Parents who have been through the process before say that finding the right school for your child starts with asking the right questions. In Shanghai, expat families have a variety of schools from which to choose.
The choices range from prestigious Shanghai international schools, to international divisions within local schools, to local schools themselves. No two schools are the same, including the ones with multiple campuses. Institutions can vary in terms of curriculum, facilities, size, cost, location, activities, philosophy and sometimes even in teacher experience.
Before you pick up a single brochure, contact an admissions officer or set foot on a campus, prepare to request answers to these three key questions: 1) What is the student to teacher ratio, and what certifications do teachers have? 2) How will this school prepare my child for university? and 3) Does this school provide an environment in which my child will thrive?
What is the student to teacher ratio, and what certifications do teachers have?
Research throughout the world has consistently indicated that good teachers are the key element of children’s developmental and academic success. Furthermore, quality teachers are able to thrive when the student to teacher ratio is low. Smaller class sizes permit teachers to attend to the needs of each individual student and be innovative in presenting course material and facilitating learning. Be sure to ask admissions officers about teachers’ qualifications and school class sizes. Follow up by visiting a few classrooms and feeling the atmosphere.
How will this school prepare my child for university?
If your child is in secondary school, then knowing which country your child wants to head to after graduation will help determine which curriculum is best suited for them. American universities are familiar with the British curriculum and vice versa. The IB programme is recognised worldwide. Students who plan to study in the UK or Asia (other than mainland China) are best served by preparing for and taking IGCSE exams in Year 11. Likewise, though Canadian and Australian students have a bit more flexibility, most parents prefer to educate their children in the British curriculum. The British International School Shanghai offers IB options (either the more intensive diploma programme or the certificate programme) for years 12 and 13. Of course, an IB diploma is portable and both American- and British-system schools offer the IB programme.
Does this school provide an environment in which my child will thrive?
Ultimately, selecting a school comes down to personal taste. It’s tempting to try to generalise, but the fact is a large student body does not automatically mean a school is impersonal. Likewise, a small student body does not automatically mean a school lacks in course or activity options. If you can, visit the school and get a sense of the atmosphere. Read school marketing materials critically to determine their emphasis. Most importantly, talk to other parents. Ask what they like about the school and what they would change. Make the most of your school visit by paying attention to the tone of classrooms as well as general areas, noting interactions between students and teachers and among students themselves.
Here are some additional questions that parents report are helpful when gauging a school:
- What is the annual turnover rate of teachers?
- What percentage of teachers are certified to teach in their home country?
- What IB classes are available? Which are the most popular?
- What foreign languages are available and are students required to study Chinese?
- Where do graduates go to university?
- What extracurricular activities are available?
- What community service opportunities are available?