Admissions are open and you’re floundering … what to do?
Admission season is upon us once again and it may be your first time at the rodeo if you have a 2 ½ year old. While you may be thinking, ‘My child is too young to start school already!’, nursery education is actually an important part of a child’s educational journey because it gives them a strong foundation for their future studies as well as an opportunity to learn important social skills as well as other soft skills that they will need once their formal education starts.
There seem to be a million options out there with every blog, magazine, and paper touting a ‘top ten’ list for every kind of school imaginable. As diligent parents we want to learn everything we can to help our children get ahead, but it gets overwhelming sometimes! This is not another ‘best of’ or ‘check out these schools’ list, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder and while one school may be great for one child, it may not be a good fit for another. And just because a brand name school accepted your check, doesn’t mean that your child will thrive there. This list is intended to give you some pointers of what to look for in a school.
It is important that you clarify with your top choices what their age requirements are and check your chosen board to see if they have any requirements that may affect your child when exam time rolls around in 12 years. CBSE doesn’t list a minimum age, but does state that the child must be the correct age according to their state’s education laws.
Other things to take into consideration when choosing a school: proximity, security, accessibility/transparency, teachers, feedback/reputation, fee structure, infrastructure/co-curricular activities, and curriculum.
- Commute: Research shows that a commute longer than 10 miles (~16 kilometres) is physically and mentally harmful to adults and can lead to a number of issues, including high blood pressure, obesity, neck pain, and even loneliness. If it’s that detrimental to adults, think about the impact on a child. With the state of roads and traffic in this country, children are regularly on the school bus for periods up to one hour or longer. If possible, find a school close to home that will minimise your child’s journey time as much as possible. If your top choices are further away, find a school that will ensure that they will have enough buses and routes so your child will not be on the bus longer than 50-55 minutes each way.
- When visiting schools ask what their policies are for parent visits. Do they allow you access to your child’s classroom on a working day? What happens if you drop in unannounced? Are you able to meet with the founders, head of school, or prospective teachers before making your decision or do you only get to talk to an admissions counsellor?
- Does the school have systems in place to ensure open lines of communication between parents, teachers, and administrators? Are they forthcoming with their assessment process? Does it cover non-academic skills such as critical thinking, change management, creativity, innovation, problem-solving, or consensus-building? Are you regularly updated on your child’s progress?
- Teachers: Having a good teacher is one of the most important things for a small child. This is the place they will be spending a large portion of their time outside of home and if their teacher isn’t a loving, nurturing force then it can be detrimental on a child’s development. Before deciding on a school ( if possible) meet your child’s prospective teachers. Ask to see them in the learning environment to see how they interact with students. Ask them if they know the passion or interest of any given student. Some schools even schedule home visits prior to the start of the school year to give teachers the opportunity to meet each new student in their home environment to allow them time to get to know them and their families.
- Curriculum is just one more thing to decide upon and there are many options from which to choose! In general, curriculum tells schools what topics to cover, but not how to teach it so it may be more important to you to research a school’s pedagogy rather than the board to which they are affiliated. However, if you are in a role that may take you to other towns or cities within India and your child may have to switch schools several times over the course of their education, then you may want to consider a Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) board school rather than a state/international board. Other options to keep in mind include the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), International Baccalaureate (IB), National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), and International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).
- Costs: Not all of us get our kids’ schooling paid (fee) for by our companies and spending hundreds of thousands of rupees a year is just not an option for the majority of parents. So remember, just because a school charges an arm and a leg, does not make them more prestigious or better than a less expensive option. Affiliation to an international board costs a lot of money and that cost gets passed along to you, the consumer. And there are schools teaching the national curriculum in a thoughtful and progressive way at the fraction of the cost of some of the ‘name brand’ options.
- Extracurricular Activities: School isn’t all about academics so look to see what extracurricular options a given school offers. No doubt an ice skating rink or stables is an impressive addition to any campus, but take into account your child’s access to all the bells and whistles touted at any given school. Your fees are surely going to cover the cost of these options, but is your 3-year-old really going to spend any time utilising them? Better questions to ask is whether there is a fitness and sports programme, how much time children have daily to exercise and play inside or outdoors, and whether the physical education programme focuses on the appropriate biomechanics and calisthenics needed for a child’s growing body.
- Parent feedback and word of mouth is another important thing to consider. Social media has made our lives so much easier while also giving anyone and everyone a forum on which to speak. Talk to your friends and other parents to see what schools have worked for them, who have or haven’t been responsive to their needs, which ones are transparent with their fees and policies, who have an open door policy, as well as general sentiment about your top choices. That said, keep in mind that just because someone says something on the internet doesn’t make it true. While feedback is and should be a factor, you know your child best and, based on all of your findings, you should have the final say on something as important as where they attend school rather than leaving it up to other people’s experiences.
- Child security is paramount when they are spending the majority of their day away from home. Ask about CCTV coverage in common areas and buses, GPS on vehicles, back-up vehicles in case of breakdowns, student-tracking during field trips, protocol on entry to the school/child pickup/child dropoff, security checks on staff, staff monitors on buses, mandatory seatbelt usage on buses, trained nurse on campus, and even the hygiene practices of the staff preparing food/cleaning learning spaces.
There are so many other questions we can ask to help us make our decisions, but what are some of the things you prioritise when researching a school? Let us know and share your pro tips with our community. Good luck and happy hunting!