Selecting a School

How to pick a good school for your child…

Part 1

I have taught at three international schools in Ho Chi Minh City and have been an outside service provider for an additional six international schools and preschools here too. I read with interest recent submissions to an English Language Google Group, An Phu Neighbors, as they discussed private education for their children.

A parent posted a list of private schools operating in this city, ranked from best to worst by a local research group, seeking feedback on the order.

The first response was from a parent who advised: “When it comes down to it, most of us want the same basic things for our children. We want them to be safe, happy [and] to have friends. In the end, however, many of us will settle for knowing that we, as parents, have made choices that ensured our children became happy, successful and ethical members of society.”

Another parent challenged that finding, replying: “As a person who has lived in Vietnam for over five years, as a parent of a child [and] as an education professional, this list does not make any sense.”

I agree with this comment, but let us consider still another contributor: “Just be aware that every child is different and has a different experience at school. For example, some children may thrive in a smaller school and some may crave a larger school environment. If a child is in the wrong school for them, their parents may view the school as not doing a good job, whereas if the child enjoys school those parents will rate the school highly. I’m not saying that the list is wrong, just reminding everyone to think objectively.”

“Interesting graph, but unfortunately I would rate it as trash and nonsense as long as the demographical data and sources are not revealed. Perception is perception and not based on facts. The graphs would most likely be different if the study had been conducted in Phu My Hung or District 2,” another person commented.

Visit Before Choosing

Finally the managing director of the research group, who has been living in Vietnam for 19 years and now with two children, clarified his group’s survey. Completed in 2011, the question was: “Thinking about the reputation of these schools, which three schools do you believe are the most reputable?” They polled 151 Vietnamese parents with children under 18 not attending any international schools in Ho Chi Minh City, and only schools where English was the main language were included. One cannot question the veracity of the survey’s results, but the response of the An Phu Neighbors Group also represents the diverse perspectives that parents and educators have on such a personal and important topic. There are cultural perspectives such as a British versus American curriculum, choosing a school with an International Baccalaureate (IB) program or not, budget considerations, proximity (very important in terms of a child’s travel time to school) and the child’s English or other language proficiency. All these must be factored in and my final advice is to visit the child’s potential classroom, teacher and teacher assistants for a visit before enrolling.

Part 2

“It’s so much easier going to a school that’s nearby” is not a solution. Finding a good school for their children is undoubtedly the number one priority for parents. The choice is often confusing and the implications potentially far reaching. Viewing the school’s website is one way to begin. Unfortunately you won’t discover the reasons why parents chose a certain school and what their opinion is until after enrolling.

It is important to find out what the school’s attitude is towards the needs of multilingual children. Check out the social aspects, the curriculum, the teachers’ qualifications and the extent to which parents are encouraged to be involved with the school. The parent is the first and most important teacher.

For older children who will be going on to higher education, you need to find out how attending a particular school will affect future education plans.

Another important consideration today is whether the school offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The International Baccalaureate does not own, operate or manage any schools. it works in partnership with more than 3,500 iB world schools in 145 countries. These schools share the mission and commitment of the iB education by playing an active and supporting role in the worldwide community of iB schools.

The IB program was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968 as a nonprofit educational foundation. Teachers at the international

School of Geneva, with assistance from several other international schools, created the iB Diploma programme. What started as a single program for internationally mobile students preparing for university has grown into three programs for students aged two through 19. initially the iB program was ignored by schools in the US, but today it has been adopted by leading schools worldwide. The program allows students an international choice of colleges and universities.

American or British

Programs in pre-schools, nurseries and kindergartens should be offering curricula which align with iB standards. Another option for young children is to attend a bi-lingual school. It facilitates learning Vietnamese and establishes multicultural friendships. however, the same standards of curricula must apply. It is most critical for very young children’s development that their curricula align with international standards.

Obviously, every child is different and their capacity to adapt will be different as well. Your choice will also be influenced by whether you’ll be moving back to your home country before your child is ready for college. If this is the case, an international school will either follow the American system, with high school grades and SATs, or the British system of international  GCSEs and A levels. This will make it easier for your child to reenter the school system  back home if you choose a program that matches that of your home country.

Fees will also play a factor in your decision. Depending on your child’s age and the school, it can be very expensive.

Finally, some of the international  schools have a waiting list, especially for very young children. Register your child as soon as you can to ensure their place.

Have an educational dilemma for our experts? Email us with your question at

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