School has started here again in Denmark and maybe it has for many of your kids as well. It is usually around this time every year that I become more aware of the differences between our US school system and the one of our host country, though sometimes even within the same country school systems can vary widely. Many of my friends have told me horror stories of sending their kids to local schools and the agonizing pain of watching their kids struggle through new cultural norms. In Spain, kids might fear getting beat up on the playground and feel a constant pressure to look perfect. In France, the teachers are rumored to be downright mean at times to any student who does not excel and I’ve even heard from some parents that a child might even be called stupid, though I cannot verify whether that story was true or not.
During our time in Morocco, the kids were expected to sit in their seats and not move or talk for most of the day. Lunch included a quick bite, and if they were lucky, a five minute recess where they could run around the courtyard before returning to their seats for a few more hours of memorization. At times I wondered if we were making the right choice for our kids by sending them to a Moroccan school rather than a private international school, especially when my daughter came home telling me that the kids wouldn’t leave her hair alone and had stolen another one of her erasers. And I nearly pulled them out of their school when Hailey told us that one of her teachers had hit her when she didn’t answer a question correctly. But instead, I learned to put her hair up when she went to school and kept her school supplies basic. I also spoke with the principal about the physical abuse and the teacher was fired the next day (and my kids were never hit again.)
It wasn’t all bad, though. In fact, we have discovered through many conversations with parents raising their kids in a variety of countries that even though every system has it’s flaws, each one of them has it’s high points as well. For example, some days Hailey misses her very special teacher from Morocco and the handwriting my kids had was insane! (Thanks to hours spent every week practicing their cursive because who would ever want to print in French?!)
Here in Denmark, I find it a little unnerving that kids are not regularly tested, but the Danes believe it helps kids stay more focused on learning for the long haul rather than memorizing something for a test and forgetting it five minutes later. And this year in 6th grade Hailey has a three hour cooking lesson, though she is a little sad to be giving up the swim lessons she had every Friday in 5th. In 3rd grade, Parker is starting English class and he just went on a three day trip to the woods with his class. They have art, woodwork, long periods of gym class, and so many more electives that are quickly disappearing in many systems around the world.
In the end, we believe that enrolling our children in local schools helps them learn the language and more importantly, helps them feel at home in our host country. Our kids are not on vacation or having a little fling here in Denmark. This is their home and we really wanted them to be able to have national friends rather than always feeling like outsiders. One small disclaimer I will say is this, if kids are going to be moved around frequently, which is the case for many families working with the military or embassies, I do not recommend enrolling them in local schools. I believe there has to be a deep sense of “buy in” for kids. There is no reason for them to suffer through months of language acquisition only to be pulled out a few months later.
What about you? What do you think about the idea of enrolling kids in local schools versus private international schools? Have you experienced any of the advantages or disadvantages of a different school system?