As a parent, the last few months have involved running around schools (20+ schools in all) for my child’s school admission (Note : I did extensive research and visited so many schools because I wanted to get first-hand knowledge and understanding on the current Indian education system).
The whole experience has had its share of highs and lows, ups and downs, disappointments and highlights, surprises and shocks, observations and lessons learned – In terms of my baby’s performance (For e.g: She simply did not speak in some school interactions, in spite of knowing answers to the questions asked), In terms of our own performance as parents (For e.g.: We had discussed our response to some standard questions which schools usually ask, but when the volley of questions came during the actual interaction in the school, we gave responses with which we surprised each other 🙂 ) and of course in terms of the changing face of schools and educational institutes!
In this post, I am sharing a few of my personal observations, lessons and learning’s from these experiences:
One | everything has changed since the time I passed out of school ~2 decades ago! Yes, I know that change is natural, but this is probably the first time I’ve re-entered a school after decades. So there were a lot of “shockers” for me! (Maybe in all these years I was disconnected from reality 🙁]. From how school buildings are designed (E.g.: in some schools, I wondered if I was in a school or a 5-star hotel!), to what classrooms are called (E.g.: They are called home-rooms in some schools), how the classrooms look (E.g.: not sure if it’s meant for studies, or something else??), to how schools are run (E.g.: Insiders within schools tell me there’s regular talk on targets (new admissions, commercials, etc.), and year-on-year (YoY) student growth which was probably not common parlance when I was a student) – So essence is that they are commercial set-ups and need to function that way as of date, to the active use of technology (E.g.: one school mentioned about a “digital lab” for nursery kids and I wondered if I was in a school or an IT firm?), to the admission process (For e.g.: In some schools, they made an awesome power point presentation with a really great ‘sales-pitch’, that I wondered if I was in a school, or I was at work in a proposal presentation for a potential IT customer), how teachers dress-up and behave (An observation –In most schools a vast majority of school teachers were women (including the principal), while in colleges I’ve observed that majority of the teaching staff is mostly male faculty.), to how students behave within a school, to how classrooms are named (In my time, it was simple IIIA or XB. Now I see names of animals, planets, wild-life sanctuaries, galaxies, mythological characters, etc) – It’s all changed!
And most importantly, there are just too many schools buzzing around (I see one school on almost every 2nd / 3rd street), too many teaching pedagogies, and too many study options (from formal schooling to alternates like home-schooling!) Lastly, in many cases, the text books looked vaguely familiar in terms of their contents and syllabus :(. Talk about making changes where it counts!
Two | almost all schools (old / new) have “beautiful-looking” web-sites. Some of them were exceptional and super-impressive – in terms of the articulation of their philosophy, the visuals and the multi-media used on the web-site, the display of their achievements and the overall user experience. Most of the web-sites have such wonderfully written text (Wonder if they hire and pay premiums to the content writers or if they have in-house marketing / content strategy teams!) which makes you go “Wow” on the first reading!
The other observation I made (rather sad to state this) is that in many cases if you see the web-site and then visit the school, you will be in for a complete shock because of the disconnect in how the schools position themselves on their web-site, and what they actually are! So much for initial disappointments, and good online marketing?!
Three | most schools spoke about “Holistic Education” and the emphasis on studies, extra-curricular and overall student development. It’s good to see the emphasis on academics; as well as overall child development – And I do hope that schools focus on both aspects in the “right spirit” – and in “word and deed”. Simply because today and in the future, it is the life-skills beyond academics which will hold children in good stead.
Though from my personal interactions, it appeared that “academic rigor and focus” was way down in the priority list for many of the newer schools! And the focus was on all the extra-activities and other frills available (purely in terms of the physical infrastructure) within the school campus. I mean “How many parents would really want to send their children to schools with the primary aim of getting them to ride a horse? or play golf ? Or getting their children to sit an A/C environment the whole day? Or getting them to eat Ferrero Rocher chocolates?” [Yes! I kid you not – During my interaction, the principal of one school said that giving these chocolates on special occasions to children in her school was one of the key differentiators of the school – Just so that all children feel equal, and there is no discrimination. Huh! – Let me state that her emphasis was on the Ferrero Rocher, and not the “lack of discrimination”]
Four | the Principals in most schools appeared to be really proud of all the achievements of their schools, and only had good things to say with hardly any scope for meaningful change or further improvements in the future. While, I do appreciate the fact that most schools have so many good things in them and the fact that the principals are proud of their educational institutions – as a former student and informed parent, I’d find it hard to believe that any school did not have any issues / challenges / limitations. Don’t we all know the larger issues plaguing the Indian education system?
Five | interestingly, it is also a positive sign to see schools embracing and adopting technology. As a technology professional myself, I find this to be a positive development. Right from accepting admission forms online, to sending SMS alerts and notifications on important dates, to follow-ups, to the Learning Management System which many schools actively use for online assessment and evaluations, to the student and parents portals – Technology appears to be well integrated in a schools systems and process – And that is great!
Six | for pre-primary / primary school admissions – There are question banks available to prepare your children (and these have questions and answers for each school), there are questions to prepare the parents (and again, there have questions and ‘politically right answers’ for each school. And after one such admission interview, I overheard daddy telling mummy “Hey the question they asked was out of syllabus!” Oh Come on!), and there are also coaching classes / tuitions to prepare your child to answer questions! This was an eye-opener for me! What can I say? It’s a competitive world, and we’re getting to a phase of “standardization” – is it? (And I’m probably officially part of the older generation for stating this – But in my times, I enrolled into coaching classes only for the Entrance Exams after 12th standard).
