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Should Schools Charge Extra Fees for ESL?

By Bonnie Billak

04/12/2017

All around the world, international schools are accepting students needing ESL support services. This English-language support was traditionally covered by tuition; however, it seems a new trend is emerging as some schools are now considering ESL support services to fall outside the normal classroom offerings and are thus charging high fees. This begs the question: Should ESL instruction be covered by general tuition fees at international schools, or should parents be charged extra for these services?

The topic can become quite controversial. On one hand, defenders of the practice feel that the extra fees are fully warranted considering the level of special attention and scaffolding needed to teach English to these students. Critics, on the other hand, feel that requiring parents of ESL students to pay extra for English instruction is discriminatory, especially if those receiving learning support services in other areas—i.e., help with reading, math, learning differences, etc.—are not charged extra. It also discriminates against ESL students if, as often happens with the new system, they are required to miss special classes such as music, art, or physical education to attend ESL classes.

Some critics even consider charging for ESL services to be unethical. Parents are already paying exorbitant amounts for their children to attend these schools, so why can’t ESL instruction be included in that tuition? The selling point for these schools is precisely that they are international, which implies that students from many different countries with differing levels of English language proficiency are an integral part of the community. Therefore, it would seem logical that students would be learning English together as a regular class subject each day, with English instruction falling under the umbrella of regular tuition.

Can charging extra for ESL classes be considered a good business practice? Those who support charging additional fees believe this is good business practice, a way to fatten the school’s coffers. However, such charges could have a negative side effect, since there is a real possibility that enrollment will drop as a result. Also, it may be hard to project short- and long-term budgets since the number of ESL students will fluctuate each term, or even over the course of a term, as students enter and exit the program, thus affecting the school’s cash flow.

Moreover, someone would need to set up and organize these ESL services, perhaps requiring an additional hire. Then there is the expense of hiring ESL teachers responsible for these classes, and the need to find a physical space to house it, creating a school-within-a-school-type setup. Such reconfigurations could require a substantial sum of money, depending on the type of ESL program being set up.

Since both sides of the controversy express legitimate arguments, perhaps international schools will need to stop and take a close look at their mission in order to determine which path to pursue. Is the mission of the school to teach students from all nations, regardless of their English levels? Or is it to be more selective and cater only to students with high English language proficiency levels? Also, is the purpose of the school to be a money-making entity, or does it strive to simply be an institution that offers a quality education for all? Hopefully a solution can be found that meets the needs of all parties concerned.




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04/28/2017 - Eric
Schools that see "ESL support services to fall outside the normal classroom offerings" appear to be "blaming the student". More importantly, international schools are businesses that, in part, depend on high test scores to attract customers and charge high tuition rates.

Perhaps, these schools are not willing to recognize that the market does not supply a large enough pool of applicants in the first place. The reported issue of an increased need for ESL support services seems to be generalized, without taking a look at the underlying reasons for an increase in demand for ESL support services.

The schools in question also appear hesitant to provide true value in return for tuition, assuming that these international schools are truly international school and not merely an international department within a public school, etc. After all, true international schools are known to charge top dollar.

Things become more complicated when international schools provide programs, such as an IB or AP program. In order to be admitted, students must pass an English proficiency test. When schools admit students whose English proficiency levels fall well below the threshold, a close look needs to be taken at admission practices, reasons for admission, and the potential of schools not providing the value parents expect in return for tuition. In other words, schools may not be selling the product / service, parents expect to receive.

In all, this "crisis" merely appears to be an opportunity for business ventures to more closely meet the needs of customers. ESL support services cannot be treated as carry-on luggage because schools would potentially open a host of issues related to discrimination, in addition to the potential for using other misguided policies and judgements.
04/18/2017 - Amy
This is ridiculous.

An international school is built on the premise that students will be attending from all over the world and because they will be taught in English it is a necessity for the non-native speakers to receive instruction in English, the language they are expected to learn and operate in.

Even in non international environments, it's considered one of the necessary subjects to have in public schools. For example ESL is offered in U.S. public schools to serve the needs of non-native speakers of English.

Any international school that is considering charging extra fees for students requiring these services is really just looking for a way to easily increase revenue. This attempt is no more than a shake-down for more money from wealthy parents and/or the corporations and organizations that sponsor employees' children to attend these high-priced schools.

Shame on the schools that stoop to this level!



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