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What parents look for in top international schools in 2021

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A new survey reveals how parents pick the right international school for their children — and the results may surprise you. Source: John Moore/Getty Images/AFP

Parents send their children to top international schools so they may gain a valuable education — but what exactly do they look for when choosing a school? Besides language skills and a solid higher education pathway, a survey carried out in December 2020 reveals that parents are also placing increasing importance on student wellbeing and online learning provision.

Published in the latest ISC Research white paper, these findings are current concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has either caused schools to shut down campus or reopen with health and safety protocol in place. Here’s a breakdown of the results.

COVID-19: Online learning and student wellbeing

In this survey of top international school admissions staff in key markets, 84% rated the school’s online learning provision either “important” or “very important” to prospective parents while 83% believed the curriculum to be “very important.” Besides that, 66% reported student wellbeing support to be another major factor in selecting the right school.

As ISC Research stated, “The impact of COVID-19 has raised awareness of strategic wellbeing provision in schools further to the point that, for more parents, it is now a stated requirement in school selection.” The research further sheds light on the emphasis placed on curricula, which are increasingly dynamic and adaptable to local contexts. This mostly consists of the UK-oriented, US-oriented, International Baccalaureate, and Cambridge curricula.

top international schools

Parents and children need schools that can effectively support virtual learning during the pandemic. Source: John Moore/Getty Images/AFP

Cultural exposure, higher ed pathways

With all that said, parents still look to top international schools as reliable pathways to global higher education options. This is seen in the increasing demand for bilingual schooling across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. As the paper states, “Many parents want their child to value their home language and cultural heritage as well as becoming fluent English speakers.”

“Some governments now insist on national students being provided with local culture, history, tradition and language provision and this requirement can include international schools. Many international schools independently recognise the value of this,” ISC Research communications director Anne Keeling told The PIE News. The majority of demand for international schooling now comes from local families.

“Most reputable international schools now educate parents and their students about selecting ‘best fit’ universities and courses to ensure degree success and optimum career potential,” the paper also notes. It suggests that prospective parents must look beyond platitudes and promises to discern what these schools can truly offer their child.

top international schools

Do you go beyond curricula and activities when surveying international schools these days? Source: John Moore/Getty Images/AFP

Parents must dig deeper to vet top international schools

Interestingly, 91.6% of the admissions staff surveyed rated the quality of teachers as “very important” to parents surveying top international schools, although the criteria upon which their quality is judged remain vague. This suggests that parents need to do more research into the criteria they prioritise. For instance, many favour teachers of certain nationalities or “native English speakers” without considering their qualifications or experience, nor the value of a diverse teacher demographic to the school community.

On a related note, the report suggests parents are increasingly interested in contact time and accessibility to teachers and staff as they check out schools during the pandemic. “The desire for international school education may well remain, but parents want ‘more bang for their buck’; they expect value for money and that no longer just means the provision of a pathway to global higher education,” the paper concluded.

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