The term ‘international school’ is confusing and ambiguous. Do we mean the curriculum or syllabus is international in scope? Are we referring to the teachers in the school? Is it the assessment procedure that is international?
Before we can answer these questions, we should look at the way in which international schools were established. It is generally recognised that the first schools describing themselves as “international” began in 1924 with the International School of Geneva.
There were many such schools by the 1960s, but it is in the last 50 years that international schools have come of age and have proliferated globally. Most are set up to serve the needs of a particular group of expats working in an overseas location.
The founders of such a school generally design the curriculum to reflect the education system of their home country. This accounts for much of the diversity in international education.
The thousands of international schools globally currently operating are rooted in the various traditions of the groups they were founded to serve. They are, almost by definition, an educational system other than that of the host country. The result is that a given international school will relate to a particular national education system. While the students attending the school may be international, the curriculum is usually not.
The countries with their own curricula
To meet the needs of expat communities, international schools tend to base their programmes on the education system of the country representing its predominant group of parents. This also means a range of choice, including but not limited to, as host country Malaysia can attest – French, German, American, Australian, Japanese, Korean, and British schools.
There have also been instances in which English and Canadian parents have elected to send their children to the German or French Schools, for example, so that their children would become multilingual.
International schools meet four criteria that all will have in common: They have a curriculum that differs from the host country, they serve the educational needs of an expat community living in a host
country, they have a student population that is international and inclusive of local students, and they have modified their curriculum to make the most of the international setting and emphasize the host country’s customs.
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