Welcome to the first in a series of questions you should ask when choosing an international school in China! International transitions are hard. They’re also exciting, challenging, and unforgettable, but without careful planning, a bumpy start to your new life abroad can come with a lot of heartache. You have to find a new house, a new grocery store to shop in, new ways to get around; the list goes on and on. One of the biggest decisions is choosing a new school for your kids. Take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation by jotting down some key questions to ask when you go on that first tour of a school, or when you’re emailing back and forth with someone in admissions.
You may not know it, but international schooling is exploding globally, and China is no exception. Not only are more people choosing to live internationally, but also more and more parents are choosing international education in their home countries. Some reasons are that international education allows their kids to rub shoulders with others from around the world, builds skills in multiple languages, and combines high academic achievement with strong programs in things that are typically lacking in ordinary public schools, like fine arts or character development. Unfortunately, with increased demand, it seems like there’s a new school on the scene every time you turn around, which makes it really hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Add to this the fact that many countries don’t have the same oversight of international schools that they would have for local schools, and you may find yourself unwittingly comparing apples to oranges when you’re shopping around.
Surprisingly, many parents don’t ask about accreditation. Accreditation is the process that schools undergo to be recognized as a progressive school by an established accrediting organization. Accrediting organizations come into a school and evaluate every aspect, from curriculum to financial stability. Accrediting organizations ensure that the school has solid plans, resources, and personnel to ensure student learning and safety. Most international schools are accredited by organizations in the country that provides their curriculum—Canadian accreditation at Canadian schools, British accreditation at British schools, etc. Many international schools may have some type of accreditation from the host country as well. In China, it’s good if a school has both. If the school has international accreditation, obviously that should tell you that the school has been rigorously tested and checked for all those things that would be expected in the country the school represents. If the school has local accreditation, that means that it has strong local ties and is legally registered in China as a legitimate school.
Naturally, once you’ve gotten the accreditation question out of the way, the next best thing to do is to ask who is doing the accrediting. Then a quick online search will tell you how much you can trust the accrediting body. For overseas accrediting bodies, look for ones that have the same language background; also, connections to established higher education are a good sign. And don’t forget to make sure that the school you’re considering is listed on the website of the accrediting body. Finally, ask when the school was last accredited; good schools will have dated certificates of accreditation posted in a high traffic area of the school for all to see and accreditation details on their website. If the last time the school was accredited was long before your child was even born, you might want to look elsewhere. Reputable accrediting bodies will require a school to repeat the process at regular intervals, like once every five years.
Lastly, what if there is no accreditation? This doesn’t necessarily mean the school won’t offer your child a good education. But keep in mind, schools are accredited for a reason: it tells you that the school has been evaluated and deemed a quality school, committed to ongoing improvement in instruction and operations. If you find there is no accreditation in a school you’re interested in, you need to look at other indications of what makes a good school, which we’ll discuss later in this series.