for families.
Several of these sources are provided at the end of this article. Some of the information may be too late for some readers, but they may be able to inform potential arrivals of the availability of the information.
Education – a major concern for parents transitioning to a new country
In schools where there are high numbers of expatriate students, broadly speaking, there will be three categories of students – “leavers”, “arrivers” and “stayers”.
There are those students who are about to leave, those who have just arrived and those who will stay for a long time. The leavers and arrivers are the ones in transition, either coming in, or leaving the school. The “stayers” are usually either local citizens or sons and daughters of dual nationality families who will often stay on in the country either for all of their education and for longer periods than the “arrivers” or “leavers”
The families of the arrivers and leavers are the main subject of this article.
This is does not mean that the families of the stayers are not concerned about their children’s education, they are very involved in their child’s happiness and success at school too, but their concerns are usually different from the those more globally mobile arrivers and stayers’ families who will usually only be in the school for a time between 1 and 4 years or slightly more. Stayers can be in the school from Nursery to Year 12.
Looking for the new school
Whether a young child, or an older one, adjusts to a move overseas can often make or break the experience for the whole family. Happiness and success at school can be one of the biggest factors in the adjustment to the new living situation of the family. The feelings about school, either negative or positive, have an impact on the happiness not only of the child, but of the whole family.
Depending on the ages of the children, parental concerns about schooling may be different for each child.
In the case of young children in their Pre School and Early Childhood Years, parents worry about their child’s adjustment to the new school.
In the upper Primary and Middle school years, the concern is that the child may fall behind the required academic level because of the move. With senior High school students, parents worry about the effect on their son or daughter’s high school graduation outcomes and their university entrance scores.
In the case of families who have a child with learning disabilities, parents will inevitably have concerns about the capacity of schools to deliver the level of support that the child may have received in their previous school.
Decisions, decisions, the big one – Choosing a School.
All parents are certain about two basic things they want for their child at school. They want the child to be safe and feel secure at school and they want them to be happy at school.
Without these essential elements, the other desires parents have for their child’s education cannot be fulfilled.
So, choosing a school where the child will be safe, feel secure and be happy, are the fundamental factors in how the child will settle into their new life in the new country.
Find the school before the residence
Schools understand that the early days in a new country are very stressful for families.
Living temporarily in a 5 star hotel does not retain glamour for very long. Living out of suitcases and handling a myriad demands is not easy, especially for the younger members of a family, who are separated from their favourite “stuff”, friends and extended family.
Sometimes, the first foray in the new country is a short familiarization visit and many things have to be looked at and decided in just a few days. With two or three children in tow, this can be a very stressful experience for a family.
It is important to look for the school before looking for the residence where the family will live. This way, when the school is chosen first, the location of the accommodation follows.
Ease of access to the school is very important. Long hours spent in traffic are not conducive to the happiness of children or their carers who may have to escort them to and from school.
It’s better if the adults are the commuters, not the children.
It’s generally easier to find appropriate accommodation than to find the type of school desired, so look for the school first.
In most major locations around the world, there will be a range of educational options to ensure children receive consistency in their education as well as specialized counselling and support to help them master the major changes they face.
From a social and pastoral point of view, international schools are experienced in helping recently relocated children and parents overcome post-move social isolation. For instance, many schools pair newly relocated children with classmates who have been through similar experiences, and engage parents in the community through well-organized parent involvement groups.
International schools realise that they fulfil an important role as a social focal point for both parents and children and they consciously help new arrivals build fresh support networks in their host country.
In Thailand there are 130 international schools who are members of the International Schools Association of Thailand [ISAT]. All members have satisfied the standards of entry to the organisation. Approximately 100 of these schools are located in Bangkok.
The ISAT web site can be helpful in the search for a school, as it provides a list of member schools and hot links to information about each school.
There are another 30 schools who call themselves international schools who either have not chosen you join ISAT or who have not been accepted by ISAT.
Therefore, in Thailand parents have a wide range of schools in various locations around the country and over 90% of the ISAT member schools are located in Bangkok.
International schools, just like other schools, have their own distinct features in relation to size, curriculum, facilities, staff arrangements, and fee structure.
All International schools are required to have government licence. This regulates some of the key aspects of the school’s operation such as the number of teaching days, and educational quality assurance requirements.
