Friday, August 31, 2012

Choosing a School - Part 1 : Types of Schools

School admission season is a time of the year when most parents are confronted with the horrors of school forms and admission tests and anxious waits for schools to reveal their chosen ones.  Most parents follow the familiar route - ask around, and compile the list of ‘best’ schools in their reach - location and money wise.  Then they do the rounds, collecting forms, reading the brochures and visiting the schools. Having submitted the forms, the endless wait begins. The wait for being accepted is fraught with anxiety . Once the lists are out, there is the painful part is dealing with rejection. The feeling of I haven’t made the cut or my child is not good enough.

Some parents follow a somewhat different route. They avoid the schools with history and reputation and long queues of those seeking admission. These parents are making choices of some of newer schools in the city. They too move from one new age school to another and they hear each school’s marketing speak. Every school tells you that they are the best for your child. The confusion is exacerbated by the word of mouth doing rounds in your office or social circle. Every mother and father you know has an opinion or insight to offer. Usually what they say is something they have heard from someone else.  

Unfortunately, there is very little guidance available for a parent to choose a school, other than a abundance of opinions in the social network. This series of articles will help unravel a child centric approach of choosing a school. It will hopefully equip the reader with a set of questions to which answers must be sought before making  the most important decision of their children’s lives.
In the first part let us look at the different categories of schools which exist - not categorized by the board, medium or fees, but their value systems.

Types of Schools and their Value Systems

Schools have different value systems and it is extremely important to understand the ‘motive centres’ in these schools. These motive centers give them the source of their guidance and action and shape the values they practice.

There are schools which are highly ‘Image or  Ego Centric’, whose motives are primarily centred around promoting and keeping their own self-image. ‘Children must match up to our standards’ is a typical attitude of such schools. Teachers are chosen primarily to match  the image of the school, less emphasis may be given to their instructional approach or emotional quotient. Parents need to ‘fit in’ too - that is, your background matters. Curriculum effectiveness is hardly questioned, as reputation once established is only to be maintained without much questioning.

There is another type of school which is ‘Profit Centric’. These schools are driven largely by their need to generate a surplus. Children and  parents are seen in the consumer/customer paradigm. The choice of curriculum is usually the one which fetches the highest margin and teachers are seen more as cost. These schools are highly infrastructure focused and usually abundant with creature comforts which justify higher fees. Their brochures read like fancy real estate sales pitches.  A  related cousin of  the Profit Centric school is the ‘Parent Centric’ school. These schools are built on the ‘customer is king’ promise and are quickly willing to subjugate academics and other practices to parental demands. They swing from fad to fad, and appease parents at all costs.

Child Centric schools are now making a entry in India thanks to the untiring efforts of a number of educationists inspired by  body of work which went into writing the National Curriculum Framework. These schools look at the child being the primary reason why they exist. They believe each child deserves to be educated and is unique in herself. Children are not judged or examined by their  ‘smartness’ or their parents background or net worth. Parents are seen as a equal partner in realizing their child’s potential. The curriculum and practices are  chosen to meet the need of the last child in the class.

Choosing a School With The Right Values
Many schools will fall into one or more motive centers. There are other  dominant motive centers too - a school may be Performance centric, Religion Centric, Community Centric or even Ideology centric.

When you look at a school, look for a child centric core to it - this will ensure that the school will always put the interests of  your child first, not theirs , and not yours. Each decision in the school will be made keeping children in mind - whether it is fees, academics, bus operations, assembly,  parent involvement or teacher selection. Choosing a child centric school will ensure your child learns in an environment where they feel valued. Most schools make children feel valued but do not convey this feel to all children. The school’s development plan for your child will be in keeping with the child’s psychological development and interests, and not to satisfy the self-serving interests of the institution. This will ensure that the child has a healthy life-long love for learning and is not fatigued or burnt out by the very experience of learning.

How to Choose A Child Centric School?

For a nursery or KG parent it extremely important to get a feel if teachers expect too much from children. The argument that children must be taught to be competitive from a  young age is a sure give away of image centric or performance centric values and lack of understanding of early age learning.  Image centric schools usually have over-sanitized and picture-perfect settings - there are schools the author has visited which have beautifully decorated toy rooms, which are out of bounds to children !

When you talk to parents of existing schools, ask about their experiences as a parent in the context of the child. Inquire about the parent-teacher interaction practices - is it a warm relationship or a distant one? Do teacher’s know the parent community well?  Look for signals.

How does the school look at a child’s performance? Does it convey a ‘I am Ok, Your child is not Ok’ attitude? If a school essentially makes parents and children feel guilty about non-performance, it is not a child centric school but a performance centric school. Ask the schools for copies of previous years report cards  and read them and see if they connect to the child deeply and sensitively.

In the next part of these series of articles we will cover the role of schools in our children’s lives and the decision making process.

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