Localization of expatriates is becoming more and more common, as companies try to reduce the numbers of assignees and control costs. Many companies wrestle with the question of dependent education when dealing with localization. Unfortunately, the vast majority of localization policies oversimplify the issues and therefore do not adequately address employee or employer needs.
Most often, there is either an immediate cut-off of education assistance, or a phasing out of tuition assistance; in either case, the family either has to fund the private school themselves or transition their children into local public or state-funded schools. Both approaches assume that the local alternative will be adequate for the needs of the family, but there can often be complicating factors.
Below are four examples of factors to which employers should pay more attention when localizing expatriates.
- Home and Host Locations
While moving to a new school, even within the same country, is a challenge, some home-host combinations are more challenging than others. For example, moving from a less-developed country to an advanced industrialized country and vice versa poses many challenges in a way that moving from, say, one EU country to another or from Canada to the USA does not. Likewise, moving to a country whose culture is substantially different, whose language and or alphabet is different, going from a secular to a religious society, etc….all pose different types and degrees of difficulty for employees and their children.
- Different Systems and Curricula
While each country has its own approach to education, some systems are easier to move between than others. For example, an American who has attended a traditional Anglican (Episcopal) school in the US might find it easier to adapt to the British system than one who attended a US public school. On the other hand, differences in curricula often mean that a child is mismatched with his or her age group when moving to another country – some subjects have already covered, others not yet touched. This can be addressed, but requires one-on-one review and focus.
Children who are nearing graduation, or are in an important year for standardized tests might have more of a need for home-country course work than others. Of course, that depends upon the family’s ultimate intentions: if the family is localized in the UK and intends to stay permanently, it might make more sense for the child to prepare for university in the UK rather than at home.
- Special Needs
A surprisingly large proportion of the families in the general population have special needs children – this can be anything from autism to dyslexia to exceptionally-gifted. Some countries are more advanced than others at being able to accommodate such children.
What all of the above suggests is that the education component of a localization policy cannot be a “one size fits all” approach, and needs to account for the variables touched on above – and that list is not exhaustive.
What employers often forget is that providing guidance regarding curriculum issues, distance learning options, and long-term educational planning does not necessarily mean that tuition reimbursement for the host-location’s international school has to automatically follow. In fact, providing guidance up front often allows localizing families to more easily transition to less expensive alternatives with a lot less stress and anxiety.
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