International education can help bridge the cultural and linguistic divides that exist not only within Europe but also globally. In Luxembourg, parents can choose from a diverse range of publicly funded international schools, which allow students to complete their secondary school education in English and at least one additional language.

"I often get emails from prospective parents abroad saying that they couldn't find the price for the school fees on our website, " says Joanne Goebbels, Coordinator of the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme at the Athénée de Luxembourg. "They are quite astonished when I tell them it is free and that the Luxembourg government invests in such an expensive programme of studies," she adds.

The IB is the new gold standard for entry to the world's top universities. Notoriously expensive to deliver, due to the substantial teaching time required, the qualification offers a breadth and depth of understanding that provides students with the skills they will need in further education and beyond.

"The IB Diploma is a highly challenging academic programme," adds Goebbels.

"Students must choose six subjects - three at a higher level, and three subjects at a lower level. Every student has to study one principal language and one language acquisition as a second language. All students must take maths and at least one science subject, which makes them very open to almost anything."

To foster all-round, and not just academic, development, IB courses are taught with the IB Learner Profile in mind - a set of guiding principles which motivates and inspires students, encouraging them to be Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-minded and more.

Joanne Goebbels, Athénée de Luxembourg

"The IB Learner Profile is like a bible. Our students have to be risk takers, and they need to be open-minded and knowledgeable. We work on that to find out their strengths and weaknesses, and that makes it super interesting because we – the students, the parents and the teachers - work collaboratively altogether," explains Goebbels who helped launch the programme in 2010.

"An IB student is autonomous, knows how to deal with pressure, knows how to handle deadlines, knows how to write an essay because they have to write a 4,000-word extended paper as part of the programme. Many universities increasingly see that as an asset, so our students get good offers from the most prestigious universities worldwide."

The IB is offered in English, with French as the second language, at the nation´s oldest and most prestigious high school:

"We have been growing since we became an International Baccalaureate World School seven years ago. We started off the first class with 13 students, who came from all over the place, from Asia to across Europe. Now we have 110 students and it's like a big family. I know each and every one of them and they know where to find me, and they can come to me with whatever problem they have.”

Last year, the Athénée de Luxembourg added an extra class to accommodate the number of pupils who passed the IB admissions test. The programme is proving so popular with international students that additional classes will be opened up to include students from all year groups in secondary school from 2017.

"It's exciting to be able to open up those new classes in September,” declares Goebbels. “It's also a great opportunity to have it at the Athénée because of the history of the school, because of the name we have. Our school likes to take the kids by their capacities and push them, and that's quite challenging and thrilling to be part of."

The international students integrate with the native school population at gym class and through extracurricular activities offered in English and French.

"We offer a huge list of extracurricular activities ranging from maths to debating clubs, to Model United Nations, and performing arts. Students can join sports teams as well, and we have very good relations with the Conservatoire of Music which is located next to the school. We also have our own NGO, with projects in South Africa and Cape Verde, giving our students the opportunity to fundraise and actively volunteer on our overseas projects actively."

Gerard Zens, Head of the Differdange International School and formerly Head of Education at the Ministry of Education

Students who prefer to follow the British educational curriculum can study for the International GCSE and A-level at Michel Lucius International School in the heart of the city. There are currently more than 400 students in the school representing 59 different nationalities bringing a cultural richness to the student population. The publicly run school is preparing to open up a new English-language primary section for children aged 6 to 12, offering the full English international curriculum.

"We have recognised in Luxembourg that we must open up more towards communities speaking other languages and that we need to provide more free public school places with tuition in different languages", explains Gerard Zens, Head of the Differdange International School and formerly Head of Education at the Ministry of Education.

"The government is making significant efforts in that direction and is significantly expanding the English offering at the Michel Lucius International School and the Athénée de Luxembourg, but if parents are looking for a multi-lingual education, then the Differdange International School could be a good option." says Zens.

The school is free of charge, and provides a curriculum based on the programme of European schools, enabling students to work towards the European Baccalaureate which is accepted by universities across the globe. The School offers three language sections: English, French and German. All pupils are taught a second language, which may be English, French or German, and a third language in secondary school. Spoken Luxembourgish classes are also made available to all pupils at primary level and in the lower classes of the high school, which allows the children to integrate locally.

"We want to be an innovative school, so we value cultural differences and talents because every child is different."

Zens continues: "At the moment we have 150 children in primary and secondary, representing 31 nationalities, so it is very international here, but from September, we will expand to all year groups, and we are welcoming all applications."

Children can enter the school in any year group in the lower school without knowledge of a second language. "We offer integration classes for new pupils from Year 2, lasting one year, and in this year we try to deliver a second language and bring them up to the required level. From 11 years on it is more difficult to integrate a child in our system, so we would encourage the parents to consider the Michel Lucius International School or the IB programme offered by the Athénée de Luxembourg."

Construction work is underway to build two new school campuses to accommodate the growing student population. Although the school is located in the south of Luxembourg, it is only a twenty-minute drive from the city centre. The after school club is subsidised by the government and parents, pay a maximum of 6 EURO an hour, a tiny proportion of what you might pay in any other European capital.

"We have a partnership with a local bus company, and so for a small fee the children can be collected from their home and taken to school and brought back in the evening. We also offer a breakfast club from 7 am until the classes start at 8 am, as well as after school care until 7 pm. The after school club uses the school facilities and homework is supervised in all languages from 4-5pm. We also offer a range of extracurricular activities from journalism to science club. Our educators are also able to bring the children by foot to the local Conservatoire to attend music lessons and learn an instrument."

Zens and his team are preparing to increase the school intake in September substantially – an initiative he is thrilled to be leading.

"There are a lot of challenges in setting up a new school, but I have a highly motivated team who are all tearing the rope in the same direction. Our school opens up multilingualism to children from all nationalities. In the past, this was only on offer to parents who had the necessary financial means. Now, it´s free of charge, and we have plenty of spaces to offer."


Mike Zenari

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