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The schooling choice dilemma

Photographs: iStock

Text: Monika Pedersen

The expat lifestyle is usually perceived as glamorous, exciting, and adventurous. Of course, it is all these things, but there are downsides.

Each family member has individual challenges such as a new job and work culture, perhaps no set job for an accompanying spouse, new school, and friends for the family's younger members. One of the biggest concerns for parents is selecting a school that is the best fit for their children.

Help can come within the relocation package that includes a relocation agent, who helps with all the regular issues such as housing, moving, schooling etc. However, as the market has changed, this start-up help is sadly not always available, and parents are left to figure things out.

School choices

The initial question is what type of school: an international, a state school, or a boarding option. And, can a place be secured?

An international school system has been a lifeline for many relocating parents. The schools follow a curriculum that has been approved and certified by international educational systems such as: The International Baccalaureate, The Cambridge Assessment of International Education, and educational councils such as The Council of International Schools, the New England Association of Schools and Collages, the Nordic Network of International Schools to mention just a few of the many associations which work in partnership to maintain standards, best educational practice, and professional collaboration among educators.

The curriculum followed is a blend of international practices and aspects of national systems that are fused together. This fusion ensures that a mobile population of school children have the possibility of continuity in their education as they move from country or continent. And, more importantly, an education that is internationally recognised, so a child is not disadvantaged but ensured a very positive future at any institution of further education.

What are your options?

There are approximately 12 000 international schools around the world. In Denmark, the number is approximately 30, with a large percentage located in Copenhagen and the surrounding areas. One of the key characteristics of an international school is that it is private, the language of instruction is usually English, and the school provides wraparound care with after school clubs and activities, a parent community group, and support systems.

This leads to a situation where a child and the family become part of an expat community. This has tremendous benefits, such as an understanding and welcoming group of internationals who have been in a similar situation and are only too happy to help others make a smooth transition and begin an interesting new chapter.

“A state school is also an exciting option as it provides a new learning opportunity both educationally and culturally.”

In contrast, a state school is also an exciting option as it provides a new learning opportunity both educationally and culturally. These schools often have more openings and can provide a wealth of resources. There is a transitionary year in Denmark, which involves intense language immersion, so a child is afforded every opportunity to acclimatise to the language before attempting to grapple with the curriculum. Attending a state-run school provides a student with the chance to learn a new language, experience a new curriculum, as well as the culture of the country, and make local friends. Nevertheless, this option requires resilience and a pioneering spirit. It is a good option for a family who has a longer work contract or intends to stay permanently.

In Denmark, the educational system has really considered its offerings. There are bilingual schools that allow students the best of both worlds. The school has two sections: a Danish section and an international one. The student has exposure to aspects of the Danish system while also following an international curriculum. These schools are a smart option as they avoid the 'expat bubble', which can reduce the authentic cultural experience while at the same time taking off the strain in mastering a totally new schooling system.

Boarding is also an option, but often not so popular with a mobile family as the family wants to remain together rather than have a member located elsewhere. However, a boarding school allows a child total immersion into a new environment.

As an educator who has worked in international, bilingual, and state schools, a good option, though depending on the family, is a bilingual school, as there is a real opportunity to have an authentic experience. The child develops resourcefulness and a global citizen's skill set to navigate a transitory and ever-changing environment.

Sources: The International-School Surge - The Atlantic

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