EDUCATION APRIL 29, 2013, 7:03 AM
International Schools Boom as More Seek Education in English, By JOYCE LAU
Daniel Mirer/Council of International Schools
Teachers lined up at an interview sign-up session at the Council of International Schools’ recruitment fair in London.
HONG KONG — A century ago, there were only a handful of international schools in the world, mostly set up by Western corporations so overseas employees would have a place to educate their children. (Shell has had one in Borneo since the 1920s, after it discovered oil there in the 1910s).
The divide between what was once known as the First World and everyone else was more clearly defined then. So was education. International schools were small, elite replicas of Western schools for the generally white, rich children of parents posted in “exotic” locales. Locals were left to local schools.
But — as developed nations have become wealthier and as the world has become more multicultural — international schools have boomed. According to ISC Research in Britain, there are now 6,400 international schools all over the globe. In a decade, that number is expected to almost double.
Their makeup has changed, too. International school students and faculty can be of any background or nationality. And terms like “expat” and “local” don’t mean as much in 2013 — not when you have Hong Kong-born Eurasian kids with a Swiss banker father and a Singaporean designer mother.
“The real driver is the increase in the number of locals who want an English-language education for their children,” said Nicholas Brummitt, ISC Research’s managing director. “When you make more money, you want your children taught in English. It is just the way it is.”
That’s certainly the case here in Hong Kong, where the government made hundreds of English-language public schools change to Chinese-language instruction after the 1997 handover, leaving many local parents desperate to enroll their children in private education – even if the price tag is much higher.
So what are international schools today? Are they simply English-language private schools with Western curriculums (like the International Baccalaureate)? And who, exactly, teaches at them?
Ginanne Brownell, who attended an international school recruitment fair in London, reports on the frantic horse-trading that goes on behind the scenes as employers vie for top educators and vice versa. Her full feature article is here.
Ginanne reports that education budget cuts in the West have left many well-qualified teachers in places like Canada, the United States and Europe without jobs. The prospect of being paid a good salary to live abroad — from Rio to Rome to Riyadh — is tempting. Meanwhile, international schools are rushing to fill the many new positions created by the huge student demand. At these fairs, recruiters and potential employees run around networking in bars and even doing interviews in hotel rooms. One interviewee called it a “cattle call.”
Did you or do your children attend an international school or a local one? Have you taught in one? Tell us your experiences. Is a Western-style education worth the cost? Is it fair that, in some places, only rich local residents can afford English-language international schooling for their children?