As many as 96 percent of expats from across Europe responding to our education poll feel that their children are benefiting from schooling abroad – although the system could do with some improving here and there.
For expats with older children, or those in higher education themselves, views on tertiary education in their host-country were mixed. However, 88 percent were pleased with the general standard of education. Around half of those in higher education (or their children) were at university studying for a Bachelor degree.
We also ran a questionnaire for those with a view of the system from the other side; teachers working abroad. The majority were women (63 percent), on their first expatriation, teaching in the English language (68 percent), with a BA/BSc. Read our full report, “The Challenges of teaching abroad”, on the teachers’ survey, which includes comments from the teachers on the pros and cons of teaching children of diverse cultures.
For both surveys, the majority of expats responding – about a quarter – came from the UK, followed closely by those of American origin. The diverse mix of other countries of origin includes Angola, Belarus, Belize, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany India, Iraq, Lebanon, Switzerland, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Half of the respondents lived in the Netherlands and for this reason 20 percent the spouses’ nationalities recorded were Dutch. Fifty-five percent of respondents said that they were on their first expatriation.
Most children were in international schools
The majority of parents had children at international school at primary (35 percent) or secondary (43 percent) level followed by those with children in national primary (22 percent) and secondary schools (9 percent). Other types of schools (14 percent) included European school and private schools. In 75 percent of the cases, the language of instruction was English followed by the local language. Forty-eight percent of the parents said their children were going to government-subsidised schools.
Primary/Secondary schooling abroad
Eighty-one percent of respondents were pleased with the standard of education their children received at primary and secondary level and 96 percent feel that their children are benefiting from schooling abroad.
Netherlands: Foreigners find discipline an issue
One seasoned expat, originally from Belgium, feels the Dutch give the children too much freedom: “In Holland the school is demanding a lot of self-discipline and responsibility from the children, which is quite a change compared to Africa, where we lived for 16 years.”
This lack of discipline was also noted by an Indian expat, who comments: “A little more discipline won’t do the kids any harm.”
The benefit of this ‘freedom’ is expressed by a British national: “Children are encouraged to be children; individuals with their own thoughts and opinions. Academia is important but not to the detriment of the child’s wellbeing or happiness.”
Another Brit feels the Dutch system helps “to give children the confidence and ability to think for themselves.”
An American in Holland is “amazed to see that a teacher can be absent for two weeks before they are required to provide a substitute. Students are then required to catch up. Not really fair to the students at the IGCSE or the IB levels.”
Another American finds the facilities basic and the teaching in some classes under par.
The Dutch on the US education system
Commenting from the other side, a Dutch expat in the US writes, “It would be a great help if the entrance level of students going to teachers colleges were higher, but with the current shortage of teachers that isn’t going to happen. Also it would be a great advantage if the results from educational research could be incorporated into the daily life of the schools and that policy makers were more interested in evidence-based instruction instead of politics.
France: System solid but goes too much ‘by the book’
“The education basics are okay, but the environment is restrictive to personal ideas and imagination. Thinking ’outside the box’’ is rarely encouraged,” says an American expat in France. On the other hand the same person commented that their child “has learned to enjoy other cultures, lifestyles, ideas. Her mind is open to all.”
A British national complained of a “lack of one-on-one guidance from teachers. Their attitude towards appeals for help/guidance is all too often, ’It’s in the book’.” This is applicable through Collège level and Lycée.”
Belgium: European education
American in Belgium: “My daughter is definitely a third culture kid (TCK).”
A British expat whose child goes to a “community-based school, complains of a “narrow school environment.”
A Belgian in the Netherlands feels that “European Schools should be more widely available as the system is built to facilitate mobility of the families.”
Germany: Early grouping
Australian in Germany: “I love the multicultural atmosphere at the (international) schools, which is more “celebrated” than in the normal German schools. Also the classes are generally smaller, often split into two groups. For children with an aptitude for languages it’s wonderful!”
