Some time back, I wrote about choosing a good school for my boys and I noticed that there it generated quite a strong response in the comments from parents expressing their disappointment, disapproval, and dissatisfaction with a lot of schools they have encountered. If you’re interested, the posts are here:
- Researching International Schools in Kuala Lumpur
- Local International Schools in Klang Valley
- Evaluating Curriculum Standards at School
It is about three years since I wrote the first post and although it is only a short time, I have found that a lot of what I think and believe now has changed significantly since I first started searching for a school. If I were asked now what’s the best school to choose for a child, my answer would be this…
Choosing the Best School for Your Child
Firstly, we need to dispense with the idea that there is a “best” school. In all honesty, I do not believe that there is a perfect school – or even a perfect system, if any school could truly follow it to the letter – out there. Not even a homeschool is perfect. Although I think you can get pretty close to it by homeschooling because you have significant control over the direction of your child’s education compared to a conventional (or even non-conventional) school. Let’s just accept the fact that there are going to be some education ideas and practices that every school will have that you aren’t necessarily going to like or agree with. Even if there aren’t, there will be teacher-friction, classroom interactions, or a whole host of other issues that will gnaw at your idea of perfection.
The most you can do is choose the best school for your family – not the family in the house across the street; not your best friend’s family; YOUR family. It will be different for everyone because of the myriad of factors that contribute to the makeup of each family. Some children require more freedom in their learning environment, while others need order and structure for direction. Only you can be the best judge for what is right for your child.
Researching the School
Every parent has different ideas on what they want out of a school. Sit down with your partner to discuss what are some of the features of your ideal school. Chances are you’re not going to find a school that has everything that you want so decide what are the “must haves” and what are some of the features you can compromise on. If you’re not sure what factors to consider, here are some pointers for discussion (some of these will require a visit to the school to observe):
- Curriculum content – what do you feel is important and should be an essential part of your child’s education? Is it mainly academic or more all-rounded? Does it include music, art, physical education, etc.? How often?
- Teacher-directed or student-directed – does the teacher direct the learning or do the children get to decide what and how they want to learn?
- Individual or Collaborative – do the children work mostly by themselves or in groups?
- If you have younger children you may want to consider whether a play-based or academic environment might be more appropriate for your child.
- Education environment – highly structured or open and flexible? Is the learning passive, where the teacher is lecturing, or is it active, where the students are manipulating objects and engaging multiple senses? The latter is important if your child learns best by doing.
- Support system – what’s available for special needs children? This is not only relevant if you have a special needs child but what if your child is ahead or behind? How does the school deal with it?
- Education approach – Montessori, Waldorf, Gardner’s multiple intelligences, de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats, IB (International Baccalaureate), IPC (International Primary Curriculum).
- What’s the teacher-student interaction like? Do the children brainstorm to get their answers and think about them or does the teacher tell them? What kind of learning does the teacher inspire – open ended or closed? Are the children excited and enthusiastic about learning?
- Student work – worksheets or projects? Creative and inspiring or run-of-the-mill?
- Social issues – how does the school address this?
- Character development – what qualities does the school encourage in the students? Creative thinking, resilience, open-mindedness, effective communication, social responsibility, etc. How do they encourage the students to develop these qualities?
- Discipline – how do the teachers handle disciplinary issues? This is a big factor to consider especially if the school practices corporal punishment and you don’t.
- Homework? Do the students get homework? How much? What are the expectations? Do you agree with them?
- Student evaluation – how are the students evaluated? Exams, projects, homework, assignments? Are they given letter grades or is a point system used? Consider whether this method motivates your child or not.
- Teacher to child ratio and class sizes – if class sizes are large, does the teacher have an assistant? How does the teacher manage with large groups?
- Staff turnover – if teachers are coming and going too frequently, it can be disruptive especially to the more sensitive children.
- School resources – what is available for the students? Library? Is there a good collection of books? Are students encouraged to use it? Sports grounds? Does the school offer extra-curricular activities?
- Travelling – how far is the school from home? Even if it is a great school, it may not be worth it if you have to travel hours a day to get to and from school.
The importance of each factor will depend on what matters most to you. Some you may disregard completely and others may make or break your decision about the school.
Theory and Practice
Even when you find a school with an education direction and philosophy that agrees with everything you believe in, just like every other business organisation, the school is only as good as its teachers. If the teacher doesn’t believe in the school’s philosophy, or worse still, doesn’t follow it, then it is really no different to having your child attend a school with a different set of educational goals. The best way to find out is to go to the school for a visit.
Update: Notes for selecting preschools
Infants have been found to remember better when the learning environment is positive. I would keep this in mind when selecting a preschool.
See also: Early Learning – Be Happy, Be Positive
- The Importance of Developing a Good Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher at School
- International School Entrance Assessment