The city districts in Ho Chi Minh City are numbers not names, so choosing where to send your child to school could have the appearance of a lottery. Hopefully, this article will help you to make a choice (probably, one of the international schools) based on research and knowledge rather than the fall of the dice.
Ho Chi Minh City (commonly known as HCMC) is larger, more high-rise and more laid-back than its northern sibling, Hanoi, and there are even more motorbikes - three million of them. It’s also more humid and when you’re not dripping from the inside out, you’re soaking from the outside in, as the rainy season produces torrential downpours that have no trouble penetrating the stoutest waterproofs.
You will probably not want to take your precious children on the back of a motorbike but you will need wheels to reach most of the international schools, unless you live in District 2 and send them either to the secondary campus of the British International School Ho Chi Minh City, the European School Ho Chi Minh City or the Australian International School. If you live in District 7 you have the further options of sending them to Renaissance International School or Saigon South International School.
In the latter case, it will be a roughly ten minute walk and about the same to reach the schools inside District 2, if you choose to settle there. Alternatively, almost all international schools offer a school bus service.
Once you’ve sorted out which district number works for the practicalities of the school run, you might want to look at the percentage of local children in these schools, which can range from around 30 per cent to 90 per cent, in the case of the American International School Vietnam (AISVN) and even higher in some of the alternatives. These local students are under serious parental influence to perform well academically and a number of them have private tuition after school, a combination which may make the atmosphere too pressurised for some expat children.
Although most international schools are open to registering students all year round, the most popular ones tend to have waiting lists so you need to get your act together fast and research the schools as soon as you know you’re heading for HCMC. Not all are fully selective but given the highly impressive graduate scores and destinations and the pushy local parents, these schools can tend to be full-on academic hothouses.
As in Hanoi, due to the Vietnam war, the influx of international schools only began around 25 years ago and there are at least three, which are less than ten years old. This means that, although these are schools that have been recommended to us, we don’t yet know enough about them to do more than suggest that you put them near the top of your list, when relocating to HCMC. There may also be others that have yet been brought to our notice.
The encouraging point is that the schools are all externally accredited, either by independent American agencies or the Council of International Schools or inspected by accreditation agencies for the British Schools Overseas (BSO). Some, such as the American International School, the British International School and the American Academy at the International School of Ho Chi Minh City are even dually accredited. On the other hand, a complicating factor is the similarity of school names, particularly the use of the word American, as in the above mentioned and in the separate The American School Ho Chi Minh City (TAS). This may account for why so many schools are more commonly just known by their initials.
Curricula is another really important consideration, in order that your children can transition easily. Most schools, with the exception of the ABC International School (formerly the ABC English School and follows an English curriculum, leading to A Levels), offer a basically American curriculum up to the American High School Diploma or a mixed curriculum leading to IGCSEs and the International Baccalaureate Diploma. The exceptions are the European International School and the International School, Ho Chi Minh City which offer the full IB Programme (except for the careers option). The remaining option is the
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Ho Chi Minh City considered by expats'.
As in most far eastern cities, it is improbable that you will consider sending your child to a public school unless your family is at least partially Vietnamese or you are intent on integrating your offspring into the culture. Teaching methods are entirely different, on the lines of children being ‘seen and not heard’. There is a move to modernise the system and it is now possible to find public schools with a more western approach, however, you will find it very hard to slot your child in, as these are hugely over-subscribed.
There are some excellent academic schools with stunning results, particularly for the IB Diploma, with graduates scoring way above the global average. Also, it can be a pressurised environment for children coming out of a western school and they can find themselves overwhelmed by the number of local students.