Choosing a School – Look at more than one school
As there is such a wide choice of schools, It is important to consider more than one school,.
Be clear about what you are looking for in a school.
When choosing a school, be clear about what you are looking for in the school for your child.
Most parents will have a very clear idea of what they are seeking in the new school, the following basic questions and ideas will help parents articulate ideas of what they seeking in the school, regardless of the age and stage of the child’s education.
The school environment:
- Does the school show evidence that it takes security seriously?
- Were you asked for ID at the gate or did you just walk in?
- What verifications are used at pick up time?
- What transport safety protocols are in place?
- Swimming – what water safety protocols are used?
- Ask out how the school deals with security and health emergencies
- Determine in your own mind, an idea about school size. Are you looking for a large, medium or small sized school? There are pros and cons you need to consider.
- Ask about the emphasis on cleanliness, hygiene and child health care.
- Do you feel a welcoming school atmosphere? [For the children, parents and visitors]
This should be evident in pre visit communication and also clearly felt on arrival at the school
- What do you feel about the school’s “customer service”?
- Find out if parents have access to the school leadership team?
- How does the school communicate with parents?
Ask to see some of the communication between teachers and parents
- Is pre enrolment information delivered promptly?
- Are your queries followed up quickly?
- Ask if parent involvement is welcomed and seek examples of this.
- What is the admission process? Make sure it not a rushed process and that you are given all the time you need to obtain the information you require
- Take note of the look and feel of the classrooms, this can tell you a lot about the school.
- Ask to go into classrooms while teachers are teaching.
- What does the school say about how it helps new students settle into school?
- Find out the cultural and nationality demographic of the school.
- Ask about the school’s accreditation.
The Education Program:
The key questions are about the teachers
Make sure you have an idea of the qualities you would like to see in your child’s teacher.
Ask about the teachers:
- Are they all qualified and licensed in their own country?
- How are they recruited?
- How long do they stay?
- Do they welcome parents in the classroom?
- How do they communicate their teaching program to the parents?
The school’s approach to teaching and learning
- For example, in Early Childhood what is the philosophical basis of the pedagogy?
[May be Reggio, Montessori, Waldorf or other]
- How much digital technology is used?
- Is there a policy about “screen time”?
- Who provides the digital equipment?
- What curriculum is used?
- How is this connected to the curriculum your child has been following previously?
- What does the school do to help children who cannot speak English or who are not strong in English?
- What is nationality mix of the classes?
- Are there other adults in the classroom?
- What does the school do to help children who have learning disabilities?
- What Socio – emotional programs does the school offer and how does the pastoral care program work?
- Does the school have a policy on student management and what does this look like?
- What specialist programs does the school offer?
- What co – curricular programs does the school operate?
- What are the special events and celebrations on the school calendar?
- How does the school assess its academic standards?
The School Visit
Arrange a school visit by appointment, as this allows the school’s admissions department to make sure there is plenty of time dedicated to your visit.
Before the visit
It is important to find out as much as possible about the schools your will visit before your go to the school. Look at their web sites and social media pages; see if your new colleagues know about any of the schools you are going to visit.
Word of mouth information can be very helpful as it gives a parent’s view of the school.
When considering a school, look at the overall environment, the atmosphere and the quality of the education program.
It is quite ok to ask the school to provide evidence of what it says about what it does for its students and its community.
School Quality Assurance
All schools will have a quality assurance processes and data that should enable them to demonstrate that what they say about themselves is clearly evident in data, action and school climate.
Parents can seek quality assurance information from schools on a broad basis not on an individual student basis.
For example, a school can inform prospective parents about its literacy and numeracy data, by providing various national and international bench making assessment results, such as International School Assessment [ISA] data or other international benchmark data.
Evidence of school participation in academic, cultural, sporting and art and other competitions can be provided.
The Decision…. “Make haste slowly”
Although families may be under pressure of time and circumstances to make a decision about the school, try to take time over the final decision. Go back for another visit; ask more questions; discuss as a family.
Finally, you will get to choose the school. The other big decisions – housing transport health care can flow on from that big one about choosing a school.
I trust the sites and articles below will be helpful to families as they begin their time in Thailand.
Some useful web sites:
Families on the move:
International Schools Association of Thailand [ISAT]
A research paper