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International education: top stories

International education: top stories

Search the web for information about international schools and you’ll find numerous articles talking about their rapid expansion. There’s tremendous growth at the moment, and you’ll see lots of confident predictions about the future, too. There are obvious hotspots such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Dubai and Qatar – to name just a few – but there has been strong growth in lots of other places all over the world. International schools are a truly global phenomenon. Worldwide, about 725 new international schools opened their doors in 2015, an increase of around 9% overall (although you’ll see other numbers as well – it depends how you count them, and the growth is so fast it’s hard to keep up!). So what’s driving this growth, and why are parents, both expats and locals, seeking an international education for their children?


Our globalised economy offers more opportunities than ever before for families to move and work abroad, sometimes for just a year or two, sometimes for much longer. Why do so many choose international schools? The curriculum, the quality of the education, and the culture of international schools all play their part. Add to that the desire of parents for their children to be educated in English (often regardless of their first language), and some of the reasons for the rise of international schools begin to emerge. Below we take a look at some of the top stories in international education today and provide links to further articles from Winter's and other sources.

The growth of international schools

There are now 22 countries in the world with over 100 English-medium international schools. This means that for expatriate and local families, opportunities for their children to follow an English-medium education and to learn through an internationally recognised curriculum are becoming increasingly accessible. Here are the current growth hotspots in international education:

The UAE leads the world with more than 500 international schools teaching over 500,000 students. Some 250 schools in the UAE are located in Dubai alone. Here the options are extensive although competition for the best schools remains high. The National Curriculum of England is the most popular curriculum option and is offered in half of all international schools in the UAE.

China has nearly 500 international schools. There is a rapidly increasing demand from Chinese parents for English-medium education, and the international schools landscape in China is changing in response to this demand. The number of Chinese-owned international schools is growing fast, and local children can attend these schools, as well as the children of expats.

Elsewhere, India, Pakistan, Japan, Spain and Saudi Arabia all have over 200 international schools offering all or part of the curriculum in English (Pakistan and India both have over 400, Saudi Arabia has nearly 250, and Japan and Spain have over 200).

Take a look at the global hotspots for international schools in our picture gallery of the top ten cities:

International schools around the world offer some truly amazing places to learn. Click here to see our gallery of incredible schools:

Language and curriculum

The majority of international schools teach in English, and most follow the UK or US curriculum, a bi-lingual curriculum, or the International Baccalaureate Programmes. You’ll see many other variations as well, and often schools will teach more than one curriculum. The UK National Curriculum is obviously popular with British parents, but it’s also valued highly by local parents seeking places for their children at international schools in their own country.

Increasing middle-class affluence, parents’ desire to find the best education for their children, and achieving a coveted place at the world’s best universities, are all some of the reasons why local students form a substantial proportion of the intake of many international schools, and this local demand is one of the major drivers of their success and expansion right around the world.

International schools offer a very wide range of examinations, but the GCSE, IGCSE and International Baccalaureate dominate, again satisfying the demands of expat and local parents alike.


Local students represent a large proportion of the intake of many international schools.

Local students represent a large proportion of the intake of many international schools.


"International schools are a truly global phenomenon."

For more information on the different types of curriculum taught in international schools, see our article here:

Having chosen an international school, often with the teaching language and curriculum uppermost in their minds, the other factors parents often consider include: school size, class sizes, facilities, school hours, transport, term dates – and, of course, fees. All of these will vary from school to school, as will the intake demographic and general learning culture.


Local and global…

Education is different in every country, and international schools may incorporate elements of the local culture in any number of ways, and to varying levels. The overall teaching ethos may also reflect national characteristics. For parents the choice can be enormous. Take a look at our articles exploring education in various countries around the world:

To get a flavour for global education, have a look at this fascinating selection of classroom photos featured in The Guardian:


Classroom technology

The use of technology in the classroom is constantly changing, and is never far from the education news. International schools are just as varied as any others in their approach to the use of the latest technology. Some will boast of their paperless classrooms while others take pride in more traditional teaching methods. One particularly interesting aspect is the use of communications technology to link schools in different countries together in order to share lessons and resources. Click the following link to find out more about what's new in the world of education technology:

Student culture

If there’s one aspect of international education that seems to generate more discussion than any other, it’s student culture. International students have been dubbed the Third Culture Kids (TCKs). These students have developed a culture of their own, distinct from the culture of their home countries and the countries where their schools are located. To find out what it means to be a TCK, take a look at our article on the subject:

And click here to meet some students who describe what it's like to be a TCK in their own words:

For more on Third Culture Kids, here’s a link to an excellent piece on the subject by education writer Emily Buchanan:

"Third Culture Kids are defined as having developed a culture of their own that differs from their individual heritage and the culture of their host country."

You’ll see the TCK phenomenon interpreted in many ways, but perhaps most importantly it’s been recognised and adopted by international students themselves. These students are acutely perceptive of everything that makes their experience unique, and will joke about their international school accents or bumping into friends from the other side of the world in airports. Most tend to agree that being educated at an international school has given them something they would not have received anywhere else: a truly global outlook.

All photographs: Winter's

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