When considering any number of schools for your child (some counts list Gurgaon with as many as 360 private schools to choose from!) you’re inundated with information like board affiliations, school reputation, infrastructure, co-curricular activities, student-teacher ratios, curriculum, and teaching methodologies. The amount of information is frankly overwhelming. To narrow down your options, decide on a board based on your propensity to get transferred. If this isn’t a major factor for you, then skip it and start by researching schools in your immediate vicinity (preferably within 15 kilometres of home to cut down on your child’s travel time). Once you have a list of schools within this diameter, then look to see their child-to-teacher ratio: the lower, the better. This is especially important at the primary level to allow teachers to truly get to know their students over the course of the year and better cater to their needs. Next look to see what they claim to be their pedagogy.
What is pedagogy and why does it matter, you ask? Basically, curriculum is what is taught and pedagogy is how it is taught. This is where it gets overwhelming again; there are literally hundreds of teaching methods. Just a few, include the child-centric approach, Montessori, holistic, project-based learning, integrated approach, ASK (application, skill, knowledge), self-directed, technology-driven learning, Reggio Emilia approach, play way method, Socratic teaching, and immersive learning.
How can you choose when there are so many options out there?
Lene Jensby Lange, founder of Autens Future Schools and head of Global Schools’ Alliance, explains that ‘education does not come in one fixed size – there are individual needs and passions for every child which are typically ignored by Indian schools; learning should be progressive to encapsulate these differences’. Children who engage in progressive learning practices develop lifelong learning skills and leave school curious and able to solve problems, communicate, reflect, and collaborate effectively.
So avoid schools that focus on traditional classroom ‘rote’ learning that begins with a teacher at the blackboard instructing rows of students trapped in desks for 45 minute intervals, requiring children to memorise information with no context or real-world application. Rote learning is a memorisation technique based on repetition. It comes from the idea that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of material the more one repeats it. This type of learning, while helpful before we had information literally at our fingertips on the World Wide Web, encourages teaching to the test and the mass regurgitation of information that will later be forgotten rather than helping children absorb and apply ideas and skills. Children are naturally curious so forcing them to sit for hours a day and listen to lectures kills a child’s natural instinct for enquiry. Research shows that children tune out much of the information they receive after the first five minutes, meaning they are not retaining a lesson’s worth of information. Many of us grew up in this type of teaching environment and did well despite the fact, but we should want more for our children, now that we have more options and know that there are better ways to inform learning.
Rupa Vaid, a Gurgaon parent, says, ‘As a parent, I prefer innovative or project-based learning over traditional methods as I firmly believe that practical learning has a stronger and deeper impact on a student over theoretical teaching. Those things children learn through projects stays with them for longer over what they read in books or hear in lectures. What a child learns in preschool through games and activities stays with them throughout their lives; a child never forgets his alphabets, poems, or numbers. This proves that innovative learning is a better approach.’
Look for a school that is incorporating their pedagogy from the ground up and instilling a love of learning in their students, but beware of schools claiming to implement progressive techniques when in reality still teaching in chalk-and-talk mode with some aspects of the educational catchphrase of the day added on top of traditional classroom learning. Make sure that the school is actually following the method they proclaim, by visiting the learning spaces, peeking in during school hours, and talking to other parents to see what their children’s experiences have been like.
While plying young children with busy work and homework is intended to reinforce lessons learned in the classroom and give teachers downtime, it actually stifles creativity and kills the joy of learning in children who do not understand the concept as easily as others. Worksheets, workbooks, and multiple choice tests do not allow teachers to cater to individualised learning styles and needs and forces children into learning only one way. Studies shows that children learn best when they are engaged in the learning process in an immersive environment.
When you tour a school, don’t just talk to the admissions team, speak with the teachers and find out what they really know about individual students. Do they truly know each student’s likes and dislikes, how they learn, what interests them, or their aspirations?
A Gurgaon-based expat with children in a local international school says, ‘Every child is unique. I have two children and it is like they are from different parents with their distinctive personalities and assorted difficulties. Each child learns in different ways; there are children who learn easily by listening, others through visualisation, and so on. It is more difficult for my younger child to concentrate so we have found that she learns things more easily by experiencing it while my eldest learns more easily by reading. These are important characteristics for teachers to know about their students. I think a personalised curriculum and teaching approach by the teacher is very important for a parent to better understand their child, but it also gives the child more confidence to ask for help in order to achieve their learning goals.’
Extensive research shows that personalising a child’s learning experience from an early age fosters a system wherein every child matters. Contrary to what logic may tell you, a 2006 OECD report confirms that personalised learning is not solely individualistic nor does it discourage social learning, but instead increases students’ interest and engagement in learning activities, contributes to better learning results by developing personalised learning strategies, has the ability to integrate different values and cultures into learning contexts, and can improve the usage of technology in education.
What are the questions you found to be the most helpful when asking schools about their pedagogy? Share your pro tips with our community in the comment section. Let us know which teaching method you prefer and how it has helped your child. Good luck and happy hunting!