Moving to a new country with your family can be an incredibly exciting experience for your children. They have the opportunity to meet new friends, familiarize themselves with different cultures, and even learn new languages. However, it’s important to find a strong educational institution to help them transition successfully so they can feel appreciated and rooted in their new environment.

Local parents face a similar dilemma. They seek the rigorous academic standards of an international curriculum for their children, but also an all-encompassing education steers the latter through the difficult transitions of life. As they watch their kindergarten child progress into a teenager, parents realize the importance of value-laden instruction bringing about a well-rounded individual who’s ready for the world.

For these reasons, among others, parents choose international schools that are not just strong from an academic perspective, but also emphasize community, a sense of belonging, and character-building. After all, what do all parents want for their children? Surely, they want them to be productive, successful, kind, have good self-esteem, and to be an all-round good person.

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But ultimately, parents want their children to be happy – to be positively joyful. So picking the right international school becomes all the more important, and can be an agonizing decision. To that end, parents often ask schools a standard array of questions – What curriculum do you use? What facilities do you offer? What are your academic scores and ranking?

While those are certainly legitimate and important questions, they can often miss the forest for the trees. Education is far more than just academic achievements and physical facilities. Ultimately, it’s about nurturing a strong, well-rounded individual who’s equipped emotionally and psychologically to succeed in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world.

If you’re a parent, it’s important to realize that the most important questions to consider when you’re picking a school are also the most straightforward and commonsensical. They strike at the core of what it means to be fulfilled as a human being.

1. Does the school put sufficient emphasis on character development?

Firstly, ask yourself if your child would better equipped to handle life’s challenges after attending the school. A good school would teach a student to apply themselves to tasks with determination, diligence, and integrity. And as you well know, this is certainly no small matter – in today’s competitive workplace and business environment, success and failure are determined based on your ability to rough it out without taking shortcuts. Straight As mean nothing if you flinch in the face of stress and setbacks.

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2. Is the school committed to the development of my child’s social skills and self-esteem?

You want to see your child grow into someone with the confidence and ability to lead and make a mark on this world, and not just follow others. “Soft skills” is a popular term these days, but many schools don’t emphasize it enough. Ask if the school puts a premium on student presentations, group work, debate, and even plays. The more times your child is exposed to social situations, the better.

3. Are students encouraged to form their own identities?

Next, consider if the school is giving enough space to students to form their own identities – to discover who they are, what they want in life, and why they are the way they are. If every parent ultimately wants their child to be happy and fulfilled, this is among the most important considerations. Ask if the school offers multiple paths of study, the ability to choose individual subjects, and a good array of extracurricular activities and sports. Also, look for an emphasis on critical thought and freedom of opinion. In the end, more choices available to students mean more space for them to grow and prosper as individuals.

Image courtesy of International Community School (Singapore)

4. Do they provide a strong and community centred environment for my child to grow?

Transitions – whether geographical or life stage – are important periods for children, necessitating education and an environment that’s both sensitive and supportive. An ideal school provides a strong and well-knit community that celebrates wholesome values and cultural diversity. Students are easily able to form long-lasting friendships across age, cultural and ethnic boundaries, while being supported by culturally sensitive and welcoming academic staff. Growing up in this environment will allow students to be better prepared for further transitions and challenges in their life.

5. Do they help students develop empathy and the skills to work with and understand others?

Also, one of the most basic human attributes is empathy. Students should be given the academic opportunity to view things from other people’s perspectives, and the real-world opportunity to serve them and make a difference in this world. Many schools talk about being a “global citizen”, but surely that’s much more than just “being a nice or thoughtful person.” Getting students to act on their empathy through social work isn’t just a triumph of charity, but enriches their worldview and equips them with the sensitivity to succeed in the world. If you’re unable to understand the perspectives of others, you’re unlikely to convince or lead them.

6. Are the teachers invested in the students?

Finally, consider if the staff at the school embodies all that was discussed above. Are they empathetic and sensitive? Are they open to new ideas and encouraging of personal growth? Most importantly, are they genuinely concerned about a student’s well-being and happiness? It’s crucial to understand that students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Too many schools neglect this, resulting not only in flagging morale among the student body, but lacklustre academic results. Teachers must demonstrate that they’re invested in students or students will not invest in the academic material.

Don’t be shy to ask beyond the standard questions to any member of the staff when you visit any school. Be straightforward and ask, you will be able to tell a lot about the heart of the school and their culture by the way they reply to them, allowing you to discover if the school is a good fit for your child to thrive.

Image courtesy of International Community School (Singapore)

The article was sponsored by International Community School (Singapore), whose mission is to both educate minds and transform lives. The school has earned itself an increasingly global reputation for excellence, hosting a culturally rich student body of more than 440 students from over 26 different countries. Employing an American curriculum, 86 percent of its graduates go on to attend prestigious U.S. universities. ICS prides itself on its provision of a dynamic, challenging and holistic education, recognizing the uniqueness and talent of each individual student. The school’s involvement in local and annual community service projects, where it partners with ministries in Cambodia, Malaysia, India, the Philippines, and throughout Southeast Asia, also contributes to the students’ international outlook – something that is incredibly valuable in an increasingly globalised world.

Feature image courtesy of International Community School (Singapore)