Is Quality Education in an International School a Leap of Faith?

For parents, it is becoming increasingly hard to see through the marketing glitz and glamour, and essentially see the true potential any particular international school has.
One of the quickest and easiest methods a parent can adopt in assessing potential international schools is to look for any type of externally awarded accreditation or quality assurance.
Accreditation is essentially about standards and approval of a school’s programmes and their implementation. Internationally, there are numerous bodies awarding kite marks to schools after varying degrees of inspection. Within Malaysia you can commonly see accreditation from the Council of International Schools (CIS), in the form of a British Schools Overseas (BSO) kite mark or an International Schools Quality Mark (ISQM) to name but a few.
It has to be noted, however, that for many teachers, accreditation is still seen as amounting to nothing more than additional paperwork, more layers of bureaucracy, ‘box ticking’ and ‘hoop jumping’. Whatever stance you opt to take however, it cannot be denied that an international organisation has come in and assessed the school in question against their benchmarks. For a parent, that should provide some reassurance that the school, at the very least, is adhering to established benchmarks.
Another aspect to keep in mind is how students are challenged emotionally as well as academically. Mr. Rajan Kaloo, the Director of Services at elc International School, suggests “parents need to spend time in the school of choice, watching the students interact with teachers and their peers. Get a feel for the way they behave and talk – this will give a sense of the school as a whole. Regardless of what may appear to be state-of-the -art facilities, ask whether there is an ambiance for learning. Admissions and websites are designed to sell, so trust what you see with your own eyes and your own instincts”.
We need to remember that gone are the days when a school’s raison d’être was only to produce knowledgeable students. It was once believed that social skills and mental health were a given, and students were sufficiently active physically. Resilience was not a word that needed to be taught. Life skills were exactly that, skills that one picked up in life and teachers did not need to actively impart life skills. Now fast forward to today, and one is shaken by the new reality.
We are guiding Generation Z – the first generation born into the age of social media. They do not know life before social media and consequently now live a life that is dictated by the hazy rules of social media. With some exceptions, the majority of Generation Z see themselves as constantly connected, but yet are disconnected from life as we, the earlier generations, know it. There is a great desire among them for independence while all too often, the reality is of grudging dependence. Mental health issues have become the new norm due to the existence and pressures of social media. Failure is too easily embraced. Self-esteem is at an all-time low and social skills are disappearing.
It is necessary for teachers now to develop student life skills. Students need to have high self-esteem and resilience to survive in today’s environment. If students are forced to address their weaknesses and build on them, they will learn that nothing is impossible to a determined person. All parents need to examine a potential school and ask how that is being achieved. For this to happen successfully, you will need a teaching body that is motivated and prepared to tackle problems head on, even if it leads to conflict with the student or potentially even the parents themselves! Do not dismiss a school that gives you a negative report on your child’s developmental progress, you need to know that the school is prepared to have difficult conversations with you without fear or favour.
Ultimately there is no sure-fire way of assessing if a school is right for your children and there are no shortcuts. A good place to start may be to ensure the school is accredited, as it indicates that the school has undergone a rigorous programme of self and peer review. Given today’s student and the problems they typically face, it is also important to look at what the school is doing to develop a student’s emotional resilience.
Finally, every parent needs to determine if what is being offered is in line with their own wants and needs for their child’s education.
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