Wednesday, December 07, 2011

UK dash - secondary schools

We’ve had a solid month of rain here in Kenya – of the like, I’ve never seen before. Roads are more potholed than ever, storm drains flooded, rainfall records for the past ten years have been broken. Each day of November brought with it giant rain storms, threatening black clouds and thunder, or else a drizzling mist of rain all day. So, in this wet weather, with roof leaking and power outages of up to 12 hours per time, my husband and I decided to escape to England for a week, ostensibly to look at secondary schools. It was something I thought we would never get around to doing, but when my parents-in-law (heroically) offered to babysit and we realised we had enough air miles for two return flights, we figured - why not? 

So what if we are in the midst of the biggest financial crisis of all time - global upheaval, the euro on the brink, UK parents selling the family silver to afford school feels - to hell with it - why not? (We must be mad)

As you can imagine, there is peer pressure . You may think that sending your kids back to UK is just a British expat thing, but it’s actually also a Kenyan trend to send your kids overseas for the best education that you can afford (UK, the States, Canada, Switzerland). However, you may be asking yourself at this point, why, if we need to scrabble around for air miles to go back to England, do we have the gall to consider UK private schools that cost up to £10,000 a term? It’s a good question.

I think that the 7 schools that we visited were bemused by our ramshackle arrival too. While in Kenya I had made appointments willy nilly in order to make the most of our trip, our appointment schedule kept changing (hang on a minute, which Cheltenham had we booked to see? Cheltenham Ladies or the other one? I wasn’t sure) – admittedly I/we’d not done much research beyond looking at a few websites and borrowing a friend’s copy of ‘The Good Schools Guide’. There were a couple of schools that we really wanted to see, others were schools we were just curious about or happened to be driving past (useful for comparison, I thought).

To add to my woefully bad planning, my husband’s Movember beard that has now become something of a bushy fixture (I keep reminding him that we are in December), joined with the fact that he insisted on wearing what he calls his khaki green ‘protester’s’ coat to all our appointments because frankly, it’s the only coat he’s got - must have combined to make an odd impression. I didn’t do much better. The only waterproof coat I own is a fake leather brown jacket.

The first school we arrived at (direct from Heathrow after a night flight - fuzzy mouthed) was my old school. It was an open day. The other prospective parents were wearing exactly what my mum and dad used to wear back in the day when I was at school – red cords, tweed jackets and/or skirts, Guernsey jumpers. It was like we’d stepped back in time.

I won’t bore you with the details, but all the schools were great. They all had overwhelmingly good facilities - with theatres, indoor pools, sports centres, gyms, stunning historic buildings, extensive grounds - almost everyone had a new science block, half a dozen master’s or teachers per subject (all willing to indulge us with a chat), jolly matrons and lovely students were selected to show us round. I did notice that the girls tended to wear thick foundation and short skirts at co-ed schools, whereas at all-girls schools they didn’t bother, but other than that, they were similarly good.

We returned to a knackered but resilient Granny and Grandad who had clocked up two hours in solid traffic on the return journey of one school run and also managed to put up the Christmas tree - to another weekend of yet more power outages and two out of three of our children ill. My mother-in-law said on a number of occasions; “I’m so glad you’re back!”

More confused than ever, I’m not necessarily convinced that UK schools are worth sending our children to another continent and re-mortgaging the house for.. but I may change my mind as time goes on. At this point, it is hard to imagine our eldest daughter at 13 – although time is already running out. At least the weather has cheered up over the past couple of days. Perhaps it’s a sign?


Robyn said...

Horay for the sunshine! Schools-a hard decision to make. Friends of mine from Ug just had a similar trip. Good luck making a decision.

allensbank said...

I came across your blog a while back when I was planning to move to the abroad for some time. As a Kenyan in the UK, I can now understand a number of the things that you talk about. There is something refreshing about the way you write- perhaps it's the honest way you present your experiences. Not at all like many other expatriate blogs that have a condescending tone to them. Keep up the good work.

Jesse Horning said...

Dear Africa Expat Wife,

I can't resist. Don't do it.

I'm twenty-two and about to graduate from university. After living in Tanzania for only six months, all of the expats' kids I've met my age (and younger) were far more mature, intelligent, contented and generally more interesting than the majority of people I've met in school. Your kids are the luckiest kids in the world to grow up in Africa. A friend of mine grew up near Arusha with the Maasai, went to RVA and just started at Stanford in the US. A former professor of mine who grew up in Kenya and Tanzania knew Sukuma before English studied at Oxford.

