What’s in a School Name?

school-name89075618Here’s an interesting question from an ISR Member: 

When I think of a school such as the ‘American School of ABC,’ or ‘The International School of XYZ,’ I imagine an oasis of Western educational practices in the midst of a developing nation.

My question is this: Do International Schools eventually all become a reflection of their host nation, or is it possible for them to remain immune from the less than progressive, sometimes backwards, influences that surround and pressure them to conform? (i.e. a dictatorial government, host national parental pressures and/or local educational practices).

Is there a point where the word ‘American/Canadian/British’ or ‘International’ in a school’s name becomes nothing more than rhetoric?

Tell us your thoughts on this topic.

6 thoughts on “What’s in a School Name?

  1. I think that this is a very interesting question and one that is almost impossible to ask.

    I think it is important to remember that what a ‘westerner’ sees as ‘backwards’ isn’t always perceived this way in another country.

    My take on an ‘International’ or ‘British’ or ‘American’ school is that no matter what country the school is based, the school will always be influenced by it’s surroundings, culture and those associated with it. Can you teach a lesson about Shakespeare when some students may never have been to the UK without making it culturally relevant? You are already therefore influenced and reflecting the host nation.

    I don’t think I have come across any International School that is purely western students and if I did I would not want to work at the school. I think part of the fun of teaching internationally is to be surrounding by various cultures and being in schools that work differently to the ones at home (the UK in my case!)

    I completely understand that there can be negative influences, whether it is parents or governments etc. This is of course sometimes down to the laws within the country and should have been researched previously. Some of the negatives, you can’t research and in a badly run school, there will be negative influences surrounding you. This however I think is due to individual cases of schools looking to just make money or being badly run. When you work at a private school, you always run this risk to some extent.

    Remember that the most important thing about going abroad to teach is not the money and it is certainly not to work in a ‘British’ school as you are used to back home. It is to understand other cultures, immerse yourself in new surroundings and enrich your lives with new experiences. It is a global world we live in and the more teachers that can bring global experiences to classrooms across the world, will help shape students and dispel ignorance that faces various cultures and upbringings.

    It may not be what you expected but try to enjoy it!


  2. Indonesia is an example where government regulation forces the uniqueness and independence of the International schools to reflect the compulsion of government and/or religion.


  3. I have worked in three well-regarded American schools in three different countries, all affiliated with the State Department Office of Overseas Schools. I discovered that all schools take on much of the culture of their host country, even if the administrators and most of the teachers are expats. It’s impossible to be situated in a country and be insulated from it. All three schools also taught the curriculum in much the same order as they are usually taught in the U.S. While the majority of the expat teachers were from the U.S., the schools also hired Canadians, Australians, Brits, New Zealanders, and other nationalities who had a good background in teaching in English-speaking schools, all of which made for very interesting discussions about educational philosophy.

    Effective national staff teachers who taught the non-national (i.e., American) curriculum almost always had received an education outside of the country and gone to university outside of the country.

    Cultural differences did shape things such as homework expectations, behavior, and expected student effort.

    As an explanation for the non-US teachers on the forum, there is no national curriculum in the U.S. – every state or school district creates its own. Influencing the curricula are:

    1. Standardized Tests – high schools need to give a nod to the ACT and SAT tests, and many high schools also teach the AP curriculum.
    2. instructional materials – Developing and maintaining a curriculum requires lots of resources (time, expertise, money). As a result, the textbook companies tend to define the curriculum.
    3. Standards – the standards movement is shaping curriculum in the U.S., as states create or adopt (e.g., Common Core State Standards) standards, textbook companies and districts adapt their curriculum to match.


    1. Just wanted to say that this is a very well written and well thought out response.

      I think you have touched upon a number of important points. One being that all schools will take on much of the culture of the country. It is almost impossible not to as to make lessons relevant to students you need to adapt to what a student knows.

      Students, parents and those that are situated in another country and surrounded by a new culture will take on aspects of the culture thus meaning the foreign influence is there.

      I think you have nicely summed up that it isn’t always a negative and you almost bring up the debate of what really is a ‘British, American etc education’


  4. Having been out there for a few years, I have been able to surmise a few things as rules of thumb. If the word “American,” “Canadian,” or “British” is used in the name, the school’s curriculum likely reflects the curriculum for the country whose name is being used. For example, I taught at the American Bilingual School in Kuwait (now with a slightly different name), which used the New York curriculum. British-named schools used the typical British format, complete with “A” levels.

    Canadian-named schools are often “supervised” by the Dept. of Education in a particular Canadian province and follow that province’s curriculum with scrutiny. I taught in the Sino-Canadian program at the Henan Experimental High School in Zhengzhou, China, where we were required to have Canadian teaching licenses, preferably from Nova Scotia, we taught the Nova Scotia curriculum, and our students were required to take the Nova Scotia end-of-course exams in math and English. Our students also received two diplomas, one Chinese and one from Nova Scotia.

    Despite this simple explanation, there are still many schools who simply use the word “American,” “British,” or “Canadian” as a marketing tool, and there is no stopping them in many countries. Likewise, the use of the word “international” may be misleading. In many countries, that word indicates that the student body is made up of expatriate students. Countries that don’t regulate naming of schools will have many schools with that word with predominately native students taught by foreign teachers. Some countries tightly regulate the naming of schools, such as Indonesia, which does not allow the use of the word “international” unless the student body is 100% expatriate.

    A sure bet is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, which cannot use the IB designation without qualifying with the IB governing organization. But then again, some schools will try to still get away with it if the host country allows it and their courts are not freely available to foreign entities.

    No matter which school in which a teacher contemplates a contract, the teacher should do minimal due diligence and see what others have to say.


  5. in my opinion, the names are pure marketing devices – whatever sounds good. They mean nothing substantive and cannot be taken as indicators of schools’ philosophies or pedagogic styles.


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