Digital nomads often bring their entire families with them on their journeys around the world. When we talk to these roaming families while designing the upcoming Teleport search experience, they often tell us that their children's education is one of the most factors they consider when staying abroad.
These children, who are often exposed to a plethora of different cultures in school systems around the world at a very young age, are known as “third culture kids.” A third culture kid, or a child “who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture,” was a term first coined by Ruth Van Reken. Her research has shown that while these children do experience some challenges when living and studying abroad (as to be expected), their experiences were generally overwhelmingly positive. These children tend to grow up more open-minded, accepting, and flexible, allowing them to adapt to changing situations more comfortably than their non-nomadic peers. In many cases, they also have the additional benefits of having passports from multiple countries and being multilingual.
Below is an informal online survey conducted by DenizenMag on approximately 200 “third culture kids.”
Keeping the above in mind, digital nomads usually have three options when it comes to their children’s education:
2) Local Schools
3) International Schools
Homeschooling is a uniquely elastic setup for nomadic families: they can tailor the learning experience to fit each child and decide how much local language, history and culture to incorporate. Although the cost of homeschooling is usually much cheaper than the cost of international schools, teaching would then become a full-time job for at least one of the parents. However, if they can find time to homeschool their children, the transition abroad will be much smoother. This might not be an option if an exciting external job was what made the family move in the first place. Keep in mind that homeschooling may result in kids growing up more sheltered, and missing out on many of the benefits of living/studying abroad in the first place, including: interacting with local children their age, experiencing different cultures firsthand, and grasping new languages. Scholastic has a good beginner's guide on how to get started with homeschooling.
Local schools, on the other hand, immerse children directly into local cultures from the day they start, almost forcing them to adapt to survive. This method of schooling is probably the quickest and most cost effective way of turning your children into self-sufficient “third culture kids”, but usually at the cost of their comfort zones. This can be especially grueling for kids who have never visited the country and don’t know a single word of the language. Furthermore, due to differences in curricula around the world, students might face discrepancies across subjects: even as they struggle with the local language, they could easily be further ahead of their peers in math or physics. In some cases, they could even be placed in different grade levels - 5th grade in one country can translate to 4th in another. If you are considering local schools, you might want to take into account the most recent PISA rankings for how students from different countries perform in reading, science, and math.
Lastly, international schools can often provide the cultural immersion of local schools at a pace children are comfortable with. They can choose to interact with other international students from a wide variety of backgrounds, or the (usually wealthy) local students at the international school. International schools usually hold classes in commonly used languages like English, and have set curricula based on standards accepted worldwide (IB, AP, etc). The Telegraph has an interactive map of well known international schools to get you started on your search.