By Liz Perelstein and Laila Plamondon
Summary: In today's economic climate, when expatriate packages have diminished and sending agencies consider localization when moving families overseas, there is a great deal of confusion about whether education allowances reasonably can be subject to the same type of austerity.
When companies face the need to cut costs, education allowances are always an area of sensitivity. In today's economic climate, when expatriate packages have diminished and sending agencies consider localization when moving families overseas, there is a great deal of confusion about whether education allowances reasonably can be subject to the same type of austerity. These changes have the potential to affect education of 250,000 American school-age children living overseas in 2008-2009 academic year.
Historically it was not uncommon for families to forgo an assignment unless their children got into the "right” schools, with the assumption that companies would foot the bill for the entire education. Often allowances included everything from school tuition and fees to transportation, meals and uniforms. Assignees had no hesitation in asking for exceptions for music lessons and exotic field trips to other countries, and certainly not unheard of a company to acquiesce.
Some companies and institutions utilized the availability of good schools and the offer to pay full tuition as an incentive for the employee to sign on. For instance, the Overseas Schools Advisory Council, an advisory committee of business and educational leaders established by the U.S. Department of State, includes this sentiment in their mission; to "help make service abroad more attractive to American citizens with school-age children, both in the business community and in the U.S. Government.” The Senior Vice President of Wealth Management, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, chairs this particular committee.
When good schools are unavailable in an area, some large companies historically have established and run their own schools or formed partnerships with other corporations to set up national or international schools in key expatriate destinations. The Mercedes-Benz International School in India "exists primarily to serve the needs of its Member organizations,” such as Daimler-Chrysler India and S.M. Auto Engineering. The children of U.S. military personnel attend schools established and operated by the U.S. Department of Defense, known as DoDDS, while the children of U.S. government civilian agency employees have priority at the 196 schools sponsored by the Office of Overseas Schools. These "American-sponsored" schools (schools that receive assistance and support from the U.S. Government) had 33,361 American students enrolled in the 2008-2009 school year.
When global corporations and other sending agencies have set such a precedent, can companies reduce corporate spending on education? While education has long been a sacred cow, the changing economics and realities of today's world mean education overseas must change as well, just as it has changed in the last century. Corporations have begun favoring "localization plus" packages, treating an employee as a local hire, except for a few areas, usually including international schooling, if only for a reduced amount of time. The next step may be localizing education. Localization of education, in the right place and for the right child, may provide an avenue for corporate saving, but more importantly, local schooling may be desirable if we think about the real purpose of education, and the opportunity that a global assignment offers children. A thoughtful approach to education overseas and including localization in corporate education programs can benefit children by opening their minds to new cultures, languages and worldviews.
While many international schools have been academically successful and most have rich "third culture," the children that attend these schools may not really experience the local culture. In some communities overseas, international schools shelter children from their host country so that children never encounter a local person except for their maid and their driver. Friends from the host culture that attend the international school are often more westernized than the average local child. While expatriate children have a great ability to pick up languages, an international school may not provide the child with the opportunity to become fluent in the local language; often the local language is not even offered at the secondary level.
While we could not possibly address the benefits of all the local schools in the world, several potential benefits are worth mentioning. A foreign assignment allows the opportunity for a real immersion experience, an experience that many have sought out through high school exchange programs. Besides the opportunity to pick up another language, living overseas creates the opportunity for real understanding and tolerance of other cultures and values. A child living in an area over a long period of time (rather than the 2 to 3 year stints typical of many expats), a local school may provide stability in a way the international schools often cannot.
The key to including localization in corporate education programs is to do so thoughtfully, offering different approaches in different countries depending on the viability of local education for an expatriate child. Here are several educational factors to consider and compare between the child's "home" country (the parent's country of origin), the country the child is coming from, as well as the one s/he is going to: s - The educational goal. Families may have different ideas about the ultimate educational goal for their child, while some may value an immersion experience, others may see admission to a top university at home as the educational goal. An important question may be how many students from the local school gain acceptance into colleges or universities in the United States? In Bangladesh, several local "English-medium" schools send pupils to top universities in the United States and England every year.
- The local curriculum. In some countries, the government may centralize curricula, for instance the government requires all state-funded schools in England to follow the national curriculum, other schools may have much more freedom, as most international schools do. This may affect when a child begins studying biology or statistics or whether the local language is mandatory or not.
- The customs and philosophy surrounding education. Some educational systems value memorization such as the French and German, while others, such as the American system, place much more emphasis on analysis of information. While both systems have their advantages, they result in different ways of thinking.
- The form of assessments. Generally the American system uses letter grades that equate to 4.0 system, other schools may have a scale based on 7.0 possible points, as in Brazil, or only written assessments.
These factors should be compared with similar information from the home country at various age levels to ensure that children are not placed in a precarious situation when it comes to repatriating or moving on to their next assignment.
Other non-educational factors might include:
- The availability of extra-curricular activities. Some local schools will have basketball and volleyball teams, complete with state of the art facilities, while other may not have a history of school-sponsored sports and the same is true of the arts.
- The fluidity of the community. International communities often celebrate the flexibility of the "third culture," where community members and schools are accustomed to relocation and short-term assignments. A child may find making friends easier in a third culture than a local community. On the other hand, for a family with a longer range view, a local school offers a more stable community which may be preferable to a school where one third of the population leaves annually, quite typical among international schools.
Of course, exceptions for children with academic, physical or other special needs should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
School Choice International has developed a web based tool called Global Education Explorer which enables companies to compare this critical educational information across countries and at different ages to ensure that policy decisions are grounded in research and information and not simply made in a vacuum. If companies make corporate education cuts thoughtfully and appropriately, our children can be our genuine future ambassadors in our quest for true globalization.
Dr. Keith D. Miller, "Worldwide Fact Sheet 2008-2009," Office of Overseas Schools, U.S. Department of State, 22 June 2009 .
"Description and Mission Statement," Overseas Schools Advisory Council, U.S. Department of State, 22 June 2009 .
"About Us," Mercedes-Benz International School, .
These schools had 121,970 enrolled students for the 2008-2009 year. American students are just under 30 % of the population. Dr. Keith D. Miller, "Worldwide Fact Sheet 2008-2009," Office of Overseas Schools, U.S. Department of State, 22 June 2009 .
Family Liaison Office, "Chapter 5-Overseas Education Options," Education Options for Foreign Service Family Members, U.S. Department of State 22 June 2009 .
First Published: Jul 25, 2009