We have, in one of our earlier articles, shared the insight on the parents’ viewpoints while selecting a school for their children. In this article, I am conversing with the parents, sharing information that will help them in considerably narrowing their search for a perfect school.
There are schools with years of standing and a legacy to showcase to inform and influence choice. Then, there are relatively new schools that have the advantage of modernity and information age which they incorporate from the very outset into their vision. Older schools evolve so that they do not lose the competitive edge and can claim seamless transition into the 21st century mold. Parents have a broader choice as a result, but the flip side of choice is dilemma, resolution of which requires intimate knowledge of the internal dynamics of the schools’ functioning.
Now, there are a host of attributes that are desirable in a school and it would have been quite easy to make a choice had all the schools not been showcasing themselves as complete in all respects. So, it is beneficial to have more than superficial understanding of the school management practices that enables one to glean from available information a realistic picture of the school’s worthiness.
It is hard to acquire such insights from the school prospectuses if studied as standalone documents, as most of them, though sophisticated remain equivocal while describing their managerial features. However, if the prospectuses are studied keenly with certain probity that this article intends to help develop, they would turn out to be quite revealing.
How to inquire about a school with maximum effect?
When schools are more or less comparable in all other respects, the way the school is managed makes the difference. Management of the school ought to be as dynamic as it is complex. However complex, the management of school can be understood to a considerable degree by an interested parent with relevant questions whose answers inevitably reveal decisive information.
Teachers’ and Heads’ tenure
The average tenure of the teacher in a school is a very revealing data in itself. It mirrors the orientation and grounding of the school management. A high employee turnover is indicative of adhocism and tentativeness which are detrimental to the educational environment. A teacher, on an average, teaches at a given school for three years while principals serve even longer. If the school has the employee turnover to that tune it should be considered a merit while employee turnover that falls short of this average is to be taken as indicative of dysfunction. The appraisal of a school’s management on these lines, although fitting for International schools, can be disputed in general application. There are regions where qualified teachers are simply not available and the schools await for considerable periods to attain the capability to hire teachers from outside the region. The boards of education including CBSE and CISCE grant exemption for 2 to 3 years to the affiliated schools from the rule that dictates the minimum qualification and salaries of the teachers as an acknowledgement of the endemic scarcity of teachers; in such cases it is reasonable to expect a higher employee turnover, the sincerity of the management’s efforts to get the best possible human resource should be looked into.
Justification of the fee being charged
In the case of international schools, the salaries of the teachers and the heads is considerably higher and so is the tuition fee. What then matters is the evaluation of the qualification of the teachers, wherefrom they come, how they are selected besides experience, teacher training and capacity building programmes and their frequency. The keenness of parents to find information regarding the stated elements is essential.
The educational programme being followed and the curriculum solution being adopted by the school is also a source of valuable insight as the providers of curriculum solutions have a format for teacher training, personalization of learning and application of education technology that can be studied by the parents to get a fair idea of not only the potential value of the instruction but also of the efficacy of the management as these curriculum solutions have developed digital tools to aid management in evaluating the performance of the teachers with objectivity.
The suggestion to make the school’s selection of curriculum solution as a parameter should not be misconstrued. Adoption of digital curriculum solutions, though desirable, is no sure shot prescription for success. Therefore, to consider the schools that do not subscribe to modern curriculum solutions as backward solely on that basis leads only to untenable bias. The international schools that subscribe to IB, for instance, may not find these solutions as necessary as inbuilt in IB’s curriculum is a systematic programme to individualize learning as well as teacher training.
However, when the schools are seen admitting a substantial number of students and recruiting corresponding number of teachers and other staff, adoption of curriculum solutions should be seen as a genuine attempt to enhance management’s efficiency and progressive step. Tendency to persist on the traditional at the expense of opportunities to upgrade is, and should be seen as, a folly and incapacity for initiative.
Schools are increasingly advertising their stance as progressive by emphasizing on their capability of personalization of learning. This is indeed a definitive step towards progressive education. How do you find how a school fares on this parameter? It is through looking at the median learning outcomes or average results. The performances of the average students is more telling than that of the toppers when it comes to evaluating the individualization of learning.
The specific measures taken by the teachers in the face of unsatisfactory results and nature of remedial actions taken in pedagogical terms is something that brings to light the institution’s approach towards individual progress and thus should be inquired about.
Moreover, the method of internal assessment and monitoring of learning outcomes also reflect the authenticity of the claim of individualized attention.