I may not have children or be much older than yours, but I think you would do your kids a disservice to send them to schools in the UK. Growing up in Africa is a privilege. Theatres, pools, gymnasiums and classrooms don't compare to the education Africa offers, especially East Africa with all the history and culture. You have the extensive grounds of the Serengeti, Masai Mara and Ngorongoro Crater at your disposal, the pool of Lake Victoria, and certainly some of the best entertainment (especially if you go to the airport and watch the overwhelmed and exhausted wazungu emerge from baggage claim with too many bags, gaping at the clamoring African safari guides holding name placards). Think of the educational materials you could buy and afford to have shipped with just one term's tuition!

I don't know your reasons for living in Africa in the first place, but consider you live in the most beautiful and diverse continent on earth.

P.S. I recently participated in No-Shave November and I thoroughly enjoyed the visual of you and your husband at your appointments!

Sylvia said...

Hi there,
Why dont you let them go to school in Kenya and later on they can moove abroad for University? I just imagine your daughter is now 13 and might go to UK soon. After that she will attend College ...also UK....later on University....maybe still UK. By the time she will graduate she might be 24!!! So that means you will not have her around for 10 years!!!!! Its such a long time!!!!

Anonymous said...

Ah, boarding school in East Africa was the best time of my life! After the UK running around in the mud barefoot and the great sports weather all year round, huge open spaces and great facilities, horses, general galivanting with little mind paid to having the newest (or often any) clothes

I wouldn't trade it for anything

Anonymous said...

Also, while there are (as anywhere) a lot of drugs involved it is much more difficult to get exotic drugs here so the worst we'd have to deal with is people stumbling around after sneaking a few shots of local liquor at a kiosk...compared to what my UK friends dealt with, with some ending up in rehab for opiates, I'd again take East Africa...

Anonymous said...

My daughter is nearly 12 and is a boarder at a prep school but we will home educate her from January. I have looked at several senior school and have some good knowledge about them (esp girls schools)

My daughter is just fed up of boarding and where we live there aren't really any good indies around. She swears she doesn't ever want to board but we have given her a choice of doing it at 13+ is she wants.

We have about 30% of boarders from abroad and most senior schools have about that percentage too. However I feel sorry for most of them as the parents are almost never there for activities. Living in the UK In still look for a school within an hour and at most 2 hours drive so we can be part of her school life.

You really need to think hard about this one. Boarding has changed and there is a lot of parents are heavily involved and how would you feel about you not being part of most of these things like sport teas on Wednesday?

I personally think it may be better for them to board in 6th form if you are abroad. Right now if you aren't sure about the quality of local school in Kenya have you thought about supplementing her gaps? Its terribly easy now and the are plenty of resources to do this. I understand internet is good in Kenya that even a plus because there is so much you can do now including getting tuition from UK tutors or even attending online schools.

And don't forget to look at schools that are fully boarding, you don't want one where most of the local students dissapear over the weekend. The schools won't tell you this BUT investigate. Lastly there are some good state boarding schools too like Hockerill (main intake at 11+ but could try other years). If your lot is clever you could try Cranbrook which is unusual as they start at 13+ but she has to pass the test.

Anonymous said...

Just send the kids to Germany of France,or in Scandinavia.I guess it is much cheaper and better quality than the UK,and more friendlier people.

Africa Expat Wife said...

Wow, thanks so much for all of these comments.

I certainly did notice that the UK boarding schools, with the best will in the world, are a lot more parent-centric than they were in my or my husband's day.

My 'overseas' child would definitely be in the minority. So you end up choosing less challenging, homely schools - just because you know that you won't be there. (Whereas you might choose the former if you knew you were on hand to provide support).

One lovely and rather beautiful 12 year old showed me round a boarding house, she is an expat kid with parents in Poland and said; 'Because my parents don't come - I stay here at weekends' My heart nearly broke.

I also felt dreadful getting off the night flight, landing at Heathrow and I had my husband with me! I couldn't imagine my daughter (who is still only 11 but in her penultimate year of prep school) doing the same journey all alone. It's a huge step, though I know that lots of kids cope very well.

Gee. Thanks so much for your feedback, a lot of what has been said so far reinforces my gut instinct to keep her here til 16.

Sylvia said...

sorry me again....

The question I was asking myself was WHY do you want to send her to UK? What is the reason? Are you planing to move back to UK in near future?

1. Do you think just in general that british schools are better then kenyans? is there this cliché that what ever is expensive HAS to be good? Just remember that even e NIVEA fulfills its needs ;-).

