Choosing an International School for Your Child

By Mia Moranza
September 26, 2013

Japan is undergoing a rapid globalization of its education, and international schools are at the forefront of this change. The Tokyo area has some of the best international schools in the world, but often the most difficult thing for parents who choose the international school route, is deciding which one is best for their child or children.

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It is essential that the next generation—our children—are true “global communicators,” and we as parents have the complicated task (even for the most studious and committed parents) of finding a school that will allow our children to develop and nurture their full potential, while enabling the family to function harmoniously and happily whether at home or abroad.

This is an ideal time of year to consider the first or next step for your child, as class has been in session a while now but we haven’t yet reached the rush around enrollment deadlines for the following year. Here are three steps to take in choosing the best school for your family:

1. Do your homework before you even look at schools

Prioritize what’s most important to your child and family, taking into consideration academics, special education, sports, arts, language and extracurricular activities, but also practicalities like tuition, transportation, and afterschool programs.

Consider your location compared to that of your candidate schools. How will your child get to school each morning? How long will it take, what transport links are available in the area? Does the school provide a school bus? How will your child’s commute affect your schedule, work, etc.?

Also be sure to look into which languages are taught by each school. Whether you plan to stay in Japan long-term or are here temporarily, it is important to consider what will benefit your child the most and aid in her future education if the need to change schools should arise.

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2. Visiting schools and what to look for 

Facilities: Particularly in large cities like Tokyo, space is at a premium, so check to see what facilities the school has or has access to. Are they up to date using a progressive teaching style? Do they utilize today’s modern digital techniques and equipment? Is the school safe? Are the grounds properly contained and monitored?

School year schedule: Does the school follow the Japanese school calendar or that of another country? This will affect how you plan family time, vacations, and time off work, and may even have an effect on the availability of babysitting services.

Support services: Does the school have adequate support services for students, particularly if your child has special needs, or if he is adjusting from another school or first language? Also is there support for parents? Can you easily meet other parents at school? Is there a parents’ coffee morning or regular meet-up?

Extracurricular activities: Does the school offer and support extracurricular activities such as sports, arts, music and academic related clubs?

Accreditation: Is the school accredited, and if so, by which body?

Teachers and staff: Are the teachers at the school properly qualified? Does the school have a high turnover of teaching staff? Is the administration staff friendly to parents?

Language: What is the predominant language at the school? What other languages are taught and how often?

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3. Get more information

Whether you’re choosing a preschool or high school, find out what happens to children who graduate from that institution. Where do they go next, and are they successful there? Seek out parents whose children went through the program, and talk to them about their experiences.

Communication: How does the school communicate with parents? Clear lines of communication are essential to understanding what’s happening at school.

Community: Most international schools have open days and community events held throughout the year, which welcome perspective families to come along. This is a great way to not only see the school and teachers, but also the parents, students and general community spirit firsthand.

Photos courtesy of International School of the Sacred Heart

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