December 6, 2023

International schools, which traditionally cater to the children of foreign workers, are at a breaking point. With fewer companies relocating employees in the age of Zoom and Slack, tuition fees are increasingly coming from families, not corporations. And with the economic downturn and high operating costs, income is increasingly uncertain for some schools as their core customers change and their purpose changes.

“While there are schools that are in a somewhat unusual position in that they are growing, many schools are facing declining enrollments or just tuition pressures and price pressures at the same time,” says Liz Duffy. , president of International Schools Services.

“The pandemic accelerated that because a lot of companies realized that you don’t have to send people overseas.”

Now international schools are increasingly targeting local children whose families want them to have a globally minded education. Through her role at ISS, a global non-profit organization with a mission to improve the quality of international education, Duffy is in the best position to see how this paradigm shift will ultimately play out.

The ISS has been around since 1955 and employs about 75 people, half of whom are based in the US. The other half is spread all over the world. The organization offers services including teacher and head recruitment, school establishment and management and financial services with a focus on English-medium schools in all locations.

“Ultimately, we want to make a difference for students who are in international schools and prepare them to be global leaders,” says Duffy. “But we’re doing it again through schools and educators.

Duffy began her career in higher education in the US and then ran a boarding school in New Jersey which, although not an international school, hosted pupils from all over the world. He has been working on the ISS for the last eight years.

One of the regions that has changed the most in that time is China. “For a long time, China was the real focus because there was huge growth there,” says Duffy.

In recent years, Chinese authorities have begun cracking down on international and foreign-owned private schools, including restricting the teaching of international curricula and school ban which teaches Chinese students to use foreign words in their names.

As a result, some international school brands are reconsidering investments in China. “I think a lot of Chinese families who want an international education for their children are leaving China and going to other parts of Asia,” says Duffy, explaining that countries including Vietnam, Thailand and Laos are emerging as a result.

At the same time, international schools also face a reckoning in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, including grappling with their own colonial past.

“What does it mean to prefer English?”

This history is reflected in various aspects of the international school experience, from the sometimes different treatment of expat and local staff to the language of instruction.

“There are still a lot of schools around the world where you’re going to get in trouble if you don’t speak English, which is really different than a bilingual or multilingual emphasis,” says Duffy. “What does it mean to prioritize English? And are there ways to actually prioritize multilingualism over English only?

He believes international schools are well placed to overcome these challenges, especially “given the diversity among students and increasingly among faculty and staff.”

Post-pandemic international schools are also facing questions about the role of technology in the classroom.

“I think what Covid has taught us is what’s really special about the face-to-face, human-to-human interaction in schools,” says Duffy. “On the other hand, online education has been very good for some students. In fact, it served them better.

“What’s interesting is that now that we’ve come back face-to-face, there’s been such a desire to recapture the magic of it that I think some of what we’ve learned has been lost and people are trying to recalibrate. ”

These concerns have worsened with the arrival of AI chatbot ChatGPT. Duffy says that while he understands people’s concerns about students writing their own essays, AI is here to stay. “So how can schools really harness the power of these tools and help kids harness the power of these tools?” She is asking.

“It’s often an instinctive reaction”no it’s bad’. I think we need to take a much more nuanced approach to this.”

Despite the turbulence facing the sector, Duffy continues to champion the industry. “Being an educator is one of the most rewarding opportunities, and I think that’s true anywhere in the world, but especially being an international teacher,” says Duffy.

“It’s a great way for you and your family to really see the world, meet people from all over the world, be involved in raising the next generation of kids who are going to go out and do great things in the world.”

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