One of the most important factors contributing to our decision to move to Costa Rica was our children’s education. Every time we would consider another country or city during our exploration process, the first thing I would do is look into the schooling opportunities for Kara and Tristan. We were fortunate that we found two incredible school opportunities in Monteverde, Centro de Educacion Creativa (secular) and Escuela de los Amigos (Quaker). Both are wonderful educational institutions. Creativa’s curriculum was based off the Amigos bilingual model. In the end, we chose Creativa because it had a larger percentage of Ticos and had a more local “feel”. Ironically, Kara’s closest friends here in Monteverde attend Amigos.
As you research into your child’s educational opportunities, you will encounter many options depending on the resources of your destination country, city, or town. You need to decide what would be best for you and your family.
1) Public school. There are many benefits to placing your child in one of the public schools of your chosen destination. Your children will learn the language faster and better. You and your kids will get a much more in-depth cultural experience. The downside of course is that the quality of the education depends a lot on the individual school. You will need to talk to local parents as well as teachers to get a good idea of the quality of the education. We know a family from San Antonio that spent last year in Costa Rica, and they decided to place their children in public school. Their main purpose for the year abroad was to learn Spanish, and total immersion is the best way to go. Both of the kids were fluent in Spanish by the end of the year. If what you want is cultural and language immersion, public school is the best option.
2) Private school. Private schools tend to have lower student/teacher ratios. They are more expensive, but they usually offer a benefit over public school, such as smaller ratios, enrichment programs, a specified curriculum or special study focus. For example, Creativa offers an environmental education and land stewardship component to their curriculum which attracted my wildlife biologist husband quite a bit. If you are interested in religious education, private schools can offer this option for your children. Creativa and Amigos are both private schools in Monteverde. Even when we move out of our comfort zone, we do tend to gravitate towards the familiar. My children went to a private Montessori school in San Antonio their whole lives, so it was only natural for me to choose a private school for them in Monteverde.
3) International school. The definition of an international school is one that follows either an international curriculum or a national curriculum different than the one used by the country where the school is located. For example, when we were looking at moving to either Gdansk or Bangkok, the two main schools we were considering in both of those places followed the British national curriculum. Both schools were taught in English. The majority of the student body was made up of international students, though local students could also attend. We also looked at a number of International Baccalaureate (IB) schools, which follow a widely recognized and respected curriculum. Not all international schools are IB schools but all IB schools are international schools. In general, international schools tend to be pillars of education. Through out my research of schools in Uruguay, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, Bangkok, and Poland, I did not find an international or IB school that did not impress me. On the downside, by having your child in an international school, you may not experience the rich exposure to the local culture and language. Interestingly, Creativa and Amgios are not international schools. They are both accredited by the Ministerio de Educacion Publica in Costa Rica, not by a foreign or international curricular body. Thus, these are private schools that take in some international students, but they are not technically international schools, despite the bilingual education.
4) Home School. If you are moving to a remote area of the world, you may not have a long list of school options for your children. In this case, home schooling may be a good option for you. Dena and Bryan Haines home school their daughter in Cuenca, Ecuador. Like us, they did what was familiar to them, as they had home schooled their child in Nova Scotia prior to moving.
5) Home/Online teacher. You may find yourself find yourself in the unfortunate situation of not being able to home school (because of work or because you don’t want to….) but not having great conventional educational options for your children. If that is the case, you may be able to hire a private tutor for your kids, either face to face or online if you have internet capabilities. One of our Monteverde Canadian friends has her son take classes online because they are only here for 6 months and their school is not recognizing the Creativa curriculum, despite the similarities. If we had ended up in a remote location in Panama, I would have had to hire a private face to face tutor. Internet in the School for Field Studies station is spotty and there are no schools nearby.
One option I did not discuss here is boarding school. This was never a consideration for me, especially because one of the main goals of this move abroad for us was to bond as a family. Go to www.expatchild.com if you are interested in learning about boarding school for your expat child.
Clearly, choosing the right school for your child requires a lot of research and time. In the end, it will be worth it. As an expat, your child’s school will be a focal point of your lives. Your experience with your child’s school will make a huge impact on how well you adapt to expat life, so make sure you choose wisely.