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How to choose the right school? A small scale survey amongst prominent schools and parents gives an insight.

October 1, 2006

What do you want your child’s school to be like? Should it have:

  • Neat white buildings and spacious class-rooms?
  • Stretches of play-ground dotted with huge shady trees?
  • An Olympic sized swimming pool and a badminton court in the back-ground?
  • Dedicated teachers who are as comfortable teaching as they are chatting with he students?
  • A strong principal who leads by example?
  • Strict discipline?
  • A terrific academic record?

In a country like India, only the very rich can have it all. An upper middle class or middle class parent has to compromise. What should he compromise on? What aspect of a school is most important for a child’s development?

In a small-scale survey conducted by me for The Telegraph, detailed questionnaires were sent to eight leading schools and eight sets of parents. The respondents were asked what they thought was most important for their child’s school to have…and where they would compromise, if they had to. They were asked to rate a school on ten parameters (explained in the graph below) and give each parameter marks out of 100, where 100 was extremely important and zero was not at all important.

Here are the results:

education-research-1.jpg

Most important to both parents and schools was:

Good infrastructure
Friendly Atmosphere
Student teacher ratio
Qualified staff

Least important to both parents and schools was:
Homework

education-research-2_1_1.JPG

Good infrastructure, a friendly atmosphere, a good student teacher ratio and qualified staff was considered essential for the reasonable and good functioning of any school. When it came to homework, both groups agreed that students should not be burdened with homework as excessive homework caused ‘burn-out.’
There was greatest dissonance between parents and schools on the four parameters given below:

Strong principal
The schools felt the need for a principal who would lead from the front. However parents equated a strong principal with one who was unapproachable and undemocratic, and wanted one who took the views of both students and parents into account. A principal who was firm, but helpful.

Strict discipline in the school
This may have been very important in the past, but it looks like attitudes are changing, at least amongst parents. While some schools felt strict discipline was very important, parents as a group felt that schools should be more understanding and that cooperation was more important. Parents with older children felt very strongly about this. They felt that ‘obedience flows naturally out of a respect for teachers.’ There were schools like La Martiniere’s which felt that a ‘military type of regimentation instills fear and distrust.’

Regular assessment
Parents were not against regular assessment, but nor were they strongly for it. On the other hand, schools felt that regular assessment was imperative, as weaker children needed to be identified and helped.

Extra-curricular activities.
When it came to extra-curricular activities, parents were gung-ho, believing that extra-curricular activities were necessary to survive in today’s competitive world. Not all schools felt this way however. While La Martiniere’s laid great emphasis on extra-curricular activities, schools like St. Theresa’s and Hindi High school did not think it was critical.

It is interesting to note that schools gave high ratings to a particular parameter even if their own school did not possess it. Also, parents tended to admit their children into schools which did not fit into their vision of an ideal school. This happens because schools have aspirations which cannot be met because of practical problems. Parents on the other hand realise that the ‘perfect’ school does not exist and compromises have to be made. All that they want is for schools to ‘at least strive to maintain high standards.’

(This article was published in the Telegraph in the mid-nineties, but it doesn’t make it less relevant. The graphs have been made specifically for this blog).

Related topics: What makes children score well at school
Indian educational system- the problems
Poor quality schools proliferating in India

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