How to choose a school in Belgium
If you're living in Belgium, should you choose a local or international school in Belgium for your child's education?
What curriculum should your child study while living in Belgium? For most families in the middle of an international move, somewhere at the top of their notebook-long "to do" list is: Find School(s) for Kids. Not always an easy task to tick off, even at home. It's best to start the process before you leave home base.
As soon as you hear of a possible relocation, search the Web for information on your destination. This should lead you to, among other useful things, schools in the area.
Next, check the websites for the schools listed and request more detailed information from the best possibilities. Most larger European cities offer not only good local schools (some with two streams: instruction offered in the local language and/or English), but international schools (British, American, French, European, etc), as well as those that follow certain teaching philosophies and methods, such as Montessori.
Costs, which vary greatly between public, private and international schools, will certainly have to be considered. Keep in mind that many schools have waiting lists.
Even if your child is not due to start school for a year or two, it may be wise to go through the selection process and get them on a waiting list at the school(s) of your choice now. Another useful place to consult is the Ministry of Education in Belgium. They sometimes provide free booklets in English.
There are basic questions you need to ask yourself to help you make the best choice of school for your international child:
- How long will you be abroad?
- Is this an isolated move, or just one in an expected series of moves?
If your child is young, a local school could be the best and most convenient choice for your whole family. This is especially true if you plan to be abroad for only a few years as a one-off experience, or conversely, if you plan to live long term in your new country. Your child will establish friendships close to home and will learn the new language and culture to the benefit of the whole family.
Most European primary schools offer a solid foundation for further studies and it would be unlikely for them to be behind in subjects once back home. If your child is currently at the end of primary school, already in secondary education, or will be moving a lot during his entire education, being thrust into an ordinary local school is not the best choice.
In these cases, most parents and educators would agree that the best options are either an international school or a local school with an international (English) stream. Most importantly, children in these situations will need to go to a school which provides a compatible school system (curriculum, testing, etc) for future needs.
If your child plans to go on to higher education - either back home or at your next destination - it is vital that you find out how the school they go to now will affect their choices later.
Be aware that different schools offer different diplomas and qualifications. The most common and widely accepted internationally are GCSE and IGCSE, and the International Baccalaureate (IB).
Once you narrow down your list of possibilities, try to visit the schools you are considering before you make your final decision. Most people will tell you that the Headmaster's (Principal's) attitude and management style will be the single most important factor in making a school successful.
Steer clear of any school that does not encourage or accept the fact that you do not speak the local language at home. That indicates they do not have a clear idea of the realities and needs of the multi- lingual/cultural child.
During your visit, among the important things to find out are:
- What are the attitudes and approaches used for educating bilingual/multilingual children and what kind of support is given for families that do not speak the local language at home?
- Are there any other non-Belgian kids at the school? What is the social life like for the average child at the school?
- What is the curriculum?
- How will your child's progress be assessed?
- What diplomas do they offer? To what extent are parents encouraged to be involved with the school and decisions regarding school policies, etc?
Although not all children are natural-born relocators, it helps to know that most children are more adaptable than we usually give them credit for and, with support, will make a success of this new opportunity.
Janet Coulombe / Expatica
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