It’s that time of year… where moms in our expat chat groups find themselves in a panic because they’ve just found out that NOW is the time to have their 2 year old start interviews in order to register for school next year.
It’s not quite as simple as heading down to the neighborhood public school with your water bill to prove you live in the district. There are a lot of options, and you have to decide it while your baby is still in diapers!
So what do you need to consider when choosing a school for your child?
This often comes as a surprise – Arabic is not the educational language for most private schools in Lebanon. So the first question you need to ask yourself is which language do you want your child educated in – French or English?
We chose an English medium school, which means our children take Math, Science, English of course, and all their specials (PE, art, etc) in English. Arabic is taught as a language, as is French, and eventually (starting grade 4 for us, this depends on the school and the system) social sciences such as history and geography are taught in Arabic.
For us, this was an easy choice – neither of us speak French and we wanted to be as involved with our kids’ education as we could be. For others, the language you choose might not be quite as simple.
You need to decide on your budget for education. School fees can range anywhere from $3,000 – 20,000 per child per year. Be aware that the fees change depending on your child’s grade, sometimes doubling from kindergarten to grade 12, so it’s a good idea to ask for fees for each grade to make sure the school will still be in your budget in a few years.
Make sure to also ask about other supplemental fees (books, stationary, uniform, activities, etc) and whether the school offers discounts for siblings.
Another aspect of cost to consider is the atmosphere that comes with a school being very expensive or very cheap. How comfortable are you or your kids in different socioeconomic groups and what comes along with that?
This is a huge consideration that I can’t stress enough… in our opinion, the closer you can be to the school the better! Traffic in Lebanon is notoriously terrible and inconsistent. It could take you 20 minutes to get to your kids’ school or an hour and 20 minutes with no rhyme or reason. Of course all schools have buses at an additional cost that will save you time on the road, but not necessarily your kids.
We’ve always lived within walking distance of school, and it’s honestly been the best decision we could have made. That’s not always possible of course, but location should definitely be something you consider as you choose a school for your kiddos.
This is the piece of the equation that we didn’t really do a lot of research on – because we had no idea we needed to! Not only do you have several languages to choose from, but there are multiple educational systems each with different curriculum, requirements and theories of education.
Every school in Lebanon is required to offer the Lebanese curriculum. But if your child has a foreign passport, you have the option of registering for the French Bacc, High School, or International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
The school we chose for our kids only has the Lebanese system. When we chose it seven years ago, all we really knew about it was that it meant our kids would have to do Arabic with all the native speakers (as opposed to taking a special Arabic for foreigners class) and they would have to sit for the government exams in grades 9 and 12. We wanted our kids to learn Arabic, and figured that because they were born here, they should be able to do what any other child can do, academically speaking. And that has proven to be true.
What we didn’t realize were all the other things that entail being enrolled in the Lebanese system. It’s not only about the curriculum, but educational styles as well as values play a huge role in the education your child will receive. For example, the Lebanese system is very math/science heavy, rote memorization is still highly valued, and the brevet (grade 9 exams) are notorious for putting a lot of pressure on students to memorize a lot a lot a lot of useless information. Some kids will thrive in that kind of system, others won’t. For us it’s not a question anymore of IF our kids can do it, because we know they can, but more of a question of if we WANT them to. We love our school, but the jury is still out on how long our kids will continue there.
I’d highly recommend doing research on the different systems – what does the IB offer? What classes will a student in the high school program take? What are the education styles employed in the French bacc system? I wish we had known more about the options, although to be honest, we likely would have ended up at the same school because of it’s location and cost. (And we are very happy there, thankfully!)
Other important questions to ask
Of course every family will put different value on the 4 major considerations – maybe budget is not an issue because your employer will cover your kids’ tuitions, or maybe you only have a Lebanese passport so the Lebanese system is your only option. Every school has it’s pluses and minuses and what makes one family happy will drive another up the wall. But the choice can be overwhelming, especially if you are new in the country or didn’t go through the school system here yourself. A few other questions to ask once you’ve narrowed down your choices are:
- What kind of special education services are offered? (Not all schools are equipped for or will accept kids with special needs)
- What kinds of activities are offered both during the day or after school?
- When do kids start having homework? How much per day? (This might be a question better asked of parents with kids in the school than the school itself)
- What place does religious education have in the school? You’ll find a wide range – from not religious at all (including Christmas/Ramadan celebrations) to mandatory chapel or religion classes.
- What percentage of the school are expats?
I was reading a report recently that one of the main reasons that expats return to their passport country is because of children’s education issues. While there is no perfect school, and you will find things you love and hate about any school, finding a school that is a good fit for your family will go a long way in making your experience as an expat in Lebanon a positive one.
For those of you here in Lebanon, what have I left off? Any questions you would add?