Choosing a school for your child...

Choosing a school for your child...

A cousin and I were discussing his twin infants’ antics and achievements, when he suddenly stopped me mid-sentence and said, “My wife checked out this school, and feels it is OK.” I was stunned for a moment, after all the babies were just seven months old!

It made me think, however, and I realised that for a young parent, choosing the right school for their child is probably the first in a long line of important life-shaping decisions that they have to make. I thought back to the days when we made that choice for our children. What were some of the things we did? What have been our learnings, professionally and personally from those decisions? What are some of the most important parameters based on which parents can choose a school for their child?

The school that you choose for your child has to be non-negotiable on certain obvious things — safety of your child, security of your child, health and hygiene within the premises, and adequate space and ventilation. Other than the basic facilities, it is essential that the whole school subscribes to child-friendly practices. What are the values, principles and philosophies that the school follows? Ask questions when you visit a school and pay close attention to the answers. You will have to match the answers to your child’s, as well as your needs and values.

Key factors

The teacher is the most important factor affecting the developmental and scholastic achievements of your child. Talk to the prospective teacher, find out her orientation towards children. Does she know the children and their needs well? Is she aware of the strengths and difficulties of all her children? Does she appreciate each child’s individuality? This is true of the pre-school as well as the primary school.

The classroom environment is the other important factor. Visit the school before you make up your mind. Do you sense a positive atmosphere in the classroom? Are there enough activities for children, especially if it is a primary school you are looking for? Is the classroom heavy on books, notebooks and ‘smart boards’? You would do well to reconsider such an environment for your child. However, a beautiful classroom without that particular factor — the teacher — is not going to be very useful for your child.

The teaching-learning interaction is one of the prime factors that effect your child’s learning and development. For the preschool child, look for an environment that is rich in good language, full of opportunities for your child to learn through active engagement with materials, scope for use of all the senses, activities that engage the eyes, hands, ears and the entire body, and a curriculum that is developmentally appropriate. Look at the timetable being offered. It is a myth that children will learn better alone or by sitting in one place. Children learn better through physical activity and social interactions. Avoid schools that do not encourage and plan for outdoor games and group activities as an everyday routine.

In primary classrooms, there should be materials to address all subjects being taught. The classroom should encourage movement, flexible seating and hands-on activities for varied interests.

Crowding in classrooms is an unavoidable socio-economic reality of our country. However, if the choice is between a big name (of the school) and a healthy teacher-child ratio (of about 1:18 or 20), go for the school with healthy teacher to pupil ratio. Big and ‘famous’ schools that have been established for decades have their own downsides as well as benefits. Do not choose a school just because it has been around for a while.

Evaluations and assessments are an important part of any educational institution, but they are not the end goal of all development, learning and education. Tests and exams and their importance should be kept in view in the school you are choosing. This is especially true for preschool and primary schools. There are strict rules and regulations for these things and schools are mandated to follow these rules diligently.

Listen to the child. If your child refuses to go to a particular school, do take it seriously and do some gentle investigation. Do not ignore or neglect your child’s feelings. Do take necessary actions, if you find that it is justified, even though it means you face some financial losses. It will be worth it in the long run.

Last but not the least, is the amount of interaction your chosen school has with the outside world. It is true that it takes an entire community to raise the child. A good school will recognise this and seek active involvement and participation of the community members and parents in the running of the school. Access to the school for parents is an important factor which will help you contribute to the growth and development of all children, not just your own child.

Before finalising on a school for your preschooler or primary school child, visit as many schools as you can. Talk to the principal, people in charge and teachers. Ask as many questions as you want. Talk to parents and children of the school. Evaluate the pros and cons of each school. Though preschools do not as yet have an accreditation agency of the government, in the case of primary schools, it is always best to go with a recognised school, or at least one that is in the process of getting recognition.

(The author is founder, Samyukta Child Development Consultancy, Bengaluru)

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