Our Lil’ is ready to start kindergarten this fall. As we make our decision to choose the right school for her, I want to share with you our experience with educating our son in a multicultural environment and what it taught us. We are keeping these tips in mind this time when choose the best multicultural school for our child.
Decide what kind of environment you want for your child and why you want a multicultural school?
The first step to finding the right school for your child is to start by narrowing down your list to what kind of school you really want for your child. What do you want them to study? Why do you want them to study that? Ask yourself these questions and write them down before you sit down to discuss this. Most parents start out without any idea as to what they are looking for. What kind of curriculum do you want. What languages should there be. Is it okay if your child commutes by bus or do you want him to be closer? Think about everything and write down your concerns if you have any. I called it ‘school shopping’ when we went from school to school with our list interviewing the teachers and staff. I had a list of questions about the school, their teaching method and environment. I would write it down and sometimes, I recorded it on my camera too. The schools here don’t allow men in the kindergarten section because usually, KG is in the girl’s section. My husband was not allowed inside so at decision time, I had to tell my husband everything what I saw, heard and felt about them.
My husband and I were both brought up as expats but we studied in ‘Embassy’ schools. All the children in our school were mostly the same nationality as us. My husband got involved with working in a multicultural environment after he started his career. Over the past twenty years, he has worked with so many nationalities and after our marriage, I got a taste of it all while travelling around with him. We both knew from the beginning that we wanted our children to be exposed to as many cultures as possible so that from the beginning they would grow up to be able to converse with, understand and appreciate all kinds of people. When the time came to find a school for our eldest, we found that we had the choice to either find a school that had kids who were exactly like my child or we could go to a school that had children from all over the world. We also found that although we had been living in this country almost all our lives, we didn’t speak or understand Arabic very well. My husband wanted that our son to be able to speak better Arabic so that he could make friends even more easily than us. We also wanted for our son to learn at least another international language too. This was only possible in an International school.
Are they really ready for school?
D studies in an international school. He speaks four languages and in the past five years, we have changed three schools for him. We live as expats in a very multicultural environment. As all eager parents trying to make the ‘right’ choice for their child, we too had made some decisions for our son that we have had to change. I’d like to talk about what our trial and error taught us about educating our child in a multicultural environment.
Our son started in a private Montessori school when he was three. We pulled him out after a month even though we had paid up for the whole year. It was a good school and they had some every good teachers but what went wrong was that our child was under stress from starting for school at 6.30am every morning for five days a week. It was worst that it was winter. I had to wake a 3year old at 5am so that he would be fresh enough to have his breakfast at 6am. Schools in our part of the world start at 7am and most kindergarten are usually till 1pm. Our child was used to the 7am-7pm routine but for school he had to get up at 5am. The lesson that we learnt that year was that although most kids are ready for school (kindergarten) at age three, some aren’t.
We also learnt something about raising children who speak more than one language. We found that when you are raising a multilingual child, your child will take more time before he can speak clearly. It will not help him if he goes to school early unless you are only trying for bilingual. If your child speaks his mother tongue but you want him to speak one more language, then this he can adapt to (My husband and I spoke only one language when we started school); but if you already have two or more languages at home and you are pressing for another at school then you are putting him under stress. The child will learn all those languages but he will be a little slow. My child spoke Urdu and English at home but his school had Arab teachers and students. Although the medium of instruction was English, they spoke more Arabic than English. My son was confused and a little intimidated by the fact that he didn’t understand them all the time.
With this in mind, here is what you should consider:
- Is your child really ready for school? Can he handle the stress of it all or is he too young?
- What language do you want him to study? Have you prepared him for it and will he have support learning in that language?
- Does that school have more kids like him? What is their experience?
Are you and your child comfortable with the teacher and able to communicate and understand her.
We moved him to another school the next year. The main plus point of this school was that he was close to home and we had our friends’ kids there. It was partly Montessori and the teachers and administration were really good. He made a lot of new friends; he loved his teachers and he had become quite popular even though he was the only non-Arab child there. There were more Arabic speaking teachers, staff and students than English but this time he knew Arabic and he was learning and getting along fine but then, he graduated to KG3 and we hit trouble. What happened was that he couldn’t bond with his new teacher. She was younger and not much experienced. Her English wasn’t too good and she was not experienced with foreign students. She had trouble teaching him and he had trouble understanding her. My son soon started to avoid school even though he loved his friends and the other teachers. We also found that he wasn’t learning anything new that year. The first term had just ended and I found that he was not prepared for grade 1 at all. Also, we knew that they didn’t have grade one for boys at that school. We were preparing to change to another school next year and we were afraid he was not being prepared well for grade one, we started to think about moving him right away. We had been trying for another school before joining his present school but they didn’t have seats. They had promised to let us know when they had a seat. Coincidently they called us during this time and we quickly transferred him to this new school. His new teacher was great! She picked out all his problem areas and reported to me in just two days! She taught him to read and write complete sentences in less than a week and my son felt so confident in his abilities too. Our experience from all of this was how important it is to find a school with good teachers. It was at the end of his school year that we realized why his new school had worked and previous school failed. The new school had experience with educating multicultural students. This experience made us realize:
- The importance of having the right teacher for your child. How much experience does she have?
- The importance of the right books. Does the school have a syllabus that is designed with multicultural students in mind?
- The importance of environment to building confidence. Does the school have students your child can relate with?
Educate Your Child about his Multicultural environment and how to cope with it
My son is in grade two now and this year we have had another challenge. Studying in a multicultural school with children from all over the world means my child is getting not just the good things but also the bad. We will not be changing schools again because this is something tolerable. What we learnt this year is that:
- The environment will affect your child. They will learn their manners their habits and their language from the school too. Discuss with your child what is acceptable and what is not. Talk about your culture and traditions regularly.
- Pay careful attention to the discipline at the school. Our problems had been some bullying incidents but the school has been very cooperative. They didn’t know what was happening because nobody (parents) had informed them. What we considered bullying, in their culture was considered nothing to blow a whistle about.
These are some of the things we learnt in the past four years. Of course, every day we learn more new things and have new challenges but we have found that the first step to educating your child has to be choosing the right school.
Do you have a child who is studying in a multicultural environment? If you have any experience or advice to share with me, I’d love to hear from you. I would also love to connect with you on our Facebook Page!