Southeast Asia Globe’s guide to finding the right school for your children in Cambodia and beyond
A school would ideally have teachers with education degrees, but if a school employs some teachers without degrees it does not need to be a deal breaker. If teachers have degrees in other fields related to working with children, or are in the process of earning their teaching certification, that's a good sign. “It is an indication that the teachers… are lifelong learners as well,” said Ali Copple, an education consultant based in Phnom Penh. “Often in middle-tier schools, there will be lots of teachers hired with TESOL and TEFL certificates, which is great for teaching English but not for a holistic curriculum,” she added. Staff turnover is to be expected at an international school, but if it happens too often that is a clear sign that the school is not going to offer a stable learning environment.
Any top-tier school will have international accreditation that makes its qualifications applicable to other international schools or universities. As with the qualification of teachers, a school does not have to be accredited to be a good international school, but it does need to have a system ensuring that students are becoming critical thinkers and independent learners. “Children that go through an international programme, even if it's not accredited yet, they are learning those skills, they are learning how to work in a team and a group, they're not thinking only about what somebody tells them to do,” Copple said. “If children are actually going to an international school, they will be fully equipped to study outside of the country.”
As with teachers specifically trained to teach English, some schools will build their curriculum by cobbling together ESL programmes, making it seem like a general curriculum. However, without a holistic curriculum the school is less likely to have accompanying activities that imbue critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to students. Even middle-tier schools should at the very least be able to explain what standards they follow and what programmes they use in their curriculum. If the textbooks for subjects like maths and science are all ESL-oriented, that is a strong sign that the school is not following a real international curriculum. “We probably have too many [self-proclaimed international schools] that are not actually international schools, which can be confusing for parents,” Copple said.
The quality of a school can often be seen in the quality and amount of learning materials in classrooms, as well as other areas where students can play, learn or exercise, according to Copple. If playgrounds and in-class resources look well-used and well-maintained, that is a good sign, as is having lots of student work hanging up in halls and classrooms. For younger students in particular, there should be lots of practical things in the classroom for them to use and explore. If the school has a range of age groups, there should be different areas for playing or staggered break times. Shared spaces such as cafeterias, gymnasiums, auditoriums or computer labs should be wellused and hygienic.