By Sandy Hooda
Appearances can be deceptive. Many years back my wife and I were looking for the best schools for our children. We considered the things that almost everyone did. As a first step we looked at school rankings, which ranked schools based on a various factors. We were fairly clear that we wanted one of the well known ‘progressive’ schools and hence had eliminated the ‘traditional’ schools (including the school I had attended). We then asked people we knew to suggest progressive schools and realised almost everyone was recommending the same 3/4 ‘progressive’ schools.
We slowly started figuring out that all recommendations were just based on perceptions of other people but were too afraid to take a risk and so we ended up selecting a school from the same list our friends gave us. But we were too afraid to take a risk. We finally did what everyone did. We admitted our child to a ‘popular’ progressive school. In a few weeks we realised that the school we selected was not the right on for our child. I was a bit frustrated with myself for blindly believing all the ‘perception propaganda’ around schools. I was angry at myself for not having done enough research.
We did a quick course correction and readmitted our child to another school that turned out to be an excellent choice. This experience really got me thinking. There are just so many important questions that a parent needs to ask before committing to a school.
Which values that are important to me, and does the school represent/live them?
What will the world look like in the future will the school we select meet the needs of this different world?
How do I define discipline (extrinsic versus intrinsic)?
How important is happiness for the school – in terms warmth, kindness and approachability?
What kind of a learning culture do I want for my child (learning a lot of content versus a deeper understanding of concepts)?
How much academic pressure should the school impose and at what age? What dies research say about academic pressure and learning?
How do I assess the quality of teachers?
Top Gurgaon schools and elsewhere, all work hard to promote themselves and to put their best foot forward. It is for the parents to sift carefully and find what is important to them and relevant for their children.
I have spent a lot of time travelling in India and around the world and have visited scores of leading schools.In this article I share my learning and hope that it will be of help to parents like me, who may be struggling with the things I struggled with.
How relevant are school rankings?
A variety of school ranking lists are available online conducted by all kinds of agencies. Most school rankings are based on perception (what others are saying). While perceptions have their relevance, school selection must always go beyond rankings. I would definitely look at some of the more reliable school ranking portals (such as Education World) but would not select a school based solely on rankings. A highly ranked school may not necessarily provide the best culture and learning for your child.
What to look for during a school tour?
A school tour is an extremely valuable step in school selection. Parents must insist on going to every part of the school and should carefully assess how people treat each other, starting at the school gate. Parents should take the time to take a careful look at how teachers are engaging with the students and how the students are responding. Most importantly they should assess who is doing most of the talking (and the work). The most important thing is – whoever does the work does the learning!
Questions to ask the head of the school
The school culture flows from the head of the school and parents must insist on a one on one meeting. Carefully observe how approachable the head is and if the staff members are comfortable with or afraid of the head. Here are some questions to ask the head.
What is the annual staff turnover? (Anything more than 10% is a concern)
How many teachers are usually absent on any given day? (Any number beyond 5% is a concern)
How many teachers/students walk in to see the principal without any appointment? (The statistics are less important than the sense that the school head is easily approachable)
Does the school regularly carry out parent and students surveys? Are the results made public? Could the head share the survey results?
Questions to ask teachers
I would recommend parents meet with the teachers of the grades in which their children will be admitted. Warmth and approachability are very important factors, as is their knowledge of the subject. Ask the same questions you asked the head and see what was said in common and what was not. Here are some additional questions to ask teachers.
What was your hiring process like?
How much time do you spend in training?
Who conducts the training, and what was the expertise of the trainer?
How often do you meet the head of school? Do you require an appointment or can you walk in?
What are the values of the head of the school and the things important to him or her?
Questions to ask students
Students, especially class 3 or 4 onwards are very good at giving feedback. They are also very honest about their feedback.
What are you working on and where do you need to improve?
Are there any bullies in the school and what happens to them?
Are you able to understand what the teacher is teaching? What happens when you miss something out?
Which subjects do you not like and the reasons?
Can you approach your teachers (and head of the school) without any fear?
While asking all these important questions parents need to identify anomalies and contradictions. Parents also need to assess if the children and teachers are truly happy. See if learners know their strengths and weaknesses. And how the school deals with both strengths and weaknesses.
Careful observation of lunchtime and dispersal
Lunchtime and dispersals are very important times to observe the school. Are the teachers and children interacting with each other in a friendly manner? Are the teachers sitting among the children? Are the children fearful or conscious in front of the teachers? Is their behaviour aggressive or assertive?
Interior walls of the school
These ‘speaking’ walls are a very good indication of what the school focuses on and believes in. Schools that have colourful walls full of students’ work are generally child focused and student centric. Most importantly, check if the displays are abundant (cover a large number of students) and of good quality student work. This is probably the most important factor that is hard to fake. It gives great insights into the quality of teaching and learning. It also indicates if the school is proud of the children’s work and is celebrating it. Watch out for schools that celebrate only some gold medalists (every school has them!).
The best schools in Gurgaon have different pedagogies (teaching methods) and different boards (IB, CBSE, IGCSE, ICSE, etc). Schools in Gurgaon will also embody different school cultures and values. Parents will need to spend time and effort in selecting the school (with the teaching methods and values) they believe is right for their child. We parents know our children better than anyone else and we should spend enough time at the schools we are considering for our child. And once we have collected all the inputs, we can rely on our instinct to make the right decision.
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