ISS VP Looks Back to the Future of International Education

   On the cusp of retirement, vice president of ISS, Rob Ambrogi, recently published a thought-provoking article entitled, “Looking Back to the Future.” In Rob’s own words, “As I approach full-time retirement this July, I can’t help but examine and reflect upon my 47 years as an educator with both retrospective and prospective lenses…”  

In regards to Rob’s prospective lenses, one of International Schools Review original members forwarded us an excerpt from Rob’s article, along with a personal critique and a pressing question, Is the future Rob outlines, now?

Excerpt from Rob’s Article:

   It is clear to me that the future of this arm of our organization will depend on the development of school start-up and business models that acknowledge lower tuition price points, larger class sizes, lower salary and benefit packages, a greater number of locally sourced teachers with necessary professional development, and a higher rate of expat teacher turnover. I am convinced that careful management of these realities will produce very credible and valuable learning opportunities that will be sustainable and will serve students well. There is nothing in our mission that says we only serve young people in highly subsidized, expensive international schools. We need to change the negative narrative about these newly emerging schools and continue to find ways to directly and indirectly extend enthusiastic support to them. (complete Article)

ISR Member’s comments: 

   Rob describes the ‘international’ school where I work very accurately. I’m currently working with more local students, often requiring SEN and/or EAL support, more local staff hires, some qualified, some not, more turnover from ‘overseas’ hires (1-2 years) with a salary base that has not changed in over 10 years. If this is the ‘new reality,’ as described by Ambrogi, are some of us living/working, or at least aspiring to work, in schools, where the future is now?

As Ambrogi is retiring from his influential ISS position, he is, at least, acknowledging that the bottom-feeder schools are growing in number, and that more established international schools are feeling the pinch with the increase in competition. Some schools have opted to lower their standards (alongside other considerations) in order to remain competitive. How ISS, and other organizations, intend to support these start-up and business/schools, as he states, ‘directly and indirectly,’ remains to be seen, but it is a situation which needs to be addressed.

Agencies such as ISS are in the position to help, and I think they should, given that teachers are also starting to abandon some of their services (job fair, anyone?) as these agencies become less relevant in the hiring process.

It is a win/win when standards are raised, rather than the bar continuously lowered. And, at some future point, if these schools improve, with better support and more supervision, we might begin to see many more positive Reviews on ISR!
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6 thoughts on “ISS VP Looks Back to the Future of International Education

  1. I’ve worked with some excellent local staff, who in a Western country would be considered good teachers. Unfortunately, in many developing nations the local teacher is considered another form of servant and it is nearly impossible for them to control or gain the respect of the students who treat them like maids. This is a sad reality. Additionally, as a Westerner, I can’t live on what these schools pay a local person as I have certain financial responsibilities. I agree that these schools need help and this help would surely be a benefit to the students.


  2. I cannot agree with 95% of what Mr.Ambrogi states! Lowering the bar to accommodate bottom feeder schools as the responding member saliently says, is the antithesis of what ISR is all about. Here is my rationale for swearing off such lowering of standards, based on my experiences at 5 international schools:

    1) Low cost, low class IS’ are usually run as cash cows by non-educators with no real interest in investing in education,

    2) The multiplication of such schools usually offers teachers less and less, with no respect for their welfare, and little investment in keeping them at the school.

    3) Turnover is very high and abuse of teachers is rampant at such cash cow factories…..parents’ often run the school and decide on a teacher’s fate by pressuring admin. to be ¨tough¨ with teachers.

    4) Hiring cheap local staff saves a lot of money but ends up watering down the quality of services and education, leading to a crap education providing a meaningless diploma because anyone can and will ¨graduate¨.

    5) Willing acceptance of any student, lack of screening, willingness to pardon any offense, blaming of teachers for students’ poor performances due to their lack of English language skills or entitlement, parental influence on the admin, etc. leads to a nightmare scenario.

    6) lack of democratic input and respect for teachers’ opinions and suggestions is a threat to proper educational ethics and moral integrity of that school.

    7) A weak so-called International school is ripe for political and national corruption , interference and manipulation. Governing and certifying institutions locally or internationally, are pressured to ¨normalize¨ these weak schools and do so regularly, after a hefty dinner paid for by the owner(s) and who knows what other emoluments!

    I could name 20 more caveats about such ¨support¨ for such quagmire schools but I am sure experienced teachers on ISR can add to my list without much difficulty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We also need to change our view of “local staff hires.” They are cheaper but not necessarily “crap.”


    2. I never said they are crap…I said the watered-down education students may receive could be crap. From experience, I can confirm that compromises such as filling the school with local staff, less well-trained and far more submissive to admin.’s wishes, can really stunt the educational progress of student’s whose mother tongue is rarely English.


  3. re: business models that acknowledge lower tuition price points

    In my experience (three for profit schools, and now a not-for-profit), the tuition fees of some in devloping countries compare with the best private schools in Australia, where profiteering is illegal, and therefore, moneys collected must be used towards the education of students. So Mr ISS’ musings (I did read the entire article) sound like so much wishful thinking, to justify a reality where many parents and students are simply being ripped off and given substandard opportunities..

    There are other models for bringing high quality programmes to the masses, for example, IB government partnership schools in Malaysia.


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