It’s that time of the year. If you are a parent of a young child and happen to meet another parent in a social setting such as a park or a mutual friend’s house, chances are that your conversation will veer towards your children, their schooling and your attempts at admission in a good school.
The world of admissions is a scary place, a place fraught with so many options and opinions that one is more often than not, left feeling vulnerable, inept and confused. It’s hard to make sense of it all and feel like you have made the right choice for your child, especially when the decision is most likely to be a life-altering one. The good news is that everybody you know has been in the same boat at some point and there are ways in which one can steer in the right direction. While filling out forms of various schools, a few factors that should be taken into consideration are:
Cost of Schooling
The first criterion of elimination is always that of cost. Your budget should dictate your initial short list. Some schools can be absolutely prohibitive in their fee structure, almost making you wonder if your child is going to be served on gold-plated dishes for the amount one ends up shelling out. The number of children one has also affected the budget. The goal is to find options that work within your budget without compromising too much on the facilities and infrastructure offered by the school. Some schools have an all-inclusive fee structure, whereas others have hidden costs (transport fees, uniform, cafeteria, field trips, etc) that keep on adding to the final bill. So, make sure you have all the facts in hand before making your decision. Talking to other parents in the school will help.
Education in India has seen a huge influx of international curriculum in the last few years. Notwithstanding one’s budget, parents have a choice of state, national or international curricula. The national curricula (CBSE/ICSE boards) provide a good foundation, especially in math and science, and work well if one is looking to continue their higher studies in India, especially in engineering, medical or law. The international curricula(IGCSE/IB boards) have a higher degree of application-based learning and place more importance on projects and creative thinking. Typically, a child studying in an international board is likelier to continue their higher education abroad. Alternative schools like the Waldorf schools are a developing new trend. They reject the traditional approach to schooling and focus on a more experiential style of learning. Do your research and make sure that the methodology applied in the school works for both your child’s personality and your goals as a parent.
Most schools have a definitive culture when it comes to their philosophy and the importance placed on academics, competitions, values, transparency, relationships, attitudes and morals. It is an intangible element that permeates through the school and is reflected in the management, teachers and students. Identifying a school’s inherent culture is important as it determines character and influences behaviour of a child – it becomes what they know.
Parent/Teacher Access and Interaction
Schools follow different policies regarding parent-teacher interactions. Some have an open-house policy and encourage parents to drop by regularly. They expect high levels of involvement from you in all school activities. They are always available for a conversation. Others tend to have scheduled visits at allocated times during the year. Very little is communicated to parents outside of these visits and parents are granted access during sports/annual days or on an appointment basis only. Rule of thumb is usually more access, more involvement. While it isn’t a deal breaker, it is something to keep in mind during your decision-making process.
Facilities are almost always linked to cost. What you pay is what you get. Having said that, some basic facilities are important while choosing a school. Does the school have a playground, separated ideally, according to age group? Does the school have a library, computer rooms, science labs, medical room, physical activity areas like a basketball court, rooms for creative expressions like music/dance/art rooms? Does the school offer transport facilities? Some schools offer daycare facilities, which are beneficial to working parents. Others have cafeterias that take care of your daily “what should I pack in their tiffin” needs. The list of facilities provided by a school can be endless. Prioritise your list by identifying what you need and what you would like.
An average primary classroom would typically have one teacher for 30 students. If you feel your child would benefit from more one-on-one attention from the teacher, look for a school with a lower student/teacher ratio. Schools with higher student/teacher ratios work better for children who are self-disciplined and can work independently.
Some schools have a plethora of activities that are offered as part of their in-school programme. Others charge you additionally for them, but offer you the option of your child participating in such activities in a safe school environment. A few schools have excellent sports programmes for the budding sportsman, while others focus on providing a varied option of extracurricular activities. Choose schools that will further hone your child’s natural talent and interests.
Safety and security
In these times, one cannot take too many precautions towards the safety and security of our children. Check with the school on their safety and security protocols inside school premises. Do all children have ID cards? Is every visitor entry recorded in logbooks? Do they check the ID of the people picking up children at the end of the day? Does staff do routine checks of washroom areas?
Distance from home
With the state of traffic in our country, one can never live too close to where one works or studies. Finding a school closer to your home will help your child cut down on commute time. A long ride back home can be tiring and can leave one with limited time to pursue other activities.
In a utopian world, a parent will have a range of schools to choose from and a variety of factors to take into account. Unfortunately, the grim reality is that the demand for good schools far outweighs the supply. The above list will help you prioritise your factors and determine what are your deal breakers. At the end of the day, a school is only as good as a teacher in the classroom and that changes year on year. So, go with your gut instinct about a school. If the school meets most of your criteria, it is a good school.