Inquiring about the Role of Academicians in Decision Making
True, educational institutions in India are non-proprietary enterprises but we are well aware of the fact that there is fair share of schools that are run in a fashion akin to business and in line with the market. Even so, schools have to provide exceptional education to outdo their competitors and that makes the role of academicians prominent. What becomes decisive, is to what end the academicians and educators are employed and how much say have they got in making institutional decisions. If academicians’ counsel is taken only if it is in consonance with the estimations of the marketing managers, or worse still, if academicians are made to function as marketing specialists and are required to take academic initiatives after making market speculations, education must suffer. But how will the parents know about such intricate matters? The answer is by inquiring about the leadership and the constitution of the decision making body. The novel academic initiatives, even if experimental educational practices adopted by the management are traced, a fair knowledge of the role of academicians would come to light.
Vision, Mission and Philosophy of the school
It might sound rather naïve to judge a school by its stated vision, mission and philosophy as they can easily be ‘designer statements’ printed for their own sake and thus insincere. While that view cannot be dismissed completely as cynical, there lies a lot in those very statements that declare the orientation of the school, its goals and approach. The vision statement, if unequivocal and unambiguous, indicates sincerity. For example, if a school’s stated vision is preparing the children for 21st century then it can be reasonably supposed that it will adopt modern pedagogical practices and education technology so that it does not run the risk of appearing totally inconsistent with its vision. In certain cases, like that of innovative schools, vision and mission statements are particularly telling and must be regarded as a parameter for evaluation.
Adoption of educational technology
Schools in India are surprisingly not far behind their counterparts from the developed countries when it comes to the adoption of education technology. It is curricular requirement in both national and international boards to introduce IT and Computer Studies and schools have to comply. However, the use of educational technology for instructional purposes and in streamlining the management is a voluntary decision and therefore indicative of the progressive nature of the school. The use of digital technology in pedagogy reassures that the teachers are adept in the use of modern technology and can inculcate in students the discretion to use the digital technology. The adoption of technology in administration boosts the efficiency and significantly unburdens the human resource and that is clearly the way of advancement.
Scope and dimensions of Extra-curricular activities
It is a fact that the vigor with which the extra-curricular activities are pursued in the schools is in direct proportion to the importance parents attach to them. In India, sadly the majority of parents view the co-curricular activities diverting as best. If a school breaks the mold and promotes the extra-curricular activities with dedication, it makes evident its progressive approach quite definitively in the process. In a welcome development, individual potentialities of the children are now being vigorously promoted by the schools and an extensive inventory of extra-curricular activities is developed to that end. While choosing a school the range of extra-curricular activities must be seen with no less inquisitiveness than that shown in the case of curriculum.
Plans regarding expansion of operations
Although, this applies comparatively more to the new schools than the schools that are already K-12, it is not irrelevant even in the case of most accomplished institutions. The vision of the school with respect to its future expansion is extremely relevant in judging the value of the purported promises. The proceeds of the revenue of the schools are officially investable only in the expansion of the school and its upgradation. The school that has recently started operations would likely plan to add more classes and /or more sections and eventually might plan to add more subjects to the curriculum or more streams, this of course goes for the established schools too. There are schools that have progressed to higher educational institutions and there will be more of such schools in future. There is always a scope of improvement which has many faces, most common of which is diversification. Certain Schools that run national curriculum go on to introduce international programmes thus expanding the avenues for the children. The plans of the school management regarding its future showcases its imagination more than ambition, hence it should be considered by the parents as an important parameter while making their choice.
Accreditation of the schools attests to not only the quality of education but to the entire educational ecosystem it supports. There are national and international agencies of repute which are entitled to conduct accreditation surveys of the candidate schools and judge them on several different parameters that cover almost all the aspects that have been detailed above. It is seen that international schools i.e. the schools running one or more international programmes strive for accreditation more intently than the schools which run the national curriculum. Nonetheless, there are many national board schools that are accredited and with time the need and value attached to accreditation is rising. A school that is accredited can certainly claim to possess an edge over other schools, yet, it must be taken into account that accreditation takes time and the new schools where management shows inclination for accreditation and designs policies accordingly should not be discounted.
In India, it must be said, there is a restrictive entry barrier for the private schools to start and sustain which deters many visionaries from coming into the arena of active dissemination of education. Nevertheless, private schools statistically cater to numbers that runs into several millions. Numbers of autonomous schools is rising and the leadership of the school education sector is diversifying for the best. Globalization has benefited the school education and has given national relevance to international standards of school education and learning outcomes. As I said earlier, there lies an expanding choice before parents and the above stated parameters, taken in unison, can decidedly make the choice easier
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.