Text: Julia West, Photo: Freepik
Every parent wants their child to be happy and as most children over 5 spend the majority of their day in school, then parents want to choose the right school for their child. No-one can choose for you, you will have to do your research and here we will try to help. Having decided to move your children to Kampala with you, or as a long-term resident, time has come for school decisions; how do you choose the right international school for your child? As you will see from the Education pages of this guide there are many schools eager for your business (as most of them are International School of Uganda (ISU) is not-for-profit parent owned) and all will try to tempt you with glossy brochures, or at minimum, an easily-navigated website full of smiling children having a ball! How do you differentiate and make the right choice?
You can narrow down the choice by asking some fundamental questions: which language of tuition do I want? [Most international schools teach in English, but the French School caters for Francophones or those who want to be!] Do you want an overtly religious school? [most international schools are non-denominational, but Heritage is Christian] Do you want a school which offers primary and secondary? [some smaller schools eg Ambrosoli and Kampala Community International School (KCIP) only offer primary, and 7 Hills only middle school]
Consider the location of schools in relation to your accommodation if you have not yet chosen or been allocated your home base, this may become a chicken and egg question because the time spent travelling to and from school can impact on children, particularly younger ones who will get tired simply from the long school day. Traffic in Kampala is notoriously unpredictable but nevertheless it is worth doing a test run at appropriate times to estimate travel time. Some schools provide transport for pupils [ISU, GEMS Cambridge], relieving parents from the chore, but may increase the travel time as buses pick up numerous pupils en route.
Which curriculum do you favour? Which exam system would you like your children to follow? You may want your child to continue in a system with which you are familiar, but dont rule out others until you have taken a look. Particularly at primary stage [ages 5-11] the exact system may not be so important so long as your child learns to read, learns basic mathematics, to make friends and love learning. So take your time to look around. As a quick guide: IB schools are ISU, Acorns (offering PYP and MYP), 7 Hills (only MYP), while KISU follows the British Curriculum to IGCSEs and IB Diploma, Heritage follows International Primary curriculum (IPC) then High School Diploma, Ambrosoli follows Early Years and Foundation Stage ( EYFS), English National Curriculum for English and Maths and IPC, and KCIP follows the English National Curriculum.
Most international schools teach topic-based units which include a variety of subjects. The British system singles out numeracy and literacy as separate classroom subjects. The modern approach to education is to teach children how to learn and how to research, both of which are emphasised by the IB system from PYP, through MYP to IB. It is worth researching the different curricula online. Some parents find it difficult to understand how children learn without being tested regularly, but the idea is that you see progress as the terms advance; writing becomes more fluid, spelling improves, neatness improves, drawing skills improve, so to follow this system the school depends on well-qualified teachers who can properly assess individual performance against norms for that age.
The most important part of your research, if you are able, is to visit a short-list of schools which have ticked the boxes after these initial questions. Take your children with you as they are remarkably good at picking up things you might miss. Try to visit during a normal school day rather than an open day when the school is on display. Observe normal classroom activities; see how the children look, how they interact with each other and with the teacher and classroom assistants. How do the classrooms appear; lots of child produced work on display? Colourful? What resources are there; computers? Art materials? Toys? Books? Do the resources look used, or are they there for show? How are the desks arranged? How big are classes? You will no doubt be shown any special facilities like sports fields, swimming pools, but check if there are dedicated art rooms, music rooms, computer laboratories. Is there a library and if so, how often can children access it? Are parents allowed to use any of the facilities?
Prepare some questions to ask which will invite conversation about activities on offer and the ethos of the school, languages taught, sports facilities, frequency of sporting activities, art and music lessons, whether the school caters for special needs children, is there ESL [English as a Second Language] support if needed? How are more able pupils stretched? How do they help newcomers fit in? How are children assessed at various ages and how is this information transmitted to parents? How often will you meet with teachers and are children included in these meetings? How many times a year do you receive a formal report on your childs progress? By the end of your visit you should have a feel for the school. If you still need advice you could ask to be put in contact with parents already at the school to ask their impressions.
There are many schools claiming to be international, but many are in name only, or follow international curricula but with Ugandan teachers and pupils. You will see for yourself when you visit if the mix of nationalities is right for your children. You can always check whether the school is accredited to approved international organisations.
We circulated a questionnaire to the largest international schools and the full results to help you compare them, can be seen on our website: www.ugandaexpatsguide.com and download