Is This an International School?

international-kidsIf you ask a school owner what makes their school an International School, he/she may tell you it’s the international mix of the student body. Others may say it’s the recruited Western-educated teachers. Still others will point to their American or British curriculum.

If you’re teaching in what is termed an International School, you’re sure to have a different interpretation of what makes a school truly international than does the owner/director. Chances are you’ll question a school if the student body is composed of 98% local kids (some/many with dual citizenship)–does this influx of duel-citizenship passports qualify it for International status? Likewise, you have to wonder if an English-language curriculum is taught in strict lock-step with 3 other classrooms (same grade level), is this considered International Education? When all the kids on the school yard converse only in the local language, are they really international students?

From time-to-time we get letters from ISR members telling us that their current school, although represented at the conference as being an International School, has turned out to be nothing more than a glorified local school masquerading as something it is not. These same teachers tell us they would not have considered the job had they known at interview time that the term International was being used as nothing more than a thinly veneered part of a sales package.

In an effort to arrive at the definition for the term International School, we invite you to visit the Is This an International School? Blog and share your thoughts on the topic. With so many new teachers entering the field of International Education, here’s an opportunity for seasoned overseas educators to help newbies discover what they should be questioning at interview time.

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19 thoughts on “Is This an International School?

  1. My school has a truly international teaching andadminitrative staff: America, Canada, Portugal, Brazil, Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Philippines, India, Pakistan, Romania, Poland, Russia, Bosnia, South Africa, Australia, Cuba, and the UK.

    Our student body is 96% local with the others from America, Canada, Lebanon, Ireland, England, Poland, Australia, Philippines, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt.

    I don’t know if that qualifies it to be called “international” but that word is not in its title anyway. Our curriculum is American. We teach global understanding, global issues, and global responsibility/citizenship. Our students travel internationally every year and participate in International Day annually, as well. We do quarterly projects on global issues at all grade levels. We involve our students in local charities and with international charity groups. We focus on a 21st Century education and have three computer labs to which student go from two to five times a week at a minimum for learning how to use computers, apps, and various software. Some of our classrooms have laptops for research and writing and multi-media assignments. We read international literature, and study different approaches to education around the world. Our graduates have gone on to study at universities in the USA, Canada, UK, France, Egypt, and the middle east.

    I think we are an international school, even though we aren’t called that and don’t advertise it as such.


  2. An International school has a student body made up of less than 50% host country nationals. Dual passport holders don’t count. Expatriate kids and families from outside the home country create the raw material for a school being international. That is an absolute requirement.

    Want to limit things even further – curriculum, programs, etc? Go ahead, but at a bare minimum the student body must be international. Anything other than that, you’re a local school with fancy window dressing and an impressive-sounding name.


  3. In Asian countries, IB and IGSCE curriculum alone makes a school international. I believe there are factors beyond the curriculum to make a school truly international. The environment, classrooms, co-curricular activities, quality of teaching staff, student safety and care a few of them. Strict guidelines need to be imposed in those fronts.


  4. Mary Hayden and Jeff Thompson of Bath University have devoted most of their academic work to discussing precisely this issue, with no firm conclusion. Any practical evaluation of the terms “international school” and “international education” has to work with a ‘sliding scale’ of coordinates increasing towards: a foreign or at least multinational student body; foreign teachers (not necessarily just white ‘Anglos’); foreign curricula and language of instruction; and foreign involvement in management. The international character of the circular ‘spectrum’ therefore covers a range from International Schools at the center, catering to a foreign clientele of diplomats, corporate businessmen and aid workers, to the outer fringes of A-Level centers and EFL institutes for local students and parents.


  5. The word “International” in the name is only that: a word. A school becomes international when the curriculum, staff and students are from different nations. A school becomes internationally minded when values such as understanding, empathy and respect for different people and cultures are taught and practiced in the school. A very local school can teach international mindedness; an international school can be parochial.


  6. I see what you’re saying in this post, but I think you’re painting with an awfully broad brush, and speaking negatively about schools that CAN be (though of course not always are) wonderful! We all have our own reasons for going abroad, as teachers… And you’ve made it sound like some of us are in it for the “wrong” reasons, when really they’re just different from yours, but equally valid. It’s judgmental and inappropriate for this forum, in my opinion.

    When I made the decision to teach internationally, it was because I wanted to teach in another country, learn about another culture, meet new people, try something new… I wasn’t concerned about the makeup of the student body, so long as the school was nonprofit and devoted to high quality of education.

    I feel incredibly fortunate to have “landed” at a school I’ve called home for some time now, which has a 94% local student population, an American curriculum, and a staff that is about 50% local, 50% American and Canadian. I don’t appreciate the tone of this article one bit, because you’ve made my dream job sound like some kind of a scam. Shame on you, ISR.


    1. By the way… A follow up question: When people say a school is “trying to pass themselves off as international,” do you mean because they do their hiring at an international schools recruiting fair? Or what?

      My school showed up at an international fair, is called “The American School” of my location… But that’s it. In what way was I misled? If it’s important to a teacher that the student body be truly international, that’s their responsibility to ask. It’s not that important to everyone.


