Cartable or Backpack? The International School Question


When asked about their primary concerns regarding life abroad, most expatriates cite their children’s education as one of their top priorities.

In the 2010 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study, organized by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the French education system was ranked 21st out of the 57 countries involved in the study. The U.S., by the way, ranked 14th, despite the below average math scores. This score is calculated according to math, reading and science proficiency scores of fifteen-year-old students.  There are certainly other factors to take into account, and improvements could be made, but overall France’s educational system for pre-school, grammar, middle and high school remains a respected one.  On the other hand, public universities, not to be confused with les grandes écoles,  are another story according to some analysts, when compared to a world standard.  But we will not go into that topic here.

international vs french school

One of the difficult choices expats must make is whether or not to choose schools with an internationally-focused curriculum in English. This may be an even more important decision for bi-cultural/bi-national couples, who may want their children to be in an English-speaking environment during the day.

Luckily, there are a number of educational options readily available throughout the country:

Grenoble is a very expat-friendly city with a significant English-speaking population (over 35,000 out of a metro area of 500,000). The Cité Scolaire Internationale  and The American School of Grenoble boast a large international student body, which contributes largely to their success.  ASG describes itself as “an independent American international college preparatory school… [whose] scholastic environment enables students to develop the knowledge, learning skills and curiosity they need to become international citizens of an open, evolving world.”  Founded in 1993, it is “the only middle and high school in the Grenoble area offering all classes in English.”

Another well-known English-speaking educational institution, the Lycée International de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, located twenty kilometers from Paris in the département des Yvelines, also provides an international environment for its students. In Lyon, the Cité Scolaire Internationale de Lyon, which includes both a middle school and a high school, has an international student body of 600 middle school students and 710 high school students.  They have different educational sections, or programs, focused on foreign language immersion. Students can choose from English, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Polish. Likewise, the Lycée International Victor Hugo in Toulouse focuses on an international curriculum with an emphasis on foreign languages.

So with all these choices available to them, what do American expats in France prefer for their own children? Scott is an American entrepreneur in the Lyon region with two young children, one of them a six-year-old currently a first grader (CP) at a new school in the area. They chose to enroll him in a local French school for now rather than go the international route (which remains an option for later), since it is closer to home. Scott also states that the “main reason for the international school was for his English, but my wife and I are working with him separately to keep his English up.”

Another expat from Lyon, Evie, shared the following:

“We have one child in the maternelle (pre-school) at the local French school. Our other son is at the International School of Lyon. We love the international school, and it is, by the way, local as well – we moved to the town it’s in – so we walk and can benefit from the convenience factor. We chose the international school originally to keep up our son’s English, but also because of the international community and open-mindedness that seems more an integral part of international schools. Now that he has been there for a few years, we also appreciate the curriculum and the emphasis on creative thinking, encouraging the love of learning… We are also happy with the maternelle, which also seems to encourage a love of learning (fortunately!).”

Thanks to both Evie and Scott for their valuable insight into the expat parenting experience with the French education system.

For more information, read about “getting comfortable with French public schools”, from an expat perspective. Expatica France has a great section and a guide to this topic, and my site also has helpful links on studying in France. The site provides an outline for the French educational system.

You can also reads our articles on dealing with the french school system while raising bilingual kids.

If you too have a story or an opinion to share on the french-american school system, we’ll be glad to welcome your contribution !

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