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Demand from local families fuels growth of international schools in Africa

| June 11, 2015 | 1 Comment

By Anne Keeling

New data released in March 2015 from the International Schools Consultancy (ISC)1, indicates that the international schools market in Africa looks set to expand for at least the next 10 years.

Details from the research were presented at the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA) conference 2015 which took place recently in Cape Town.2

ISC Research has been the leading provider of data and market intelligence on the world’s English-medium international schools market for the past 25 years. It is the only organisation that has continuously operated in the global marketplace to collect international school data, resulting in a unique set of current and historical market intelligence which is released on a real-time basis. The company gathers data directly from international schools, visiting over 500 of the world’s leading schools in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America each year to ensure the most accurate analysis. This is available to schools for benchmarking and development planning, as well as to investors, developers, education providers and suppliers through reports published for key regions of the world, a global report and also an online licence for continual access to data and market intelligence.

According to the new data from ISC Research, there are now 722 English-medium international schools throughout Africa employing 28 700 full time teaching staff and teaching more than 293 000 students.

Demand for international schools

There are 183 English-medium international schools in Egypt, 129 in Nigeria and 64 in Kenya. The average annual tuition fee at English-medium international schools in Africa is 29% lower than the global average. This is in line with income levels in Africa as well as several not-for-profit international schools which charge lower fees. The future growth of the international schools market in Africa is very much dependent on how many people can afford to pay the fees.

International school enrolment is increasingly dominated by the richest five per cent of non-English-speaking parents looking for places at international schools in their own countries. This has come about as a result of an increase in wealth. As income increases, an English-medium international school education becomes a top priority for many families. It is now widely accepted that, for students who have attended international schools, there are tremendous opportunities at the world’s top universities; many often competing for the best students. “Not only is this as a result of learning through the English language, but it’s also because of the quality of teaching and learning that many international schools provide,” believes Nicholas Brummitt, chairperson of the ISC.

Brits among the best

Sixty five per cent of all international schools in Africa deliver (all or in part) a British curriculum,3 valued by Western universities, many of which seek out schools where students have studied either a British curriculum, a US-oriented curriculum,4 or the International Baccalaureate (IB).5When it comes to recruiting well-qualified international students from a diversity of countries and school systems, says Karen McKellin, executive director of the International Student Initiative at the University of British Columbia in Canada,6 “We look for British or IB schools. We know they educate students who meet our requirements,” she explains.

Of the international schools within the AISA group (which has stringent criteria standards for membership), a British curriculum is the curriculum of choice of 82% of member schools. States Peter Bateman, executive director of AISA: “The globally recognised, high quality, internationally accredited curricula offered in AISA member schools (which include Cambridge Primary,7 the IB, the International Primary Curriculum,8 US-oriented curricula as well as the British curriculum) are clearly an attraction for both local and expatriate families.”

The changing face of AISA schools

Research from ISC suggests that more than half of the students attending AISA member schools today are children from local indigenous families. “Over the years the nature of the demand for places in AISA member schools has changed,” says Bateman. Throughout the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, the demand for AISA school places was from expatriate parents seeking quality learning opportunities for their children that were at least as good as in their home countries. From the 1990’s onwards, as the economies in African countries began to develop more rapidly, an increasing number of local families also began to send their children to international schools. This trend continues to this day.

“For these families, quality education that better enables graduates to find places in colleges and universities, both locally and abroad, is a key factor,” explains Bateman. “Given the increasing number of international schools in Africa, parents are looking for additional areas in which schools excel in order to make choices about where to send their children. While price is still a consideration for most, there is also an increasing understanding of the importance of holistic, broader learning experiences beyond those offered in the classroom. Service learning programmes, opportunities to develop international mindedness, school exchange and travel opportunities, and increasingly, learning environments that ensure children’s safety and security are factoring into parents choices. All AISA member schools must be internationally accredited and this ensures high standards are maintained in all our member schools,” he adds.

