5 Issues to Consider when Choosing a National School

Posted by on Mar 18, 2013 in Blog | 1 comment

Nancy Elwood is the co-founder of PACE, and serves as executive director of SHARE, where she leads a staff of education consultants serving throughout Europe and Eurasia. Nancy and her husband Mike live in Budapest, Hungary, and have two adult sons. She enjoys opening her home to guests and playing “Words with Friends.” This year, she and her husband celebrate 30 years of ministry in Europe.

In choosing a national school for your child, a number of issues need to be considered. Some of these are listed below.

Determine Your Long-Term Goals (What questions do we need to ask?)

  • What are our goals for having our child in the national school (social interaction, language acquisition, academics)?
  • How will we know when we have achieved these goals?
  • How long will we be in this country? (Are we here long enough to gain some benefits of a bilingual education?)
  • Where will my child attend high school? College? (Does national schooling hinder or enhance this goal?)

Evaluate Your Probability of Success (What factors are most critical?)

  • Who is my child (introverted/extroverted, easily stressed/easy going, high achiever/struggling learner, self motivated/needs external motivation, healthy/chronic health issues, etc.)?
  • How much daily time do we have available to assist our child with homework and to maintain adequate contact with the teacher?
  • Will choosing this option contribute to or negatively impact our ministry or job assignment?
  • When and how will we supplement the national school program with instruction in our mother tongue (critical on-going need)?
  • Can we find someone (a national) who can help us bridge the cultural and language barriers to the school?
  • Can we find someone who can regularly tutor our child outside the classroom?

Examine the Characteristics of National Schools (How much do I know about using this option?)

  • Do we understand that there may be philosophical differences in the way education is perceived and delivered compared to our home country?
  • Do we acknowledge that there may be a difference in teacher expectations about the role of a teacher as authority in the classroom and/or as supervisor outside of the classroom (i.e., on the playground) compared to our home country?
  • Do we realize that there will be many cultural traditions and expectations that are assumed (not written anywhere)?

Shop Around for a National School (Don’t assume you must use the school down the street or be part of a district as you would in your home country.)

  • Are there schools that other families have used successfully in this area?
  • Are there certain schools that have a better reputation for quality than others? (Ask your neighbors and friends.)
  • Is there an openness to having foreign students in class (by both school director and teacher)?
  • Is there flexibility in allowing a period of adjustment (less emphasis initially on grades and homework)?
  • Is there flexibility in allowing for part-time attendance if I choose to home school my child for some subjects?
  • Is there a willingness to allow for or provide language and cultural mentoring (to assist with cultural cues and teacher expectations)?
  • Is the school facility reasonably maintained (adequate heating, clean restrooms)?
  • Is the teacher open to (or not threatened by) parent involvement in the classroom (for example, help with teaching English, etc.)?

Continually Evaluate How It’s Going (How to keep your finger on the pulse of this option.)

  • Don’t assume that once your child can speak the language fluently, he always understands everything that is going on in the classroom.
  • Continue to use a national tutor to prevent a language or academic gap from widening until it becomes critical.
  • Continually debrief your child about what is going on at school, both in the classroom and on the playground.
  • Make every effort to maintain a friendly connection to the school and other parents.
  • Keep a record of each class your child takes each year and the basic content (i.e., math: adding and subtracting fractions).
  • Encourage your child to write regularly in his or her mother tongue (letters to friends and relatives, journals).
  • If your child will be returning to his home country for more schooling, have his home language skills evaluated 9-12 months before returning so that academic weaknesses can be identified and strengthened.
  • Annually review your goals for using the national school, and decide if they are still being met.


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  • Kay

    Excellent resource to have on hand when consulting with families using national schools.

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