International schools: the current state of play (EL Gazette)

The latest EL Gazette includes a feature article on international schools:

This article began with a focus on traditional international schools – those typically serving the interests of Western expatriates. It suggested that nations such as Singapore, India and China have tapped into/are tapping into this traditional model. An example was with China ‘looking to expand its network of Mandarin-medium schools overseas’. After a few stats about the number of (mainly state-assisted) international schools and the number of schools offering the Cambridge International curriculum, the article briefly mentioned some issues international schools face with regulation. The main issue mentioned was safeguarding.

The second article suggested that the goal posts are shifting for international schools. It reports that some countries are limiting international school enrolment for host nationals, as well as introducing host-national-only ownership of private schools, restricting the level of foreign investment.

You can read both articles here, pages 14-15.

It’s great to see international schooling covered in the EL Gazette. The rising popularity of courses such as international PGCEs (see unis such as Nottingham, Derby, Warwick) have provided a way for many TEFLers to sidestep into international schooling. It is attractive, often meaning more job security, better pay and conditions, opportunities for global mobility within schools networks, and so on. In my part of the world, moving from TEFL into international school teaching is a very common topic of discussion among teachers, so to see EL Gazette exploring the current state of play is welcome.

That said, I felt these articles didn’t really capture the current state of play with international schools, which has evolved well beyond the traditional model assumed by the author.

Some more facts

In my review of How Global Capital is Shaping International Education, I mentioned Dan Taylor’s tweet thread of key facts from the book. I think that would give a bit more context to the EL Gazette article. Click here a really interesting thread.

I’ve drawn out some of the points which are relevant to discussion of the EL Gazette article:

  • Asia has had the biggest growth in International Schools in the past decade. 54% of International Schools are in Asia and 60% of students (meaning also that the schools are larger on average than others)

The second EL Gazette article ends with ‘Are the problems facing international schools in Asia about to get tougher?’ A stat like this to me really suggests they haven’t faced too many problems in the last decade at least.

  • The catalyst for many English private schools to set up profit making Asian branches (Harrow, Dulwich College, Wellington, Shrewsbury etc.) was a change in the UK charities act which reduced their income.

I feel this could certainly have been an angle to explore for background info at the start of the first article, especially as some prominent int schools operate as franchises of these private schools.

  • The biggest school groups are GEMS, Nord Anglia and Cognita. All have revenues over USD 500 million/year

There is no real mention of Transnational Education Corporations (TECs) in the article, yet these really are driving the international school scene at present.

  • As an example of growth, Singapore had 11 international Schools in 1990, growing to 35 in 2019. Of these only 7 are single campus non-profit schools

The article’s focus on state-assisted schools feels misplaced, as the market has expanded well beyond such a model.

  • All Asian countries have had different approaches to restricting local families access to Int schools to a greater or lesser extent. In S. Korea the government restricted local families access but this lead to many children being sent abroad which lead to the policy bring relaxed.

The examples of restrictions in Japan and China in the second article really don’t tell the full story. The relaxed approach to caps on host-national enrolment in countries such as Malaysia was mentioned, but could have been explored in more detail as a counterargument, especially given rapid expansion of the international schools market in that county. The article suggests that the number of host-national students enrolling in international schools in countries across Asia is increasing. Is the situation in China simply an exception, and is it likely to be much of a problem?

  • Around half of International Schools use the IB curriculum. IGCSE and IPC are also popular

The point made about Cambridge International ‘winning the war’ regarding curricula at international schools is perhaps misleading.

The changing nature of international schools

I mentioned in my summary for Nexus Education that the notion of an ‘international school’ has evolved. The typology of international schools (Hayden and Thompson, 2013) in my view shows that any discussion on international schooling should no longer revolve around a traditional model, as I feel we are well beyond that…

Type A – Traditional international schools – typically serving Western expatriates.

Type B – Ideological international schools – embracing a more ideological take on ‘international-mindedness’.

Type C – Non-traditional international schools – typically geared more towards host-country nationals.

Focusing primarily on Type A schools (or close variants of them) as in the first article may reveal an agenda/be too narrow a focus on behalf of the author.

I don’t want to do the EL Gazette a disservice as it’s a great mag, and I’m pleased to see an edition on the international education scene. However, in this instance I’m not sure it’s really captured where we are and where we are going when it comes to international schooling. For me, ‘a current state of play’ on international schooling would involve exploring topics such as:

  • The dominance and impact of Transnational Education Corporations on the international school scene.
  • What’s happened to traditional international schools? Are international schools still expat bubbles?
  • What does an ‘international school’ really mean these days?
  • Why English-medium instruction? What do parents really want for their kids?
  • What is this thing called ‘international-mindedness’? Is it more than just a marketing tool?
  • EAL in international schools – models, approaches, assessment, expectations

Sure, I mean, some of these could be more research topics than articles in an EL magazine.

Anyhow, I hope this adds a bit to the discussion 😊



Categories: General, reflections

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