Challenges today

One of the key challenges for AISA is to support member schools and learning communities that are often very remote. “A key role for AISA is making the connections between the various members of our community,” says Bateman. Another challenge is the highly transitional nature of teachers. “Staff turnover at schools in Africa is high,” he says. “This becomes challenging when seeking to create longer term impact – unless our schools develop robust systems that can remain in place as staff move on. A final ongoing challenge has been a lack of infrastructure that supports learning. For the majority of AISA schools, offering 21st century learning in developing countries creates lots of challenges but also lots of opportunities to innovate.”

For AISA, this means focusing on connections with its member schools and supporting them with their specific learning needs; a challenge that is made more difficult by the still developing communications and technology infrastructure in much of Africa. That’s why, adds Bateman, the chance for face-to-face communication with so many teachers and leaders at conferences is so important.

Conference focuses: service learning, child protection and trauma counselling

This year’s AISA conference focused on improving student learning with specific attention to literacy, differentiation, inclusion and assessment. Workshops focused on helping educators develop the skills of service learning, child protection and trauma counselling. “AISA has been working hard to reestablish itself as the professional learning source for our member schools – regardless of which international curriculum they offer,” details Bateman. “In doing so we formed a professional learning working group facilitated by AISA’s new director of professional learning, Graham Watts. By canvasing the needs of member schools, this group was able to develop a conference programme that targeted the specific needs of our community of learners.”

AISA covers many aspects

In between conferences, says Bateman, AISA provides a range of programmes in order to support the specific needs of its member schools in their various contexts across Africa. These include:

  • Professional learning opportunities for educators and school leaders through meetings, through scholarships to attend external training in other regions, and more recently, through the development of learning institutes which enable a deeper learning experience on topics identified by member schools.
  • Policy advice. One example of this is child protection. In 2012, AISA established the Child Protection Working Group which has since gone on to develop a Child Protection Handbook that provides practical advice and guidance for schools so that they can strengthen their child protection systems. This is particularly crucial work where AISA member schools operate in often isolated and volatile contexts.
  • Innovative programming such as the establishment of the Service Learning Working Group and the introduction of the AISA Global Issues Service Summit (AISA-GISS). This has been developed and supported by AISA as a reflection of the unique environment of many of its member schools and a desire from schools to engage more genuinely with their local communities.
  • Crisis support. This includes School Link which AISA established so that its schools have a mechanism for continuing to provide an education to pupils even in the event of a school closure (which may be due to civil unrest, war or a disease outbreak). AISA also offers on-site counselling support to its member schools to assist school communities through a crisis situation.

Service key in Kenya, Mozambique and Ghana

AISA member schools are encouraged to be active members of the communities in which they are located. The value of respect for each other and for Kenya is evident at the International School of Kenya (ISK), as is a commitment to giving back to the community. ISK’s scholarship programme for Kenyan students, together with a broad and dedicated service-learning programme has shaped the school values since its inception in 1967.

At the American International School of Mozambique (AISM), service learning has been a component of school life for a number of years. The opportunities offered through the programme are crucial experiences for the holistic development of their students. At AISM, students work together with local partners to renovate buildings, paint walls, build furniture and provide equipment to those in need at other local institutions. Their aim is to cultivate a culture of service in their students and communities and to strive to build meaningful and sustainable partnerships.

At Lincoln Community School (LCS), in Accra, Ghana, helping students learn and practise compassion through service to the broader community is one of a top priority. From turtlehatchery projects to weekend ‘builds’ with Habitat for Humanity9 to weekly “Service Wednesday” trips, LCS offers learners at all levels the opportunity to transcend barriers, develop stewardship, and build empathy as they work on issues of local and global importance. Through all its service activities LCS teaches students teamwork, respect for human dignity, and personal qualities like curiosity and determination.

More and more international schools for Africa

The ISC forecasts that by 2025 there will be over 1 518 international schools in Africa teaching over 625 000 students. AISA looks forward to supporting them all.

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Category: Featured Articles, Winter 2015

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Comments (1)

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  1. Makubatsi Matsoso says:

    This article is very important in showing the good works of AISA, and where international education is leading.

    Thanks Anne.

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