    2. Happy, I don’t think the author was trying to degrade schools that are not international. I think the point is to give us an opportunity to discuss what makes a school international, as there are many thoughts on how a true international school functions and looks.

      I also think the author was also trying to point out that sometimes, people go in expecting one thing and they get something else because the school has deceived them. This may include convincing the perspective employees that the school has an international student population, curriculum, etc., but it really doesn’t. If that is what someone is looking for, they should be told the truth.

      Your school seems to be awesome. If you want to call it an international school, so be it. But some others may not consider it so. Whether or not a school is considered international, it will not take away or add to it’s awesomeness, in my opinion.


  7. An international school is a school whose curriculum reflects international-mindedness and this is not restricted to a UK, USA or IB curriculum only. It should reflect an open mindedness towards all cultures, e.g., promotes multicultural education. The student body does not necessarily make a school an international school. It is a combination of the curriculum, the philosophy, the staff as well as the norms, values and attitudes that make a school truly international.


    1. I agree. I work in the ME and we have 40+ nationalities between staff and students. US curriculum that promotes a multicultural education. We must integrate the US curriculum as well as the host countries standards. The majority of our students will go abroad for university, including the locals. In the past couple of years the locals have become a large part of our school community and it has been a bit of a challenge to keep our international status and help the parents understand that we do not run as the local schools do. It’s a lot for the parents and the students transferring to international schools, it’s not for everyone but it can be done. Cooperative and open minded staff and administration is a must.


  8. Find out at interview if it’s a school for profit or not. Most SFP cream money from the top and perhaps share some of the rest on salaries resources etc; SNFP tend to put back what they receive in large quantities.

    Find out what school demographics, that will give a flavor of internationalsism.

    An international curriculum with locals can be difficult, especially if rigid and little local flair or needs of the students taken into account.


  9. Definitely an International School is one which offers an IB, American, or British curriculum, has a mix of highly qualified teachers employed on contract from a variety of different countries, and attracts expatriate as well as local children living in the particular country. An International School should offer students a much wider variety of subjects, activities, which focus on global competences and social responsibility.

    Many expatriate children are born abroad and actually never live in their home countries their entire childhood. The International School environment should provide them with “global family” and extended global outlook into which they have been born and are being raised.


  10. International to me is a mix of students from various countries, a curriculum such as IB and an administration that runs the school in an open and progressive manner with an emphasis on learning and discovery. Schools run by host nationals with their heads stuck firmly in the archaic educational system of their own country will never be international in my opinion. Even if the kids are mostly local the school can be international in flavor if the admin and teachers gives it that flavor.


    1. Your first words… “International TO ME.” Every one of us has our own idea of what makes a school a great place to work as an international teacher. Even tough you and I have different ways of completing that “sentence starter,” that’s our choice as international educators.


  11. For me, the true test of whether a school is ‘international’ or not is the curriculum. If the curriculum is truly global , i.e. focuses on global competencies, citizenship and world history, current affairs etc, then I think it can call itself ‘international’. I would even say that, for example, a school which teaches the British Curriculum to all expat children is not truly an ‘international school’. It is a British school abroad 🙂


  12. I currently work at a school that says they are an “international” school. We use a mix of US, Common Core and Ontario (Canadian) Curriculum. Our student body is about 97% local, with most of the exceptions being children of the staff. However, we are still one of the best schools in the country. I am in my second year and more than likely will stay longer.

    I do not agree with schools trying to pass themselves off as international if they are not; it is deceptive and at some point will surely cause problems with unsuspecting employees looking for something else. But, just because a school isn’t very “international” doesn’t mean it won’t be a good school with high standards and an overall good place to work.


    1. Amen to everything in this comment. The school I teach in is an American school with primarily Russian and local students with dual passports. American students are primarily children of staff. However, we are attracting attention because of high standards–being the “geek school”–and may well yet start attracting that “international” clientele because of it. Whatever. I’m at the end of my career and have never had so much fun or never felt that I’ve had such a profound effect on students. I’m doing this living apart from my family going on the third year now.


  13. It is an interesting question. I would understand that a teacher might be upset if they thought that they were going to an all ex pat school with all ex pat teachers teaching a UK or US curriculum and ending up in a local school.

    However implied in this is that this kind of school can and should be seen as inferior. This would be a complete misrepresentation of the truth. There are many excellent examples of when a school calls itself international but in practice is a local school with mainly local staff and the expereince that the teacher would have in this school is second to none both professionally, personally. Similarly the idea that you are safe in an all ex pat school is absolute rubbish too and I can know of many examples of teachers who have found that it isnt

    As with many of the comments and articles on this site, the real issue here is to ensure that a teacher does enough of their own research before accepting a post , make sure that the school, the location, the culture ( professional and social) are right for you and your family.

    Rather than just rely on a recruitment fair or an advert in a paper go to a recruitment agency. After all they should ahve a good idea of their client schools and have your interest at heart because a failed placement equals a lost commission / teacher and client.


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