What to look at when evaluating schooling options for your child

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One of the many pleasures of working with schools is that friends, relatives and acquaintances would seek you out and solicit your advice on school admission for their child. 
So, I have been asked a lot of questions about schools. Is this one good, is that one bad, can you get me an admission here, do you know someone there, can you take this money (sometimes several lakhs) and get my child admission into this and that. 
And I have spoken with these anxious and sometimes desperate souls and tried my best to help and at the same time wondered how ill-informed and sometimes wrongly informed some of these, very educated, worldly-wise, intellectually capable, people are about what to look for in a school.
To be fair – the answer looks easy, but the information is so scarce about schools and quality in them that folks cannot be faulted for some of these perceptions. 
The best way most people would judge a school is by how difficult it is to get admission to it. Since everyone wants to get their child there – it must be good – everyone can’t be wrong. However, if you ever came across a parent of one such school – asked her why is this one being placed on such a high pedestal – I would not be surprised if the answer is lacking in real reasons.
 She had also sought this based on the same herd mentality. This is not to say that the school is not good – sometimes these reputations are hard-earned and well deserved – but most parents have sought admission here only because of the feeling that every one else has figured it out.
Let’s try to define the best school – if there were such a thing existing today in our midst. The shortest and the most uncontroversial definition would be one that has the best teachers and teaching methodology. That would mean that, if it were a full K-12 school, then they would have had the best available teachers for all subjects and for all classes.
 Which, any self-respecting school leader would tell you, is a near-impossible task to achieve. Some schools (very few) get close to this benchmark and find it very difficult to hold it for long. Moreover, what is the best teaching methodology is far from a settled question. Those are all the problems – now what is the solution. How does a parent evaluate schools? Let me try and lay some ideas here – maybe they would help. 

1. There are many more schools in the community then you or your neighbors know off – so know all your options first. 
Most parents today would have the same mental make up about admission in schools that their parents had. 20–25 years back there were far fewer school in the community and usually everyone knew them. Today the scenario is very different. All over the country, in cities small and big, many more schools have come up and every year more get added. So, find all options before you make a choice. Internet is usually a good source of such information besides friends and neighbors.

2. Don’t go overboard with fee: If you are looking for a private run institution, fees can have a very wide range. While every parent aspires to give the best to her child there is no need to stretch your finances to the limit for school fee. There is obviously a minimum that is required to meet the basic standards, but never assume more expensive school is equal to better education. There is little truth in that. Expensive schools may certainly provide you better infrastructure, and opt for them if you can afford, but that does not mean medium and lower fee institutions can’t give your child excellent education. 

3. Travel Time: This is probably more relevant for bigger cities. Try and find good schools within 15-30 minutes of travel time especially for very young children. You can stretch this a little if other factors weigh in favor of the school but there is no need to send your toddler on hour and half long trips each side each day for an institution that had produced the city board topper three years back. You may only do this under very specific circumstances for children in later years. 

4. Affiliating Board(Curriculum): This is a variable that has crept in in the last decade or so. There are now at least 4-5 choices to pick from and that is good. However here I would like you to pick schools like your parents did — look at the school first – treat board as secondary. This is especially true for lower classes. In higher class, maybe 8 and above, choice of exam board may make a difference. Remember a not-so-great school with a fancy exam board is still a not-so-great school. 

5. Infrastructure: Please always remember you are evaluating a school and not a hotel. You should be looking at nice airy well-lit classrooms, large safe passages and corridors, well equipped labs, progressive and well thought of use of technology, safety security and hygiene, a large green playground with basic track and field sports and general good upkeep of infra. Anything more that this is welcome but should not form basis of your decision making. Don’t choose schools because of lovely reception, swimming pools, golf drives and ponies – unless your child must turn pro shortly in these sports. 

6. Teachers and Teaching Methodology: This by far the most important factor and one that parents know least about. Information on quality of teachers in the school is also sparse. One good way to do this is to find a teacher at any school in the community and get some insights – they are the only one who sometimes have this information. If you can, speak with school leadership and usually, they would be forthcoming. Parents should be aware of what kind of education and environment they seek for their child, however there also no need to do internet graduation on teaching methodologies – that is usually counterproductive. Keep these in mind and I am sure you shall find the right school.

(Author Pawas Tyagi is Co-Founder – Edustoke. Views expressed here are personal.)

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