This is a guest post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007.
Since we are the parents of two school aged children, education is a concern that my wife and I had to address before we moved to Ecuador. What educational options are available to expat children? Should you enroll your child in a local school? Are classes available in English?
We have always homeschooled our children and when we first moved to Ecuador we had all intentions of continuing our homeschooling routine. However, we were erroneously led to believe that we were required to have our kids enrolled in a school here. We learned of a private school that would accept our children and quickly, albeit reluctantly, enrolled them. Imagine us trying to explain to our wide-eyed kids that they were going to have to attend a “normal” school for the first time in their life.
Many questions raced through our minds:
- Would our kids be able to understand the teachers?
- Could they make it in a school with an all-Spanish curriculum?
- Would they fit in with the other kids?
I am proud to say that our kids adapted to the challenges of going to school in a foreign country and actually came to enjoy going to school here. Despite the fact that they did well in their studies here, after 6 months we made the decision to take them out of school and returned to our home school routine.
Why did we decide to return to home schooling?
The main reason had to do with teaching methods and the use of time and energy. The school our kids attended relied heavily on memorization and did not use any text books. A lot of emphasis was placed on things that we felt were irrelevant to a good education, such as the wearing of certain uniforms on certain days and the seemingly endless copying of lessons in notebooks. If the kids did not copy their lessons with a certain color pen in a particular type of notebook, they were penalized. What difference does it make if you use a black or blue pen? Apparently it is a very big deal. They were also required to do what we call busy work, such as the cutting and pasting of drawings and the endless memorization facts and dates. Also, as parents were called to attend meetings that seemed to have no purpose other than to be in attendance.
I don’t mean to sound critical of the education system here. I’m just stating the fact that we found the teaching methods used in one particular school here very different from what we feel is best for our children. The Ecuadorian educational system obviously has its merits since most all people we know here are literate, creative and well spoken people.
Many have asked us if there are schools here that offer an English curriculum for non Spanish speaking children. If they exist, they are not well publicized because we have never heard of such a school here in Cuenca. I recently searched the internet looking for schools in Ecuador that offer an English curriculum and my search turned up nothing. I have asked a number of Ecuadorian and expat friends about the matter and no one has reported having heard of an all English school here. There are many schools that include some English language instruction, but apparently there are none that offer an education exclusively in English.
What we do know is that there are many internet-based home school options for expat children. Our daughter is enrolled in the first year of high school and when she finishes will receive a diploma from the State we lived in. Some states offer online schooling via the State board of Education that is free. The course we use for our daughter’s high school is through a private college and the cost is very modest. All of the lessons are available on line and they are reviewed by a certified teacher. Aside from the internet home school option, there is also a seemingly endless supply of printed material and programs available, especially for the early grades. Each state in the U.S. has its own standards and requirements for home schooling. Before moving to a foreign country with school age children, it is best to be informed about the requirements of your particular state or province. Some states require home school parents to keep monthly attendance reports. Others require tests to be taken from time to time.
If one has an internet connection or access to printed material, the educating of expat children need not be an insurmountable obstacle when considering a move to a foreign country. Also, if you move to a country popular with expats, such as Ecuador, you may find retired educators who are willing to offer tutoring services to expat children.
There is one factor that should not be overlooked when one considers moving to a foreign country with children. Whether you home school or enroll your kids in a brick and mortar institution, it is good to remember that living in a foreign country is an education in itself. There are many lessons that a child can learn living abroad that cannot be taught in a classroom. Younger children become bilingual almost overnight when they are immersed in a foreign language and are forced to speak it in order to make friends. Also, most expat parents have much more time to dedicate to their family and when parents are actively involved in the education of their children the results are always positive. Life is a classroom and we are thankful that we have the privilege to live in a culture-rich country that is full of unique and interesting people and places.