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International School Fair 2012: One for All Families

November, 2012
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3Education is an incredibly serious matter, especially in an international setting. A myriad of concerns, that wouldn’t have been an issue back home weigh heavily on our decisions as parents on how we want our children to be instructed away from home. Increasingly, international schools are beginning to vary their curricula and their manner of instruction to suit the emerging needs of the student and the international parent. This however constitutes a double-edged sword; on the one hand you have even more choice, but on the other you have even more factors to consider when choosing the right school for your child.

That is why LittleStar Magazine and Merry Home, a leading relocation service provider in Shanghai, collaborated to create the 1st Annual Shanghai International School Fair. The event was held on Sunday, November 4th at the Renaissance Hotel near Zhongshan Park. It was a who’s who of international schools, kindergartens, bilingual schools, universities and special needs education services in Shanghai featuring a wide variety of educational curricula and learning styles. Over twenty schools in attendance presented curricula such as IB, the UK National Curriculum, American Core Curriculum and Montessori.

The fair was a cultural mosaic of eager parents, looking through the many options to consider when making their final decision; variables such as location, student-teacher ratio, curriculum, and, of course, cost were the most oft-cited by those in attendance.

One father, Jerry Leetong from the Philippines, considered affiliation to be the most important factor for him when choosing a primary school for his 6-year old son. He resonated one of the event’s main purposes, creating a convenient place to explore some of your options, stating it was ideal for “narrowing down the choices”.

51Many parents said that Google was usually their first stop when doing preliminary research, but that often the necessary data was scattered. Gathering information is a crucial step in the selection process; but choosing the right school depends largely on the campus visit. It’s a chance to truly know what to expect with regard to environment, classroom sizes, extracurricular activities, facilities, and overall impressions.

The task of visiting each international school of interest in Shanghai is daunting at best, with several located in downtown Puxi, and many others located in the far reaches of Pudong, Gubei, Hongqiao, and Minhang Districts. Consequently, the chance to talk to the people behind the scenes of a multitude of international schools around Shanghai helps to expedite the process, so it was no surprise when attending parents expressed their surprise that this was the first Shanghai International School Fair.

Shelley Bragg, Admissions and Marketing Manager at the Western International School of Shanghai, offered another benefit of attending a fair of this nature: the ability to simplify other stressful choices in your life.

“It’s the perfect opportunity for parents who haven’t yet arrived in Shanghai to plan the choices of where to live, and which job to take, around which school their children will attend.”

Like many others, she considers it to be “the most important choice,” urging parents to start their thorough research early.

Shanghai American School’s (SAS) Marketing Coordinator Taylor Hayden was busy at her booth introducing her school to enthusiastic parents looking to alleviate some of the stress associated with this critical decision.

"We were excited to participate in the International School Fair. It’s great to meet new families, and say hi to current families," she stated.

The pamphlets were neatly laid out to entice the parents into learning more about the school, with some even showcasing which universities the graduates of their programs were accepted into. But who better to enlighten potential families on the realities of a school than its current students?

One such student was Hanna Kim, an 8th grade student, who was allowed to choose her own school when she moved to Shanghai from New Zealand. To simplify it, her choice was between an American curriculum and a British curriculum, and one might assume she would immediately choose the British curriculum based on her experience in New Zealand. However, she ultimately shed her Kiwi accent and went for SAS, not necessarily because of the curriculum, but because she felt the environment was “very open and welcoming” to new students of varying backgrounds (over 40 nationalities represented).

16She added, “SAS is already so diverse“, echoing one of the benefits of attending an international school, “there’s no need to go anywhere else,” especially with a wealth of international cultural experience around every hallway.

Speaking of the Third Culture Kid phenomenon, one of the scheduled educational talks was about that very subject, detailing the benefits and problems that can arise when you’re transplanted into another culture. Other talks were held that discussed the importance of investing in early childhood education, the college admissions process, as well as the state of special needs education in Shanghai.

One of the more unique choices on-site was the International School of Asia, Karuizawa (ISAK), a boarding school located in Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture, a resort town in the center of Japan that is noted for its distinction as the only city in the world to host events for both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

The high school is looking to open in 2014, but its program manager, Kazuaki Shimojima, is using the Shanghai International School Fair to not only raise awareness of its future high school, but allowing potential families to learn more about their highly competitive ISAK Summer School, a program focused on international negotiation, problem solving, and growing leadership qualities. They will hold an information session on December 2nd of this year for those that would like to learn more.

This is exactly what the fair was designed for; an opportunity to give parents exposure to the multitude of options out there, and the chance for international schools to showcase what their establishment is all about in-person as well as invite them to take an even closer look.

Cindy Savage, an educational consultant with over 35 years of experience working with parents, children and teachers, holds workshops for many international schools around the world. She was also in attendance to share her expertise in the field. She discussed the importance of choosing the right school with the most appropriate style of education.

4“Some schools are doing a disservice to the student. Many local schools like to pretend students are all the same, that just because they are the same age, they have no differences in learning styles. Parents know what their children need. What I’m seeing in the international schools of Shanghai is that the emphasis is on meeting the diversified needs of all students. I’m delighted to see so many innovative programs taking shape. Educators in general and these schools in particular have a lofty goal in mind – to create the optimum learning environment for the children they serve. An event like this helps parents compare options.”

Laura Kim-O’Brien, Manager of International Market Development for Maple Leaf Educational Systems, emphasized that Maple Leaf strives to provide an education that’s accessible and economical.

“Maple Leaf provides affordable, high quality educational options for international families in China,” she urged. “As a parent, I recognize that most international education abroad is prohibitively expensive,” she noted, further commenting, “And as the parent of twins, I would not want to make my kids have to play ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to decide which one gets the better education.”

Maple Leaf, whose first school was established in Dalian in 1995, now has over 12,000 students spread across their many campuses in Wuhan, Chongqing, Tianjin, and Zhenjiang, etc., with Maple Leaf looking to increase their presence across China when they open a Shanghai campus in 2013.

While noting that their tuition varies by campus, Kim-O’Brien shared that Maple Leaf’s most expensive tuition currently was 15,000 USD for high school enrollment including room and board, allowing parents the ability to have a high quality education at an affordable price.

The 2013 Shanghai International School Fair will no doubt prove to be an even more beneficial step to take on the path to choosing the ideal education for your child.

 

By Charlie Cooper

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