Vetting international schools to find the best one for your child can be a daunting prospect. The years spent in primary and secondary school are formative, to say the least, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the environment in which a child is educated has a strong impact on their overall development.

In the course of searching for the best schools, there are three important factors parents should take into account:

  • Location – Naturally, your location may be a limiting factor in where your child enrols. But as these schools cater to a large amount of international families they are generally found in convenient, easily accessible and often beautiful locations.
  • Curriculum – This is particularly important at the secondary level, as the type of curriculum will ultimately determine whether the student is prepared to attend university at, for example, a British or North American institution.
  • Reputation – The reputation of the faculty, facilities and previous graduates should always be taken into account when vetting international schools.

These are important factors, to be sure. But there is another just as important (if much more elusive) consideration that parents are wise to keep in mind. That is the spirit of community fostered right on campus.

Image courtesy of the International Community School Singapore

The role of community at an international school

During their time at primary and secondary school, students are being actively prepared for higher education. But that’s only part of the equation. They’re also being equipped to become productive and high-functioning members of a globalised society. This exceeds the realm of standard curriculum, as progress isn’t easily assessed through examinations or standardised tests. Instead, this is the role of the academic community fostered at the school.

A strong sense of community at an international school serves as a holistic support structure. Students can sense the fact that they are part of something bigger than themselves, helping them achieve more in the course of their studies. Here are four specific ways a sense of community can help accomplish this:

1. Teach societal values

A school with a strong, inclusive community will naturally teach students the values of 21st century society in a safe and constructive environment. This occurs, at least in part, through group work, student presentations, extracurricular activities and clubs such as Model United Nations or Debate Club. These values are then reinforced through community outreach and service projects.

2. Develop character

The best international schools also specialise in character development. This begins with the example of teachers and staff. In a school with a strong, inclusive community, older students may even have opportunities to work with and mentor younger classmates.

International Community School Singapore student and teacher
Image courtesy of the International Community School Singapore

3. Create cultural awareness

By their very nature, international schools foster diverse campuses with students and staff representing many different nationalities. But the top schools take this a step further by actively seeking out ways students can engage with the host community and even participate in cross-cultural service projects in other countries.


A photo posted by TenbyPenang (@tenbypenang) on

4. Instil a sense of service

Finally, a school with a strong community culture will also teach students the importance of service and giving back to the community. The school may even organise community-service programmes so students have the opportunity to become actively engaged in the place where they live and study.

Are you currently looking for an international school where your child will receive a holistic education that goes beyond textbooks and curriculum? Here are a few world-leading options you should seriously consider:


ICS offers a kindergarten through Grade 12 education with an American curriculum, seeing more than 85 percent of its graduates gaining admittance to prestigious U.S. universities. But the education process here extends well beyond the limits of traditional curriculum; as a Christian school, ‘Caring Community’ is literally one of its core values. The goal is to help students learn to respectfully interact across age, cultural and ethnic boundaries. The faculty and staff work in concert to foster an inclusive sense of community on campus, with many opportunities to engage with greater Singapore as well.

Through ICS’s community service program, students are assigned to serve a minimum number of local service hours to complete throughout the year, and these must be relational, regular, and redemptive. Throughout the second semester, students participate in a week-long service project trip – often to a nearby foreign country. Over the course of their education, students learn the value of servant-leadership and investing in others, and are shaped into active community members within ICS, Singapore, and the rest of the world. 


Tenby Schools is a rapidly growing group of private international schools in Malaysia. The flagship school opened its doors in Ipoh in 1960, and several other branches have opened since this time. The Penang location launched as a kindergarten in 2007, before moving to its present location in Tanjung Bungah a few years later. Today, Tenby Schools Penang offers full curriculum from Kindergarten through Year 13. The school features comprehensive facilities through which to explore the arts, music, science and sport. Students are held to a high standard of excellence, with many graduates gaining acceptance into top international universities in the UK and elsewhere.


Image courtesy of Highlands International Boarding School

Located in the Genting Highlands, Malaysia, Highlands International School (HIBS) welcomes students from Year 7 to Year 11. The curriculum at HIBS is designed to prepare students for entry to some of the top universities in the world, with IGCSE ‘O Levels’ and Cambridge ‘A-Levels’ offered. At the heart of HIBS’ philosophy is ‘community living’ – with the aim to ensure students stay happy and healthy. Student experience at HIBS is just as valued as academic achievement, with the school’s holistic approach to education designed to produce intelligent, fulfilled young people aware of their role in the world. 


Formerly known as Phuket International Academy, UWC Thailand joined the United World College movement in August 2016 and became part of a network of 16 schools and colleges around the world. This is a diverse and thriving international community, and the student body represents 65 different nationalities. This is Thailand’s only international school south of Bangkok to offer all three International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes. The IB focuses on creating well-rounded students who are compassionate and active in their communities. Perched in the foothills of a beautiful national park on Phuket Island, this is an ideal location for students to launch a lifelong pursuit of learning.


boarding school in japan, American School in Japan
Image courtesy of the American School in Japan

One of Tokyo’s most prestigious international schools, the American School in Japan (ASIJ) was founded at the turn of the 20th century, and now counts itself amongst the top international schools in the world. Approximately 1,500 students are now enrolled, with upwards of 40 nationalities being represented. The faculty here are outstanding, with many holding advanced degrees within their specialisation. The ASIJ community is service-oriented, and students are encouraged to live a life of compassion both locally and globally. The 5.8 hectare campus is fully equipped with the latest facilities, including athletic fields and courts, three gymnasiums, performance venues and much more. And all of this underpins a truly challenging curriculum that sees students consistently scoring well above their peers on standardised tests including the ERB, PSAT and SAT exams.

*Some of the institutions participating in this story are commercial partners of Study International

Feature image courtesy of the International Community School Singapore.

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