Where Ex-Pat Kids Go To Learn

A few days ago I got a pretty great question from someone over on the Facebook page which read:

Have you covered what kind of school options there are in Okinawa for expats with school age children? In the mainland, there pretty much aren’t any other than international schools that run upwards of $20,000 a year per student. Here’s hoping that there might be more available in Okinawa!

This is a great question!

A lot of people who come to Okinawa have school age children which ultimately raises the question of where they will attend school while they are here. Like many other things here in Okinawa the choices you have are greatly dependent on your status and financial capabilities. In this post I will discuss some of the schooling options out there and what parents as well as students who attend those schools have shared with me about their experiences.

DODEA Schools 

If you are a military member or are a DOD Civilian (working for the US government) you have the option of sending your child to a DODEA School (usually just referred to as DOD’s). These schools are located on the bases here in Okinawa which house families; Camp Courtney, Kadena Air Base, Camp Foster and Camp Kinser.

The appeal of DODEA Schools for a lot of people who I have spoken with is that they are prepared and willing to assist with the challenges of children who have parents working in the government/military (i.e. moves in the middle of the school year). They also focus have a curriculum based on American public schools which ensures that students will not have to suffer once returning back to the US.

Most all of the students I have worked with who attended DODEA schools enjoy their experience. Of course there are always going to be kids who struggle to make friends or fit in but there is an overwhelmingly positive response from (at least) the kids I worked with. Parents on the other hand seem to be mixed. Some parents are pleased with the learning experience that their children receive where as others do not think that it is sufficient and chose to supplement their child’s education or send them to private schools.


Ok so homeschooling is not for everyone but it is an option that many parents choose to take when they have the means.  As one might expect parents tend to be very pleased with their child’s learning experience when being homeschooled. Children on the other hand seem to be 50/50. Some are happy others feel as though they are missing out on something. It really seems to come down to the parent’s willingness to go above and beyond with the curriculum their teach their child. The children who were most happy had parents who exposed them to cultural activities.

Public Schools

Japanese public schools are an option for the children of ex-pats. Naturally the language spoken is going to be primarily Japanese so this is something to consider if this route is something you want to consider. This is also only something that you want to consider if you and your family are going to be in Japan long term.

I have not personally worked with any ex-pats who have enrolled their children in Japanese public schools but I have spoken with people who have tried. The main concern about signing an ex-pat child up for Japanese public schooling is that the curriculum does not match up with American curriculum. This is a problem as most families are only here for 2 to 3 years. Ultimately the child would suffer once returning back to the states because they may be held back. Again, this is what I was told concerned a parent who had done the research. Whether or not this is 100% true. . . . I do not know. I strongly recommend that if you intend to go this route you take some time to research both the Japanese and American side of things and evaluate what you want to do based on your particular situation.

Private/International Schools 

For those with the financial capabilities private or international schools are also an option. Here on Okinawa there are three main private/international schools which stand out: SantaMonica International School, New Age Academy and Okinawa Christian Academy International. These schools most always appeal to families who do not want to enroll in DODEA schools and because of their short stay won’t benefit from Japanese public schools.

All three schools mention an American style curriculum with the two Christian based schools offering Bible Study as well as the standard subjects. Japanese culture and language is usually incorporated in the curriculum as well.

Parents and students that I have spoken with who attended these schools usually have an overwhelmingly positive response. The only down side I ever heard over the years is that Christianity was not their beliefs but they attended anyway because it was better in their eyes then DODEA.

As you can see there are a few options for those families with school age children but the reality is that Okinawa is a very small place and naturally there are very few options compared to places like Mainland Japan.

So . . . . . Do you live in Okinawa and have kids? Where do they go to school and how do they like it? Also how do you feel about the learning experience that they receive. Please help others who are curious about this topic learn from your experiences by commenting below!


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