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Two new reports that investigate current practice regarding inclusion and education technology in international schools have been published by ISC Research. The reports include results of research conducted with international schools from around the world, including the Middle East, to understand current demands and to identify emerging trends. The results provide valuable information for educators and specialist suppliers.

How COVID-19 impacted edtech

The edtech survey was conducted by ISC Research in June, at a time when all schools had been delivering distance learning for several weeks.

The report suggests that technology has played a crucial role in supporting learning and teaching during COVID-19. Not only will it do so as the pandemic continues to affect schools but, according to the research, the experience is also impacting the longer-term decisions for many international schools. For some, this is influenced by new government requirements, but for most, this is an independent decision prompted by their school’s need for learning continuation and by success factors experienced during campus closures.

The report shows that most international schools used a combination of platforms and traditional methods to ensure learning was accessible to every child. Although the vast majority of schools in the survey had a learning platform already in place and established as campuses closed, 51% of international schools in the survey said that posting learning instructions to some of their students was also extremely valuable.

Tech challenges and new opportunities

Teachers reported that they found live online lessons most valuable for guiding children through their distance learning. This approach was used by 98% of the international schools surveyed and considered most valuable by 83% of them. The American Community School of Abu Dhabi was one of these schools. Derek Swanson, Director of Learning Innovation and eLearning at the school said the impact of this is influencing future planning: “We’re looking for in-school video conferencing for a hybrid model,” he said.

Schools said other valuable solutions were pre-recorded instructions by the teacher that were shared with children as videos through the learning platform. Parents supporting children at home were considered valuable by 65% of schools.

Suddenly shifting to distance learning was far from easy for many international schools. The greatest challenge for 40% of schools was the lack of teacher skills in adapting to teaching remotely. 33% said it was a lack of teacher skills in their use of technology. Internet limitations were a problem for 37% of international schools, and for 28% of schools, it was a lack of student access to a learning device.

Like ACS Abu Dhabi, the experience has influenced the future edtech plans for 84% of schools. At the Modern English School Cairo in Egypt, Principal Nicola Singleton reflected the comments of many other schools; that its future plans will include “greater integration of instructional technology to support and enhance learning.” And Sandra Ospina, STEAM Coordinator and Head of Academic Data at Misk Schools in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia spoke like several other international schools when she said: “We are moving to a more blended learning approach to make sure we are ready in case closures occur again, but also to help with personalisation of learning.”

Alan Morley, Head of the English Modern School Doha summarised the impact of the use of education technology during the school’s campus closure: “There has been so much growth by virtue of COVID-19, I don’t think we will ever return to the traditional format exclusively,” he said.

Inclusion trends in international schools

In a separate study, and just before COVID-19 impacted education around the world, ISC Research surveyed international schools about their current inclusion practices. Timing of this research means the results do not show the effect of the pandemic and the extended periods of distance learning on children with special educational needs. Instead, the report sheds light on how the international schools market has been adapting to the needs of all children since the first iteration of this research four years ago.

Produced in collaboration with Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI), the report shows that over 80% of the international schools surveyed said they have a high incidence of students within one or more of the following categories: high functioning autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and/or executive functioning issues, disabilities of speech, language or communication, and disabilities of reading, writing or numeracy. Learning support programmes are an established part of 67% of international schools that participated in the survey, and an additional 26% are in the process of developing programmes of support and want to learn more.

Since the last report in 2017, there has been an increase of 15.5% in the number of international schools with an EAL (English as an additional language) programme. A growing number of schools (an increase of 11% since 2017) report that students who require both EAL and learning support are served through the SEN (special educational needs) programme.

Compared to the results of the inclusion research conducted in 2017, there has been an increase of over 6% (from 53.8% to 60%) in the number of schools recognising students with mental health and emotional conditions that require intervention. This percentage could increase in the wake of COVID-19.

Steps forward for international schools

As part of her conclusions in the report, Ochan Kusuma-Powell of NFI said “attention needs to be given to services for multilingual learners who experience difficulties with learning.” She said results from the research raised concerns about the extent to which children are being well supported in schools without EAL programmes. “Collaboration between learning support, EAL and mainstream class teachers will require encouragement and training,” she said.

The report also urges the international school community to work together to develop a common language of special needs education, with common meaning and understanding of terms used. “Because it is a fast-developing field, and because the use of language is often context-dependent, educators from one part of the world may find that language used in one setting to mean something different in another,” Ochan explained. “International schools coming together to explore common meaning will support the development of a shared language,” she concluded.

Free reports available to all

Both of these specialist reports are free of charge and available here from ISC Research  

By: Nalini Cook

Nalini Cook is Head of EMEA Research at ISC Research. The company tracks the world’s international schools market, gathering and supplying intelligence and data on global, regional and local market developments, trends and shifts to support school business strategies and business planning. More information at