International schools are often seen as luxury establishments, paid for by parents and companies. But is this the best way to look at these schools? B&T advisor Jos van Elderen offers a different perspective and argues that international schools are an important addition to the Dutch educational system.
-by Jos van Elderen, advisor international education B&T
(This article is translated from Dutch; please find the original article.)
The number of schools for children of internationals is still increasing in the Netherlands, albeit no longer at a fast rate. When establishing and (re)housing these schools, you invariably hear – for example in municipal councils – that these schools are actually luxury establishments. Among other things, as an advisor to the Dutch International Schools foundation, B&T is regularly involved in the development of (new) international schools. From this position we would like to show why, in our opinion, international schools are not a luxury, but play a necessary role in our educational system. In this way we hope to contribute to discussions and decision making on a local and regional level.
What are International Schools?
The Dutch educational system offers different types of schools with an international profile. There are for example Dutch schools with extra emphasis on language education or bilingual education, schools with an international curriculum, private and government-subsidised international schools. This article focuses on the latter category: schools where English is the language of instruction, where education and examinations take place according to an international curriculum (often the International Baccalaureate (IB)) and which are primarily intended for children of internationally migrant parents.
Until a few years ago, these parents were often referred to as ‘expats’: foreigners or Dutch nationals sent to work abroad on a temporary basis by a company or government. The group was limited, and the expats usually had generous employment conditions with, for example, a yearly bonus while they worked abroad. However, two developments have occurred in the last decade. Firstly, international migration of workers has become more common, and the companies and governments have become more frugal in their benefits packages. Increasingly, these international knowledge workers are also offered local employment contracts. Secondly, the group of international migrants has expanded to include self-employed workers who have a relatively modest income. Based on these two developments, people now usually speak of ‘internationals’ instead of expats.
Why are international schools expensive?
Families always pay a school fee, even if the international school receives government funding. The Dutch government allows international schools to charge school fees, because the government recognizes that Dutch funding is insufficient. School fees vary from around €4,000 per student per year for government-funded international primary schools to as much as €20,000 per student per year for private international secondary schools.
There are a number of reasons why these schools are more expensive than ‘normal’ schools:
- Due to a wide variety in student backgrounds (language, culture, ability), the classes are smaller. This has consequences for staff costs, but also for school housing
- The schools hire extra staff for subjects such as Dutch Language Acquisition, English Language Acquisition as well as Home Languages support
- All schools follow an International education program, enabling students to effortlessly transfer to another international school during their school career. These international education programs (such as the International Baccalaureate, that come with quality inspections, examination programs and the like) are privately funded and therefore expensive. These programs also require specific quality assurance.
- Due to the wide diversity of students, the schools must offer care for which it is sometimes difficult to rely on the Dutch support structure. In addition to smaller classes, this requires customisation and an in-house learning support specialists.
- Schools often have to recruit staff from abroad and staff members regularly travel abroad for mandatory courses and training, which can be costly.
Private international schools, abroad and in the Netherlands, sometimes have a luxurious feel with their own theatres and sports facilities. This does not apply to government-funded international schools in the Netherlands. For these schools, the level of housing is comparable to that of Dutch schools. However, for the reasons mentioned above, the international schools require more floor space.
Fitting education for third culture kid
You could still ask why the government should provide additional funding for international schools (the central government through the lump sum and the municipal government through housing). You could also wonder why international students should not be able to go to regular Dutch schools. Children of internationals (including Dutch nationals returning to the Netherlands) often experience multiple international relocations during their school career, with transitions between different local curricula. Children growing up in different cultures often develop their own cultural identity. This group is often referred to as ‘third culture kids’. Third culture kids often experience that they can relatively quickly adapt to and feel at ease in a foreign environment, but that they at the same time find it much harder to really feel at home somewhere or lay down some roots. They have to say goodbye to classmates, friends and teachers again and again, because either they move themselves or their classmates, friends or teachers do.
In international schools, third culture kids usually feel they fit in, because their classmates have similar experiences. They feel understood in these schools that are specialized in the socio-emotional support of international mobile families. The education offered by international schools is culturally ‘neutral’.
Children of internationals have quite specific support needs. International schools thus fulfill an important function within the Dutch education system that aims to provide fitting education for every child. International school are not a luxury. This video gives a nice impression of what it means to be a third culture kid.
Besides the importance and benefits for international students, international schools also add value in other areas. In their administrative and regional environment, for example, they often provide a good example and inspiration to Dutch schools in areas such as internationalisation, language acquisition and bilingual education. Naturally the availability of an international school is an important factor in the willingness of internationals and internationally oriented companies and institutes to choose to come to the Netherlands. For example, the choice of the European Medicine Agency for the Netherlands at the time was largely motivated by the good international education on offer.
International schools are a special niche within the Dutch educational system. They are important for a specific group of children; they are important for the business climate for internationally oriented companies and organisations and they deliver curricula that can also benefit Dutch schools.