Lessons From Asian Independent Schools

I have just wrapped up a week at the East Asian Regional Council of Schools conference in Malaysia. Some observations on independent schools in Asia:

  • The economies in many or most Asian countries, combined with an extraordinary (healthy or not?) cultural obsession with academic success, has created an enormous market demand for K-12 schools. Even highly underdeveloped countries like Laos and Viet Nam have emerging markets that support significant numbers of private K-12 schools.
  • Given the focus on getting into top colleges, parent-consumers are not pushing many schools to innovate or change. Families are heavily focused on high test scores, which are seen as the critical key to college entrance. This does not bode well for students who will graduate better prepared to take a test than to think creatively, but listening to customers is a key to success. Even though almost everyone agrees what is best for the students in the long run, there is tremendous fear here about betting too far ahead of the market.
  • The breadth of schools is remarkable, from small start-ups that bought old public school campuses to large for-profits with huge buildings, thousands of students, and multiple state-of-the art facilities.
  • American accents seem underrepresented. There are many Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, and British educators who have built highly successful careers in Asian schools. There are also Asian schools (Korea and China in particular?) where foreigners with virtually no educational background whatsoever are hired, largely because the foreign face lends weight to their admissions efforts.  Maybe bad news for the value of education at those schools, but many underemployed Americans have found work overseas in the education sector.

Some observations on the west coast of Borneo:  Pretty darn nice place, but a LONG way to get here from home!

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