It’s Not About Brand… It’s About Fit: Thoughts on Education

So today I came across this excellent article on what’s wrong with the college applications process.  Mind you ButterBean is still YEARS away from college.  But what I found interesting about this is less which level of education we’re talking and more about how applicable it is to every level.  Especially here in the Arabian Gulf where the “best brands” find their way here to open an institution that may or may not match the educational experience of their home location.

What troubles me about this, in such a brand-conscious environment, is that parents get caught up in which school is the “best” rather than the best fit for their child.  I constantly see new families moving in asking what the “best” school is.  Somehow they miss the idea that the best school depends on your family and its values.  For years in multiple countries, I’ve been asked what school is the “best” in the city.  As a result, I decided to go ahead and put some thoughts on choosing the right school for your family, starting with questions to consider…

What type of education will best suit your child?

  • British: the British system boasts strength in academic rigor, particularly the sciences, it is more focused on giving the expected answer (repackaged or not).  British schools typically complete their program with the IGCSE exams. Students wishing to apply to British colleges are well served by completing the IG program.
  • International Baccalaureate: The IB system is marketed as an inquiry-based way of learning.  It has multiple towers of learning and a service component.  Again, it is rigorous  but has more focus on finding an answer.  Its usability depends on your child’s destination. Although the IB diploma can be applied in other environments, it is most useful in Europe.
  • American: the American educational system places a significant amount of emphasis on creativity.  It tends toward less identifiable academic rigor and more individual creation and understanding. Most American schools have excellent opportunities in and focus on the arts.  The American diploma is most useful in the US.
  • Islamic: Islamic schools place much more emphasis on religious studies than academic rigor in what the other systems consider core subjects.  As a result, students are more likely to have a more complete knowledge of both Arabic and religion, but may not fare as well in other subjects depending on the curricula used and expectations set.  Graduates of these schools are more likely to end up in universities in the Middle East or Islamic countries.

These descriptions are quite simplistic and many will argue that the British schools build creativity or the American schools are equally as rigorous.  The reality is that the learning approach is different in the three systems, and parents should review each and assess which best meets their child’s needs. For instance, ButterBean is the type of child who enjoys the arts and will not do well in a science class where she needs to develop the question and then find the answer.  IB is likely to be a less beneficial fit for her.  JuniorBean is quite gifted in math and science with the ability to envision options and ideas, IB might work just fine for him.

Once you’ve determined which overall system works best for your family, schools have different things to offer.  Some of those things that you should consider are:

  • Sports in which your child is involved
  • After school activities that your child values
  • Diversity mix that can impact your child’s social/economic fit
  • Importance of a language or religion class/approach/position
  • Learning styles and teaching styles (beyond system or curriculum
  • Teachers: qualifications and skills
  • Administration: Every school has failings here, can you live with them?
  • Support available to different learning styles, children needing extra help
  • For profit vs. non-profit status of the school
  • Academic rigor of the specific schools you are considering
  • Curricula in subjects that of key importance to your family
  • Community strength
  • State-of-the-art facilities

Asking what the “best” school in town is will get you either 1) the one that costs the most or 2) the one that is perceived as the hardest.  Neither may be what you want for your child.  I’ve watched quite a few families who moved in saying oh, we’re X nationality so that’s the school we’re going to pick.  Sadly, they fail to ask any of the questions above.  They find that the approach isn’t right for them, they feel the curriculum isn’t rigorous enough, in short it’s a bad fit for their family needs.  They transfer and some transfer again.  Continually moving your children because you’ve failed to do your homework is stressful and causes heartache to all parties.  Spending adequate time to understand the school (not just take a tour and see the facilities) will make your choice easier and more successful.  I’d also recommend that you talk to parents who have their kids in your top few choices.  Ask them about the key things from the above lists.  Also ask them what drives them crazy about the school.  Are they things you can live with?  If so, you may have found a winner…

Happy hunting!


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