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Free schooling for expat children

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Firms in Poland increasingly fund the bilingual education of expats’ children. But financial problems and contract negotiations impede access to exclusive international schools

"I simply don't know how I am supposed to pay for the schooling of my children," sighed Eric. Not that he's unemployed. On the contrary, Eric has a well paid job. His problem lies more with the fact that he works in Poland - and is French. He came to Poland three years ago, in order to work for the supermarket Cefic Polska and decided a few months ago, to bring his family with him. Since their arrival Eric has been caught in a vicious circle of unending negotiations. His four children should have entered an international school a long time ago, but it is still unclear, whether the firm will bear the costs of the training.

There are many Europeans like Eric. Thanks to the opening of the European market, many have moved abroad to work and have taken their children with them. But they often don't know which schools to choose for their children and who will pay for the costly education at one of the few bilingual schools.

In Poland, the majority of international firms fund the education of their employees' children. However, this comes at an enormous bureaucratic cost. "Everything depends on the corresponding footnotes on the contracts," explains Agnieskza Szniter, who works in the human resources department of Cefic Polska. "These additions should be negotiated before the employees leave for abroad. If the employee negotiates cleverly, their firm will cover all the education costs of his or her children," according to Schniter. But she adds, "This is rather complicated, because every country has a different legal and tax system."

Going international

There are many good reasons for companies to fund the education of their foreign employees’ children. For the parents who have a limited command of the local language, it is a big relief. The children can also move to a foreign country without endangering their studies. Indeed the curricula of international schools are congruent with those of their home land.

If the company pays for education expenses, employees are more likely to leave their home country and work abroad. This allows firms to attract highly skilled staff and remain competitive. Many companies have therefore decided to pay for all the education costs of the children of their foreign employees. The hotel chain Accor adopted this method. "Employees snap up places in the best local schools," says Alijia Szynanska from the personal department of Accor Poland. "The French send their children to the British school in Warsaw, because it has a better reputation than the French school."

Attending a bilingual school helps children to adapt to their new home. "The move to a new country and the other customs are enough stress already," says Anne whose son goes to the British school in Warsaw. "He is constantly in contact with children of his own age, who speak his language. That gives him the feeling of stability. He no longer feels that he has been dragged away from a familiar world".

In international schools, students may also learn the language and culture of their new home and of other countries. "It is unbelievable that four children of different nationalities, who all speak different languages, can communicate so well," says Gosia, who used to teach in the French grammar school in Warsaw. "Children chat together and it doesn't bother them that they are speaking in incomprehensible foreign languages".

Unforeseen learning benefits

Unfortunately not all parents will receive financial support from their new employers. Some international schools exist only thanks to embassies and the active support of parents. These are forced to organise sponsors and obtain financial assistance for the purchase of books, computers and sports equipment.

The Polish school in Athens, one of the four Polish schools worldwide had to struggle to obtain funding. The Poles living in Athens wanted to nurture their culture and their language, even at the distance. At the beginning of the nineties, they therefore appealed to various firms asking for money for a school - until they reached their target.

In most cases, it is worth the struggle. Not only is the level of education at multilingual schools on average higher than in normal schools, these schools bring unforeseen learning benefits. "When we sent our daughter Lucja to an international school, we thought she would

only learn French and English," explained Ada, a Pole who lives in Paris. "But she regularly played with African children, and was eventually to hold a conversation in their language."

Translated from Szkoły dwujęzyczne - dwa razy więcej możliwości