Canadian in Germany: “I’m appalled that the children are split up into three groups at age 10. The PISA study shows us that this is not working.”
Another Australian in Germany: For us, living in Berlin (Kreuzberg) an international school was an obvious solution, although it does mean around 35 minutes travelling time one way. We have never regretted it.
International schooling: The price to pay
Reported costs of international schooling per year varied widely, ranging from EUR 40 (in the Netherlands) to EUR 20000 (in France). Over forty-five percent of respondents said they found it costly.
One Australian in Germany complained that she simply could not afford to send her child to an English-speaking international school, despite this being the best option.
A French-Japanese couple with their children in an international school in the Netherlands complain that the school their child is going to is expensive. They also complain of the school being “too far away” and “small classes”. “It was far better for our children in Argentina were they enjoyed a good social life,” they say.
Integrating into the home system
Sixty-eight percent of respondents thought it would be easy for their children to reintegrate into the educational system of their country of origin.
Confirming this positive outlook, an Australian in Germany said they’d already tried it, and “it worked fine. The main difficulty would be the fact that the school years start at different times, so they either have to go back six months or forwards.”
A German based in Holland reports: “A good friend just returned to the Boston area in the USA (from the Netherlands) and said her children integrated easily.”
If you are likely to move country again in the near future, check before sending your child to a school if the programmes taught are transferable – which is usually the case for international schools. As a Belgian family living in the Netherlands confirms, “We’ll have no trouble because the school is offering the MYP/IB programme which they also had in their previous school and exists worldwide.”
A common fear was that children would lose their knowledge of foreign languages. One expat, an Australian in Germany worries that “our children will be academically behind kids their own age.”
This worry was also voiced by internationals (mostly British and American) with their children at primary school in the Netherlands.
International students – higher education
Eighty-eight percent of respondents were pleased with the standard of tertiary education in their current country of residence with 80 percent are studying in English and 32 percent in the local language. Half of those involved in tertiary education said that they (or their children) were at university studying for a Bachelor degree. Around 30 percent were doing a Masters.
National or international schools?
International schools are often the first option considered. Designed to ease the educational transition of a move from one country to another, such schools are a good choice for the children of foreign parents who are staying temporarily in the host country. However, for families planning to settle into a country long-term, the national school system could be the most effective path. Each country will have its pro and cons and parents will have to consider such factors as the age of their children and language(s) spoken in the host country before making a selection.
Where to find the information
The majority of you found information on education in your country of residence on the internet via Google search, websites for expats, governmental websites, or through government offices and relocation companies.
An Australian in Germany remarks: “Our relocation consultant provided some info, but I had to do all the leg-work, which was very difficult when we had just arrived and I could not speak German.
A Belgian family the Netherlands resorted to the internet saying the school didn’t give them enough information. What’s more, “the school is closed during the whole summer so we could not call them or gain any information until mid August,” she said.
A British expat reports that in general there is a “need for more information on higher education for adults (international) especially with regards to costs, and a Russian “missed support for international students, especially concerning legal issues such as residence permits and extensions.”
Pluses outweigh minuses
Despite any criticisms you have given us, when it comes to educating your children abroad the pluses seem to outweigh the minuses as these comments confirm:
Venezuelan expat: “Education in any foreign country is a scary and exciting thing but it can only be enriching because it allows you to experience another culture.”
British expat: “Mixing with people from different cultures, ethnic groups and religious beliefs can only be seen as a positive step forward in understanding ’it’s ok to be different’!”
French: “Changing environment is always an interesting process of learning.”
Swedish expat: “My children have been abroad for 10 years and are now into to their fifth language and fluent in four others. They also have a huge knowledge of religion and cultures.”
Now who wouldn’t want that for their children?
We’d like to thank all of you who took part in this poll, with special thanks to Willemijn van Oppen of Dutch helpdesk for international education Educaide, for help and advice in drawing up the questions.