In June 2021, there were 400 privately registered helicopters flying over the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Forget the SUV or the Mercedes C, the elite and uber-rich of the city, and others around the world, now “uber helicopter.” And yes, many of them send their children to international schools, with all the associations of privilege that go with it.
It’s easy to assume that every child who attends international school is therefore rich, privileged, and has money to burn. But we need to check our assumptions. There are many who come from wealthy backgrounds but there are also others who do not share those circumstances. If you are an international school teacher with children, you know this to be true. Likewise, if you are working in a school that has scholarship places, you also know this to be true. Perhaps the parents work for companies in jobs which have school places as a benefit but without the lavish lifestyle of some parents in the same school. Or maybe the students you teach come from families who have scraped together every dollar they can in order to create access to a good school in a location where local options are limited. Whilst it is fair to say that a great many international school families are wealthy, let’s check whether it is an assumption that can be applied to all the students in our classes.
Here are five things to keep in mind when checking those assumptions:
1. Scholarships and Financial Aid
There are likely children in your class who are receiving a school scholarship, bursary, and/or financial aid. Often these school packages will provide support with extra school costs e.g., paying for a school trip but not the cost for a class graduation party. This financial information will be confidential, so as a classroom teacher you may not be aware of this. 2. Who Pays the Tuition?
In many international schools, there will be children whose parents work at embassies, international companies, and organizations. One of the employee benefits may be paying school fees. All the other extra costs of having a child in an international school will be covered by the family. Some of these families may not have salaries that can afford all the extras that we may assume is part of an international family financial package. 3. Colleagues Are Parents Too
In many international schools, one of the employee benefits may take the form of school places. This means that parents are not only teachers but also school support staff. Again, don't assume that a child of a member of the school’s maintenance team will be able to afford to buy a present for their child so they can attend every class birthday party. 4. We Never See the Whole Picture
Like with many privately educated children around the world, extended family members, often grandparents, will be helping to pay school fees to help out their children. Family holidays abroad may not be an option. 5. Financial Sacrifices
The majority of families who have chosen to have their children privately educated in an international school are probably making incredible financial sacrifices to cover their monthly school costs, especially challenging in a time of high inflation and fluctuating exchange rates.
Keep in mind how wealth and privilege can impact extracurricular activities, additional school tutoring, and even after-school project assignments. Time, parental help, and extra money are not always readily available for every student. A well-intentioned ice breaker like “Where did you travel for the holiday?”, “What did you get for Christmas?”, or “Who is coming on the school trip to Paris?” can be very threatening for children whose families may not have the means to cover these costs.
The important thing is to always check our assumptions. Not all children attending international schools come from wealthy backgrounds…and most certainly, not all parents own helicopters.
Natasha Winnard has come across many amazing young people in more than 20 years as an international educator, guidance and college counselor, and mentor in schools in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Natasha Winnard Consultancy provides holistic, personalized guidance for young people and their families looking for support in the world of international education.