Choosing the right school


Neena Jacob

My dad was in a transferrable job so every three years it was a new school … I loved the variety of friends and different experiences I had. Dad was a smart man; with me in an ICSE school, he made sure the break didn’t mean a new curriculum. We took Sanskrit as our third language and that pretty much did it for us. My kids were in the same school from pre-primary to class 10. They were just two years apart and when the older one had to go to a playschool at all of 30 months I decided to put her in one close by, a Montessori run by a lovely lady in the neighbourhood. I could strap the little one on and walk my older one through gardens marvelling at the butterflies and catching a ride on the swing or a slide. However, the little fellow was put in the big school and though his mum was a teacher there, the sheer numbers and the size of the school quite overwhelmed him.

Nowadays there are so many schools each more ‘hi-fi’ than the next and you young parents are quite flummoxed.

Be clear about what kind of a school you want. Let’s walk through and see what we have to consider.

School curriculum: The number of boards on offer are plenty. Find out about ICSE, IGCSE, CBSE, IB, and state board. What are the subject combinations and languages offered? Till what class does the school function?

Infrastructure: Are the premises tidy and well maintained? Are the classrooms big enough and well lit and ventilated? Are there playgrounds? Are the bathrooms clean and hygienic? Does it have a good library where reading is encouraged? Is the school equipped with technology to enhance the learning experience? Just a computer room and computers as a subject in the early years means nothing; our kids are so technologically savvy nowadays.

Academic performance: What is the performance of the students who pass out? Where does the school rank on average exam scores? Has the performance improved over the years? Are there any facilities for coaching for entrance exams in the higher classes?

Affordability: Affordability is a key factor. Though very often these schools boast of the very latest in infrastructure and amenities, make sure it is easy on your pocket so that you can afford the extra expenses of field trips, etc.

Mission statement: Is the mission statement or focus of the school in accordance with what you are looking for? Is it only academic excellence? Are the children exposed to different opportunities of learning? Are extra-curricular activities given importance? Do they have a secular or global approach?

Will it meet your child’s needs: Is your child musical or artistic or sports inclined? Does your child have a special need? Are there special educators and resource rooms? Do gifted children get a chance to maximise their potential and is individuality encouraged? Are there playgrounds and sports facilities?

Accessibility: One has to think of not only how your little one goes to school but how long will it take for the child to reach school. A long commute often tires the child and leaves no time for free play. If you live close to the school, you can avail of the playground and as your child grows, practice schedules for matches will be easy.

Staff credentials and capabilities: Are the teachers well qualified? I have seen very often that the teachers often have poor communication skills and though well qualified cannot come down to the level of the child. It is good if the training is for the appropriate age group. Are they approachable?  Are they open to new ideas? Does the school have regular parent teacher interaction days? Is child pedagogy kept well in mind? In my school every 45 days or roughly three times during a term we had days for parent-teacher interaction.

Obviously the answers to the queries above can only come from the parents of children studying in the school. Do talk to a few parents so you get a true picture of what happens in school. Check the school website and most importantly, visit the school. The body language of the children, the way they greet one another and the teachers will reveal a lot. Pass by the staff room see the dynamics and how the room is organised. Is it abuzz with happy talk and bright with schedules and posters? Look at the toilets. Do they look clean or can you smell them a mile away? In these days of the pandemic, cleanliness and hygiene definitely should be a priority. Do children have their work displayed and are their posters announcing activities? Does the place seem happy?

Your child is going to spend 13 to 15 years in this school, friends for a lifetime will be made here, values will be caught here, an adult will be formed here – so don’t be in a hurry, choose well. Have a look at the video of Sunder Pichai and his teacher Molly Abraham and you will realise the role of a good teacher and a good school.

For me as a teacher, two things made me happy and feel validated. First, when an ex-student admitted his or her child in the alma mater; and second, when an ex-student came back and joined the faculty.

My children studied in a school which had all this but was not an ‘elitist school’, they are comfortable in themselves and doing well.

Choose wisely! Happy parenting!

(Writer is a volunteer at local schools and a trustee with Sethu)