We live in Asia. We'll send her to Australia for secondary school. It's better. (Or is it?


I hear this often.

I ask: "Tell me how you ended up attending secondary school in X country?"

"Well, we/my parents thought that the education system is better in X country than in my home/Y country and would be viewed more favourably by admissions when I apply to university so I've spent the last 2-3-4 years attending school here in X country."

I wish we had met 2-3-4 years ago...

Adolescents are resilient and generally very open-minded. They can endure much more than adults I find, tend to keep a more open mind about life and opportunities and can usually more readily find the positive in a situation (whereas we adults might tend to focus on the negative). These are some of the reasons why I love working with adolescents. (And prefer working with them over adults any day...sorry, parents!) So, we put them into situations and they adjust, acclimate, and find their way. They usually do.

But, there's a better way to find the best school or university or camp or otherwise for young adults, and that means, Parents, really understanding options, evaluating those options, asking yourself and yoru child the hard questions and then understanding which option will be best for your unique child. So, when I hear that a student has ended up at Y secondary school or Z university for the reason above--and without proper due diligence, research, and investigation, I worry that it's like me taking control of the cockpit. (I don't have a pilot's license but I've read how you fly a plane...)

My concern with these decisions and how they are taken is two-fold:

1. That they are made on generalizations (ie: country X's education system is better than country Y's--ok, generally speaking this may be the case, but, have you looked at alternative/private schools, new programmes, initiatives being developed in the country? Are you aware of all of the possibilities?)

2. That they were made without solid understanding (ie: how university admissions works--of course this varies by country and also by university--what admissions looks for in a candidate, how "fit" works and is determined, what carries weight, what does not, .... Are you aware of the details of how the admissions process works?)

So, when I was speaking to a student today about her background, and why she attends secondary school in Australia instead of in her home Southeast Asia country, she recounted almost verbatim both 1 and 2 above (without the reasoning of what would have been answered/discovered in the part in italics). Her parents had come to this fairly quick conclusion and sent her to boarding school for the past four years in Australia.

Was this a mistake? Who am I to say. But, what I would like parents to understand is that before you take a very serious, important, life-changing decision such as this--changing country, culture, language, curriculum, social environment--for your child, it is critical that one understand her options as well as the educational landscape for both present (in this case secondary school) and future (in this case university) with regards to the very unique, very individual, very one-of-a-kind student at hand.

Some questions you should consider include:

• What reasons are prompting a potential change of schools/countries for academics? Have these reasons (ie: "it will be better for uni admissions") been fool-proofed?

• What makes us think that one system is better than another? What systems are being compared and how?

• What options do we have here in our home town/home country--private, public, alternative schools and programmes? What are the differences and what are the pros and cons of each? And, what are the options abroad? Have we done our due diligence in exploring options--local and abroad?

• What will be the benefit of staying in the home country--academically, socially, economically? And the benefits of going away?

• What support does our child need? In what environment does she thrive? In what environment does she retract or become anxious?

• What are we ultimately looking for in a secondary school environment and curriculum for our child/what is she/he looking for? What options fit?

• Are there any ulterior motives that are affecting our decisions or biases? This can be the most difficult--and will be the most important--question to ask yourself and answer.

Sounds like a lot of work, Jennifer.

It is. Like anything that's complex and nuanced in life, it takes work to suss it out, understand it, come to conclusions...that work for you. In this case, there are professionals who are experts in understanding and knowing various educational systems around the globe, what your options might be if you stay in-country, or if you go out-of-country, the differences in curricula and culture and then to be able to tie that to the individual student. Generalizations in terms of educational systems is error number one. Error number two is then bringing those conclusions to the case of an individual, highly unique young adult. Again, everything in this scenario must be case-by-case.

Bottom line is this:

When we are talking about education, generalizations *do not work*. Everything must be case-by-case.

-->This means a lot of work. Treat every educational institution as its own unique entity. Understand it. Its people. Its curriculum. Its culture.

When we are talking about what's right for the student, generalizations *do not work*. Each student is unique--in terms of needs, wants, interests and environments and curricula that will allow her to succeed.

-->This, too, means a lot of work. Treat the student as her own unique self. Understand her. Her interests. Her strengths. Her fears. What makes her thrive. (And, certainly, what doesn't.)

In many cases parents--and students--don't know where to turn to for this sort of advice. Perhaps an international education advice column is overdue. In the meantime, start asking questions. Build trusted sources. Avoid the one-size-fits-all mentality. And, be ready to learn--about your options and surely more about yourself along the way.

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