The other very interesting feedback that I received when I was preparing for the school admission interactions was one about the expected appropriate behavior of the mother of the child. So I was advised to wear a sari and “be a woman of few words” when I speak! (I thought that this “dress up in a sari & speak less” business was for marriage, but no… I guess it continues even for the children 🙁, and way beyond! After all, changes which involve mind-sets and social conditioning take several decades to be in-effect)
Seven | in most schools, there was complete lack of transparency of the admission process. You just submit the form and go through the process as defined by the school – And then cross your fingers and hold your breath – hoping that your child will get admission. What complex logic or algorithm schools use is beyond my comprehension! So much for Right To Information!
Eight | the escalating costs of education is unimaginable. From the admission form to the annual fees to the transport fees to the miscellaneous fees – They all end up making your pocket and bank balance a lot lighter :(! From what I gathered, the annual fees in schools can range between 40K per year to ~2.5 lakhs, and can go upwards of 4 lakhs if it’s an international school (Sigh!). It’s no wonder that parents need to think and plan their finances really well before they have children. And most of the A-grade schools collect admission fees in Oct – Nov itself, when the academic session begins only in April of the next year (I think it adds up tothe available funds with good interest, right?). Not to mention, all these schools were upfront in mentioning that the cost in fee escalation every year would be about 12 – 15% (I don’t know which industry gives annual increments of this scale year-on-year. But well, we choose to be the parents, and we choose this school right.. So it’s part of the package!)
Nine | there’s this increasing trend of International schools and the International Board (IB), apart from the more popular and well-known CBSE, ICSE or state syllabus. In theory, it appears to be great; and it is good that children have this option right from the primary years of education. Though, I’m not really sure whether in the long run it will really help (and how much) children and India. I’m also not really sure if these schools are really equipped with the right teaching staff to do complete justice to this education system. As it is, India has a huge deficit in finding good teachers for schools affiliated to the CBSE / ICSE boards, right?
Another point is that a lot of schools have started adding the word “International” to their name. For e.g: If a school was called X School, it is now calling itself X International School (So much for the name!). And if you thought schools with the word international in their name subscribed to the international board, you’re wrong. Most of them still run with the CBSE board. From what I gathered, when a school upgrades its physical infrastructure to make it comparable to ‘global / international’ standards, it adds the word ‘International / Global’ to its name.
Ten | There’s way too much discussion and debate on this “student: teacher ratio”. For those who don’t know, it is the ratio of students that a single teacher is responsible for. So this ratio would translate to the size of a class – both students and teachers (And this directly / indirectly translates to the teacher’s salary and your child’s admission fees!). Now, in my school days it was fairly common for most schools to have a class strength of anywhere between 40 – 55 students in a class, and we all turned out just fine. In fact, I don’t know of any school which even mentioned this “student: teacher ratio”!
But today, everyone talks about a student: teacher ratio of 15:1 as being “ideal” so that the child gets personal attention and time from the teacher. I personally think this “student: teacher ratio” concept was introduced by the newer schools which had less strength, and somewhere somehow it started getting a lot more emphasis. I really don’t know if the children of today are more complex / complicated or if there’s some other reason on why this dimension is so important, but suffice to say – it appears to be the deciding factor for many parents in the choice of the school!
Lastly | surprisingly not a single school I visited ever spoke of a subject called “Moral Science”. When I was a student, Moral Science was a mandatory subject every single day for 30 minutes – From 1st standard to 10th standard. In today’s day and age, would it not help to touch and discuss topics / subjects dealing with moral values and have it integral to the school curriculum? I’d think yes!
Most importantly | from my experiences I see that there is no universally accepted standard definition of a “good school” – especially from the parents point-of-view. For some, it is about affordable education of decent quality, for some it is about the brand value, for some it is about academic rigor and board results, for some it is about the physical infrastructure, for some it is about social status and standing, etc etc. Whatever be the criteria, to each parent his / her own choices, and rightly so!
Honestly, I believe that a school is only as good as its student base and teaching staff. As a parent, if you’re satisfied with the teaching-staff of a school and the student base is one which you’d want your child to be part of, then everything else is secondary!
And as I sign-off, I am happy and proud to say that my daughter did get an admission to the school which was No. 1 on our list. So for now, the lessons shall rest!
Just some initial thoughts!
Do you have any observations / thoughts / insights on schools and how they’ve changed? Look forward to hearing your comments…
Nischala Murthy Kaushik is mother and philosopher rolled into one (the philosophical streak emerged after she became a mother – essential for balance, she believes). She is an Engineer and Management Graduate (IIMB Alumni) by Education, IT/Innovation/Marketing Professional by Employment, Google/Blog/Twitter/Social Media Lover by Era, Writer by Passion, Dreamer by Compulsion, Student of Life by Choice, Eternal Optimist by Necessity and Chief Happiness Officer of LIFE by Realization. She blogs @ Nischala’s Space, Thoughts and Expressions AND VERVE : The Quintessence of my Life . In addition, she is also as a guest blogger in several sites of global repute; and her blogs have been featured in several Best-Of lists and on the Directory of Top Indian blogs. She tweets @nimu9 and is also listed among the 50 Indian Women to follow on Twitter.