Wednesday 7th April 2010

Special Report:  Changing Schools; the impact of expat life on learning

One issue that is of a major concern to expatriates who relocate with their families concerns the impact that such a move may have on their children’s education and learning achievements. A move can potentially be either a positive experience or a negative experience and this, in turn, can have either a positive or a negative impact on a child’s education and learning outcomes.

The impact of mobility on a child’s education

Mobility is a term that is used to denote children who move from one school to another in the middle of a school year. Alternatively it can also be the term given to a child who has changed schools on a regular basis over a longer period of time (twice or more in a three year period). Research on mobility reveals it to be a complex area and there are varying opinions pertaining to the extent to which it impacts the learning achievements of a child. General reading on the subject unearths varied beliefs regarding whether mobility should be perceived as positive, neutral, or even beneficial. Some parents report that allowing their children an opportunity to experience school life in a different country provides them with higher levels of learning and life experiences that are engendered as a result of their opportunity to experience new challenges and build resilience. However, others report that there is a “multiplier effect” where regular relocation creates a series of issues that ultimately impact a child’s learning achievement. What is clear, is that the circumstances upon which a child moves school will greatly impact the potential for such a move to be detrimental to their achievement, and for this reason parents need to ensure that their child is prepared for relocation and supported during the transition in a suitable manner.

Potential areas for negative impact on learning

When it comes to relocating children the impact that a move abroad may have on a child is often viewed lightly. Children are perceived to be flexible and able to adjust quickly and easily to any changes in lifestyle. However, this is simply not the case and parents should never underestimate the extent to which children too are capable of feeling as much stress and apprehension concerning the move as the parents themselves. Parents need to acknowledge this and help the children to identify, understand, and potentially overcome, the tangible issues that they are about to face. When it comes to school and education, children will face multiple changes. Just some of these are highlighted below-

  • Work expectations: Expectations pertaining to the hours children are expected to spend at school and completing their homework will vary according to the culture and environment of their host country.
  • Teaching style, school and class organization: The teaching styles, materials and resources will vary from country to country and methods may be employed in the host country that the child is unfamiliar with.
  • Content of the curriculum: Depending upon whether the parents opt to send their children to a international school or a local school the content of the curriculum may very tremendously from that which they are accustomed to.
  • Assessment procedures: Children may be assessed using methods that are unfamiliar to them and with which they have little prior experience. This may impact their ability to perform well during assessments as they may not yet be armed with the skills and experiences needed to do well in them.
  • School starting ages, class ages and class sizes: It is possible that children will be placed into classes that are very different to those that they were accustomed to in their home country. Depending upon the type of school the children are enrolled in they may find themselves in much bigger classes than they are accustomed to with less attention being available from the teacher. Alternatively they may find themselves in smaller teaching groups, something that can be equally uneasy for them.

Assisting your child’s transition

As a parent it is important that you try and see the world through the eyes of your child. Starting a new school in a strange country will be extremely daunting for the majority of children and you need to do everything you can to guide and support them through this process. Here are some things to bear in mind:

Grades are not always the most important thing-
When your child starts a new school in their host country try to avoid putting instant pressure on them to come top of the class. The immediate concerns for your child will pertain to coping with an unfamiliar environment, fitting in with the other children and finding their way around a strange environment. Talk to them about these things and help them to plan how they will approach the first few days. Worry about grades later.

Discuss your child’s experiences with them on a daily basis-
Clear time on a daily basis to discuss your child’s day at school and learn about the challenges and experiences they have faced. If your child is unhappy or confused about issues relating to their new educational environment try and identify these and talk them through. If you feel that an issue is becoming serious, such as bullying, isolation or poor behavior, take the time to visit the school and discuss your concerns with the teacher. Together you may be able to solve any problems before they become more serious.

You may also wish to encourage your children to discuss their experiences with other children who are going through similar experiences. Ori-and-Rick.net is an online resource that is aimed at encouraging children to share their experiences abroad. They can ask questions, share stories and submit contributions that may help other children.

Find a buddy-
Speak to the school in advance and request that a child of similar age and background (if available) can act as a buddy for your child during their first couple of weeks at school. The buddy will hopefully extent friendship to your child and will offer them an immediate sense of security. They will also be able to share their knowledge and experience to guide your child through the school processes and procedures and help them to become familiar with the school environment.

Organize a party-
After your child has experienced a few weeks at school and has had the opportunity to make some new friends hold a party or organize a day out to allow your child to socialize with them out of the school environment. If there are not many children from the same background as your child this can be an ideal opportunity to share your culture with your child’s friends and hopefully enable them to develop their friendships.

Encourage you child to participate in extra curricular-activities-
Through attending extra-curricular activities outside the classroom environment your child will gain an opportunity to make new friends. If there is already a sport or activity that they are good at this will also allow them to build some confidence and win some respect among their peer group.

For further information about moving abroad with your children please see the free section of our Expatriate's Manual, Moving with your children. It contains a wide range of advice and insights into moving overseas with your family that will help you to ensure that your child's happiness and confidence is not negatively effected.

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