International schools not all they are cracked up to be

By Nguyen Dinh Xuan   June 30, 2023 | 07:54 pm PT
International schools not all they are cracked up to be
Parents attend a meeting at an international school in Ho Chi Minh City in May, 2020 as they disagree with a raise in tuition fees. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung
Students at international schools get to enjoy modern facilities and have excellent English. These are complete myths.

Many international schools successfully promote themselves as having modern teaching methods, an environment that focuses on skill development, group work and personal development, and well-equipped campuses.

But the truth is, they are not heaven.

Many parents have complained about non-stop increases in tuition fees by these schools and problems with teaching quality, but since switching to a public school would disrupt their children’s studies and is also embarrassing, they are stuck.

International schools, like any private school, are a business and parents are customers. They make profits through very basic business methods: keep current customers, attract new ones, reduce costs, and increase revenues from each customer.

They often welcome first-time customers with preferential prices and promotions. But those won’t last. You need to pay attention to notice that the tuition will be raised by 5-10% a year, and cost more for higher grades.

Some parents have told me that the tuition they had to pay doubled within three years, and there were still nine years ahead, or even 13 if their children could only fit into an international university.

So, before sending your children to an international school, make sure you can afford its increasing costs for 10 years or more.

Besides costs, there are many other aspects parents should research. Are they as qualified as advertised? How will your children get to benefit from the school’s swimming pool and gymnasium? How many hours will they get to use those facilities? Does the pool have rooms for showering and changing clothes? How well do the elevators operate?

I once received a very odd explanation from an international school: "There are too many students using the elevators after the lunch break, and many come up to class late, and so we will shut down all elevators during this period and every student has to walk to be fair."

Some parents told me their children only get to use the outdoor football pitch at 1 p.m. and the swimming pool at 11 a.m. because they are occupied with other classes.

Meals at international schools also cost a lot more than at public schools, but have you ever questioned what it is spent on?

The school curriculum is designed for students to acquire various skills in a relaxed environment. But since there is often not enough time, certain classes are skipped. And as international schools have a certain autonomy, you can hardly ask educational authorities to go and check or do anything about it.

Last but not least, is the students’ English really good?

Of course with more than 10 classes a week taught in English, and with foreign teachers, their command over the language must be evidently better than that of a student at an average public school.

But ask them to translate a literary excerpt, engage in a conversation with a foreign guest or simply take an IELTS test, and they will not do a good job because the schools do not really teach them those things.

Parents should not be under the illusion that international schools will magically turn their children into excellent English users.

They should decide with caution before signing up for one of those schools. It is an investment and not one guaranteed to succeed.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
go to top