2. are you scarred of something? are you scarred that she might have difficulties to find a good university afterwards who is ready to take her? so far ive never read in any rubric on an Uni homepage that they only take students who attend secondary school in UK ;-)Are you scarred that she will not find a job in 20 years time coz she attended a secondary school in kenya which was apparently not posh enough? Imagine your daughter attends an interview and the guy goes....sorry we cant take you, you went to a non british secondary school. i have a friend from Trinidad she also went to school there but afterwards she got a placement at Cambridge. My other friend is mexican, also went to school there. he went to london to learn english. some years later he studied philosophy at Oxford. There are a few CNN presenter who are from kenya. I never went to a british University but isnt it all about marks? the better u marks are the higher are your chances to get into very good universities. or am i totally wrong?

3. ooor are you doing it coz most of your expat friends send their kids to Uk, US or whereever. so if they all do it, it HAS to be right?

i have two siblings and i dont wanna miss the time i had with them. im the youngest and in fact ive cried when my 6 years older sister moved out.

My relatives in dubai just came back from a trip to UK and USA. they are also looking for a placement for her daughter. all the university cares is how good will she complete her college in dubai. thats it! the university didnt care from where she is or where she went to school.

I would rather go with your kids to the Kakamega Rainforest. As far as I remember your blogs you have never been there. Ppl are daring to go and see such places. They should enjoy the nature and wildlife now.

My mexicans friend also studied at Oxford now he works as an accountant in london.
At the end of the day even if she attends the top university its your daughter who has to study then you cant help her anymore.

Anonymous said...

As, Jesse Horning said, Growing up and studying in Africa, especially east africa with its culture and connections to the UK in an amazing experience for any kid.

You obviously want to make the best decision for your little ones so you may have to allow her to go back to the UK,

...But in my opinion, she will get a better experience in Kenya. plus not that many hard drugs around in kenya. its one thing dealing with smuggled liquour, its another spotting syringe marks on your kids arm

Anonymous said...

"P.S. I recently participated in No-Shave November and I thoroughly enjoyed the visual of you and your husband at your appointments!"

Eh?! Is you husband wearing No. 9 or No. 1, or is he in the middle?


Anonymous said...

Why send her even at 16? There is no home fees advantage anymore and even if there were the cost of school would negate that. There is a very heavy bias in good east african schools (kenya/tz anyway) in terms of students getting into ivy league schools and top 5 unis in England. I'd go so far as to say it makes it easier to get in.

Honestly, boarding school here was the best years of my life so far and when I eventually went to the UK (to the LSE) the fresh from public school kids seemed ignorant and shallow..the way of life in Kenya is generally so wholesome and carefree that when you get to uni and are surrounded by girls squeaking over articles in cosmo and obsessing over sex and the city they seem a bit silly.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering why you choose to work in Kenya on a limited income? If you're British, wouldn't your work and income opportunities be better or is your husband a Kenyan citizen?

I personally think colleges in America are better than any European one's. There's a reason many of the tools we used have been invented by American college students and not Brits (Facebook, twitter, google, Apple, microsoft...)

Private school in England will not make much of a difference in my humble opinion -- it's the same archaic form of education that never seems to produce innovators.

Anonymous said...

Hello. First of all, great blog! My husband and I are planning to move to Nairobi for a while (4 years or more). We have a 5 year-old boy and we live in Montreal. We're pretty ok here, but we lived overseas before our son was born and we're always excited by the prospect. But of course, a child changes everything. So i'm just gonna go ahead and ask: is it worth it? I know personal experiences differ and so on, and of course we're not gonna decide based on one opinion, but still...would you do it again? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

"I personally think colleges in America are better than any European one's. There's a reason many of the tools we used have been invented by American college students and not Brits (Facebook, twitter, google, Apple, microsoft...)"

err, the Internet was invented by a Briton; I think he went to school in the UK. And, we all happily use the English language...


Anonymous said...

Hello, Have been reading your blog for over a year and love it! However, I have never written a single comment, sorry. I live in Nairobi and have 3 children. My 14 year old is at boarding school in the UK and loves it. She has the best of both worlds beautiful Kenya in the holidays. Family, friends, shopping, snow etc whilst at school.
The decision is always down to the individual child and their present happiness and future prospects. I wish you luck in decision it is a tough one.
Keep blogging

Africa Expat Wife said...

Thanks for all of your comments. We are off to do a tour of the Kenyan secondary schools soon, so that should help. It's all very daunting, but since there has been a bit of a time lapse since visiting UK, I thought that a lot of the schools there were really great too.

Fortunately my husband's beard has gone now (only at Christmas time), but I think it got up to a no 3 or 4 ...