Expat advice: How to find a good school for your children

Minsk school for expats children

Craig, a married Dutch expat with two teenage sons, is sharing his experience of finding a good English school for his children in Minks. Not that simple as it turned out to be but he finally managed to find the school this family is happy with.

As an expat family relocating with young children to Belarus, it is essential that one understands the education options available for one’s children. The Government of Belarus places a positive emphasis on education and for this reason a variety of options exist between public and private schools. The process of selecting a school can be a stressful experience, but I hope our encounter can assist and alleviate the pressure.

Once our family decided to relocate to Belarus, we immediately started searching for a suitable English School. The research was based on our children being native English and being educated in British Curriculum at various International schools. Based on the above parameters, the only choice we had was to find a private school where all the subjects are presented in English. Subjects at the local government schools are taught in Russian or Belarussian languages and English is presented as a second language. After an initial internet search, we decided we would shortlist English private schools, and then contact the schools directly.

Browsing the web, we identified a problem immediately. Searching ‘English School Minsk,’ provides a list of English language schools that offer English courses, and are not full-time schools in the true sense. Other than English private schools, there are local schools where English is taught once or twice a week as a second language or in some schools it is presented every day. Furthermore, most of the private schools are offering only primary education, but not secondary with no high school certification.

When choosing a private school, there were a number of factors we considered, namely: classes taught in English, curriculum, grades and class size, outdoor facilities, enrolment, location, school fees and quality of interaction.

Classes taught in English: When phoning and visiting a number of schools that advertised English education, we found that the majority of their receptionists did not speak English. In some instances, we had to wait for the Director to arrive or in others, wait a week or two for feedback. The only school that stood out above all, was QSI. Everyone spoke English and all my questions were answered immediately. It is the only school that presents all its grade subjects in English and is a real haven for expats in Minsk.

Curriculum: This was one of the most important factors in helping us decide, as curriculum allows a child to study further at international schools and it is important for international university acceptance. The two main international curriculums presented at private schools in Minsk (additional to the local curriculum) are the American and the British. The British education covers Pearson, STEM and Cambridge. We decided on the American curriculum as it offers international students greater flexibility.

Grades and Class Size: When relocating internationally, it is important that a child does not lose a grade once they are accepted at the new school. For this reason, similar curriculums’ facilitate new schools recognizing children’s prior grades, without entrance testing. Another important aspect to consider is that many private schools in Minsk provide only Primary School grades, and very few provide both Primary School and High School. The average class size at private schools in Minsk is approximately 15 students, which allows for personal teacher-student attention.

Outdoor Facilities: Unfortunately, I did not come across any private schools in Minsk that have wonderful outdoor facilities. In contrast, I found public schools having more of a choice with multiple outdoor facilities, like swimming pools, tracks and large sporting grounds. We decided on a school that has a “bubble-gym” which allows recreation and sport throughout the year.

Enrolment: The enrolment process is very smooth at most of the shortlisted schools we contacted. Other than personal documents, children require a letter as reference from the previous school, their latest grade report and an interview with the principal. All bi-lingual and private English schools have a rolling admission, which allows children to join the school any time of the year.

Location: Minsk is safe and fortunate to have a proper public transport infrastructure that facilitates students’ movements. Some private schools offer school busses for their students. As a school’s location effects the daily planning of a family, we decided to choose our accommodation after selecting the school. This allows flexibility as the children can walk to school, take a bicycle, use public transport, use a school bus and the occasional Yandex/Uber Taxi.

School Fees: When looking at English private schools internationally, one realizes that it will cost; the same goes for Minsk. Private schools with additional English subjects average $550 to $700 per child, per month, including food and bus services. A full-time English private school for expats in Minsk is around $2000 per month, per child, excluding food and bus services. I have found that paying a high cost for your children’s school in Minsk has major advantages, as it ensures the quality of the teachers, ensures a set internationally accepted curriculum, ensures exposure to international education, ensures future studying prospects, provides extensive assistance with International University selection and it ensures teachers who genuinely care about their students.

Choice and Quality of Interaction: The most professional interaction and experience we received, from day one, was with QSI School in Minsk. For this reason we decided to enroll our children at QSI. Their Director has always availed himself when needed, provides us with necessary information, provides an excellent environment conducive to study in, assisted us as parents and sets a high standard of education. The positive attitude of all students and staff made us feel welcome from day one. QSI is multi-cultural and open-minded in its approach to education and has set rules and regulations, which makes it easy for both parents and children to understand and conform to, thus ensuring ‘International Best Practice’ in education. This is furthermore complimented by their strict COVID policy, which aims at safely keeping children in the class, thus minimizing online learning.

Minsk is a really friendly city for foreigners and one must never be afraid to pick up the phone or ask questions……with the hope that the receptionist speaks English. As experience has proven, always try to see places with your own eyes before making a final decision regarding schools. The greatest benefit of asking questions is being well informed and making sound decisions.

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