The other day we went to Hiroshima International School to see a musical production of “Pinocchio.” I was an English teacher at the school a while back, and I’ve since continued tutoring a number of children from the school through my Bilingual Kids program.
Although there would certainly be some advantages in sending my own kids to this school, it might interest you to know why we haven’t chosen this path. Such schooling decisions are naturally based on each family’s unique set of circumstances and longer-term plans—there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer for everyone here—but I do think we share similar overarching concerns and considerations when it comes to this question. In that spirit, I offer these thoughts.
A key advantage
People are sometimes surprised when I tell them that we don’t send our children to Hiroshima International School. They assume that because Lulu and Roy are bilingual (and bicultural) that they must be students there.
This points to a key advantage in sending a child to an international school—and the number one reason many parents around the world make this choice: the child will invariably gain stronger English ability through the intensive language exposure that an international school setting provides. In this situation, a fair balance will likely be struck between the two languages, with the child acquiring the majority language (here, Japanese) from the home and community, and the minority language (English, in this case) at school.
If a child attends an international school, it also means less time and energy is required of the parents when it comes to supporting the child’s English side. (And, believe me, on days when I’m feeling weary of this challenge, that fact starts to look very inviting indeed. )
Concerns and considerations
Still, there may be notable downsides to sending your child to an international school—even when the school, like Hiroshima International School, would be a wonderful choice in many respects. In our case, these are the concerns and considerations that have guided our thinking. Let’s call them the “three Cs.”
For many families, the heavy expense of sending one or more children to an international school is a very high hurdle. I have known middle-class families at Hiroshima International School, not much different from my own, who have somehow managed it—viewing this as an investment in their children’s future—but the truth is, even if we could comfortably afford to send our children there, I’m not sure we would, particularly in the younger years, given these two additional factors.
When a child attends an international school, this certainly boosts the English side of their bilingual ability, but it may also impact, to a significant degree, the child’s capability in the majority language, especially with regard to reading and writing. Here in Japan, because the Japanese writing system is so complex, bilingual children attending international schools must work very hard to keep pace with their peers at public schools when it comes to Japanese literacy. Because this is often a struggle, and because my family intends to remain in Japan, we felt it was important for Lulu and Roy to receive a solid grounding in the Japanese language by attending a Japanese school.
In the same vein, since we live in Japan, we’d like our kids to grow up within the larger Japanese community (though I may not be thrilled with everything about it) so they can make friends locally, experience the culture fully, and learn to navigate this society effectively. As a teacher and tutor of international school children, I’ve seen how some end up feeling rather disconnected from their own surroundings and really only feel comfortable in this more sheltered environment.
I’ll always have a soft spot for Hiroshima International School—and I do think my kids might thrive there in the higher grades—but these “three Cs,” for now, outweigh the obvious advantages that an international school setting could offer. (Which means, because they’re still just 8 and 5 right now, that I’ll be running myself ragged to support their English side for quite a few more years!)