Brazil: the battle for a school place

Brazil may have recently overtaken the UK as the sixth-largest world economy, but not every sector is booming–and certainly not from the perspective of the relocating family in search of a place at a good international school.

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Brazil may have recently overtaken the UK as the sixth-largest world economy, but not every sector is booming–and certainly not from the perspective of the relocating family in search of a place at a good international school. Following on from the Brazil focus in our Spring 2012 issue, Rebecca Marriage investigates.More and more expat families are moving to Brazil, which is fast becoming the world's number-one vibrant and exciting relocation hotspot. However, many are faced with a surprising challenge. After the provision of housing  for new expats, international schools are next on the list of services under tremendous strain. They are struggling to offer places to an increasing number of incoming families, and, consequently, waiting lists can be alarmingly long.

According to Stuart Young, headmaster of the British College of Brazil, São Paulo, "Many families have been surprised by the challenges of finding quality school places in Brazil. One of the main difficulties is for families with more than one child, as we may have a space for one of the children but not for the other, and this is also the case at other international schools here." In Brazil's main relocation destination cities, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and Macaé, there are some great international schools for families opting for a curriculum or learning programme which follows the one that they are used to in their country of origin, if they are lucky enough to secure a place. Most expats opt for international schools offering the English National Curriculum, the American programme, or the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme. São Paulo, for example, has the largest variety of international schools, with three American and three British schools.

But it is not just internationally relocating students placing pressure on the most popular international schools, as Stuart Young has discovered. "Because of the economic boom, many local Brazilian families now have the money to be able to send their children to private international schools, therefore making spaces for relocating families fewer, and creating longer waiting lists."

However, Karen Fraser Colby de Mattos, director of studies at Pueri Domus School in São Paulo, would like to reassure relocating families that there may be a little flexibility for the international student. "We have a policy that we have a limit of 20 students from pre-school to first grade; however, we do allow an extra student in the class if he or she is international. In Elementary, Middle and High School, we have a limit of 25 students, and the extra place is always for an international student."

Families moving to the region are unlikely to consider a local state school, because of issues relating to language requirements and integration, so a fee-paying English language international school is often the first choice. However, schools like Pueri Domus can offer an alternative, says Karen Fraser Colby de Mattos.

"Our school is for families that want to have a Brazilian experience while in Brazil and also have their children study in English following an American curriculum up to middle school and the IB Diploma in our Verbo Divino Campus for high school. We have the Brazilian curriculum following the Brazilian calendar and the American curriculum following the American calendar."

Distance from home to school should be another practical consideration for families; traffic can be an issue in the big cities and can be quite unpredictable. A journey that takes 20 minutes one day could take an hour the next. Many schools provide a bus service to take children to and from school, but, to ensure that children arrive on time, school runs can begin quite early in the morning.

How relocation professionals can help

While the schools are very well set up to help and advise families on cultural and practical differences, Karen Fraser Colby de Mattos suggests that relocation professionals could offer more support for families on their move into the region. "Relocation agents come to the school with the families," she says, ìbut do not follow up on them. Some of the multinationals will keep close contact with us to ensure that the children are well adjusted, but some do not really get involved."

The big international schools in the region have recognised the need to help families settle in. "We have realised that relocating families need support in different ways," says Stuart Young. "We have created a parent group that liaises with new families and organises social events for them to attend, to help them settle into their new life and begin making contact with others in a similar situation."While it is certainly not impossible for families to secure a place at a good school, it does remain a challenge for parents–and issues of timing and communication with schools will be crucial for assignees relocating with school-age children. Not only will families need plenty of time to research their education options carefully, they will also need time to make the necessary alternative applications should their chosen school be closed to new students.It is a good idea to keep the channels of communication open with the schools in the region. They are more than likely to be willing to help in any way they can, and often have personal experience of the difficulties of making the move–as summed up in these final words from Stuart Young. "As an expat myself, I feel a certain sense of duty to visiting families to help them as much as possible, even if we cannot offer them a place for their child right away."

For the latest news and articles on Brazil, see the International Destinations section of www.relocatemagazine.com

© 2012. This article first appeared in the summer 2012 edition of Re:locate magazine, published by Profile Locations, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. This publication (or any part thereof) may not be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of Profile Locations. Profile Locations accepts no liability for the accuracy of the contents or any opinions expressed herein.

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