I came to Istanbul from the United States over 18 years ago and I was overwhelmed with the daunting task of choosing an international school for my twin daughters, even though I am an educator. Today the task is even more difficult given the huge increase of international schools entering the Istanbul market. There is now a wide variety of schools to choose from that can fit the needs of most expat families. My overall recommendation for parents is to take your time and do your research when it comes to choosing the right school for your children. When you take into account the following tips there should be little or no surprises waiting for you once the school year begins.
Istanbul is a very large city both geographically and by population. The traffic experienced here is some of the most challenging in the world. Istanbul is split in two and has locations on both the European and Asian continents. The European side is where you find most businesses and the nightlife. The Asian side is more family oriented, quiet and less densely populated. If at all possible, you should chose a school very near your family residence. Should you have the time and means, I would suggest deciding on the school first, in order to then find accommodations near by the school. The children should not spend a great deal of time on the bus or transportation to and from the school. This has a negative impact on both their learning and takes away the precious time spent with the family.
2. Educational Philosophy
There are many different forms of philosophy used in our education systems today. It is not unusual to see more than one philosophy incorporated in a school or classroom setting. When implementing the different educational philosophies in the classroom, one must consider the makeup of their classroom community.
There is not a one size fits all philosophy for educators. The teacher and school should be flexible in their approach to the students depending on age, subject being taught and make-up of the student population. The main question for the schools in Istanbul is how they view exams. Are they an essential part of the school life? Does the school specialize in preparing students for a certain exam? How does the school view international exams such as SAT, Cambridge, and IELTS? Does the school feel exams should take a back seat to what is produced by the student in the classroom? These all come down to personal preference, but are extremely important questions to ask.
3. School Environment
As I started my search for an international school for my twins, I was given the following advice by a Turkish friend. Do not choose a school for your daughters that has a swimming pool. I found this strange advice at first, but then after several school visits, I understood that it was a metaphor. My friend was telling me to look for examples of learning going on in the school and not just an enticing picture. Many international schools put on a good show of beautiful marble entrances, elegant offices for the Principal, and even Starbucks like cafes for students. If you are serious about your child’s education, you should look for the library, teacher resources, tools to enhance the learning experience and examples of student’s work on the walls. There should be sufficient green areas for the children to play, socialize, and explore.
These are the physical components. You should also observe the student, teachers, and staff in the school environment. Do the teachers look happy and energetic or harried and overworked? Are the staff you meet friendly, efficient, and speak English? Most important observe the students. Are they happy and laughing and engaging with their peers and teachers?
It is vital you take a close look at the curriculum of your potential international school. Get the details of the class structure, subjects and approach. You will want to choose a curriculum that is internationally recognized and is easily transferable to another country. Find answers to questions about the curriculum you think are important. For example, does it provide a holistic education? Does it also promote social and emotional development? How did you transfer to online education during the pandemic?
Additionally, different international schools may base their curriculum around the education system of different countries such as the US, UK, and Canada. Generally, the Canadian curriculum is known for being more flexible, promoting individual choices and encouraging independent creative thinkers. Meanwhile, the UK education system’s highly structured and specialized curriculum promotes discipline and diligence.
One of the most important components of a school is its faculty. Therefore, it is important to get to know the academics and staff. It is vital to get information on the backgrounds and experience of the teachers. More than anything you should try and understand if the educators are truly passionate about what they do and their role in nurturing and motivating your child.
The other question you should also explore is where are the teachers are from originally. In order to enhance international and world view, educators should also represent this aspect of the school. Having diversity in the faculty can offer a huge benefit in your child becoming a true world citizen.
6. Core Values
What are your personal values? What traits do you want your children to have in the future? For example, being kind, empathetic, youthful, scholarly, thoughtful, open-minded, nourishing, and environmentally aware. How do these examples contribute to the type of students the school wants to have in the end and the type of environment they strive for?
Most importantly find out how they plan to achieve their mission and vision and how do they measure the schools results in this endeavor.
These are perhaps the most important questions you need to ask in order to find a school that matches your family values.
7. Speak with current parents and students
Without a doubt, one of the best ways to get information about the school is from the parents, current students, and alumni of the international school itself. They will be able to give you more details on the good, bad and ugly of the school. Whatever it is, it will be their unbiased opinion. Ask around in various ex-pat networks in Istanbul if there are any parents you can connect with. If you are unable to do so, try going online to Facebook groups. I would like to stress the importance of getting multiple suggestions and feedback from several parents for a more balanced assessment.
In summary, I wish I had known all of these tips before hitting the ground in Istanbul many years ago. I would have saved many hours in wasted time and efforts. Let me repeat, please take your time and do your homework before deciding on an International school in Istanbul. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.