MOST PARENTS WANT THEIR CHILDREN IN SCHOOLS WHERE THEY REACH THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF THEIR INTELLECTUAL CAPACITY. THE BEST SCHOOL FOR A CHILD, HOWEVER, IS WHERE THEY LEARN TO BE THEMSELVES.
Before we admitted our daughter to a school, I never imagined that finding the right school could be such a taxing job. We decided to admit our daughter in playgroup when she was about 1 year and 7 months old,not because we wanted her to learn something, but because we wanted to fulfil her need for companionship. Being the only child, she craved to be and play with other children. When we noticed her happiness when she was with other kids, and her irritable nature when she was alone, we thought she should play with other children for at least a couple of hours every day – that’s how the idea of playgroup started appealing to us.
Making the decision was easy; choosing a school was not. To begin with, we did not know which school was better or if there is a ‘best’ school somewhere out there. To add to our misery, well-meaning relatives and friends dropped in with suggestions and advices and a lot of anecdotes about a friend’s son or a distant relative’s daughter going to a particular school and the good or bad aspects of those. We were utterly confused. We visited quite a few schools, and often came out with a scowl on our faces because something or the other didn’t seem right. It was then that we started realising that we were going the wrong way. Instead of trying to figure out the ‘best’ school for our daughter, we should first decide what we were looking for. We realised that we should set a few parameters and decide on a school based on whether it fulfilled our requirements. This helped us zero in on a school, which seemed like a reasonably good option for our daughter.
PROXIMITY TO HOME
The first thing we wanted was a good school in the neighbourhood. Travelling a long distance every day would neither be a pleasant experience for a child of that age, nor would it be advisable. The main objective of putting our daughter in playgroup was to give her an opportunity to mix with other kids, play and have fun outside the familiar atmosphere of home. Regular commute, we thought, would definitely take away the fun factor from the experience. Hence, we decided that the best school for our daughter would be a school in the neighbourhood.
The second factor, and perhaps the most important one in our list was safety. It is hard for any parent to leave their child in the care of strangers. Among all other things, what any parent is worried about the most is their child’s safety. It is all the more a matter of concern for today’s parents because of the rising child sexual abuse cases. So, we looked for a school which had a good security system in place; where the school management was extra cautious about the safety of each child, and where the management, teachers and non-teaching staff were well aware and mindful of keeping each child away from any harm. Hence, we decided that the best school for our daughter would be a school where she was safe.
The third factor in our list was hygiene. While a school might look prim and proper from the outside, a lot of day-to-day practices, say during feeding of the children or using the toilet could be unhygienic. While we want our daughter to spend time in the playground, we certainly don’t want her to be in an unhygienic atmosphere. Different types of flu that were unheard of when we were growing up (but common today), can be avoided by following personal hygiene, and we definitely didn’t want our daughter to get infected. So, we checked the hygiene practices the schools followed and how well the teachers and staff were aware of it. Hence, we decided that the best school for our daughter would be a school that maintained high standards of hygiene.
Although there seems to be a growing awareness about the need for trained teachers, many schools lack teachers with the right kind of professional training. This is especially true of teachers in the pre-primary section. Ironically, young children are the ones who need the maximum guidance since they are at an impressionable age and they tend pick up anything they see, hear or do – be it habits, mannerisms, or speech – that stay with them for their entire lives. So, it is very important for the caregiver to deal with them in the best possible way so that they learn things in the correct manner. More than the infrastructure of a school, I would put my money on trained teachers because I’d like to send my daughter to a place where the people know exactly what they are doing and why they’re doing so. Hence, we decided that the best school for our daughter would be a school that had trained teachers.
SCHOOL’S ATTITUDE TOWARDS LEARNING
I see a lot of parents worrying about how much their little one is learning at school. This attitude is partly due to the consumerist mindset that constantly pricks us about how much we are getting in return for our money, and partly due to our ignorance about learning needs and capabilities of children. Unfortunately, very few parents realise that their child does not need to be taught anything. In fact, learning is a natural process and children learn a lot through their senses. What is really necessary is to provide enough opportunities for them to explore the world around them. They should be allowed to touch, hold, see and taste things (the latter, as much as possible). We should be rather mindful about honing their natural learning abilities by providing necessary assistance than trying to teach them from a book. But in reality, we don’t follow this. Moreover, the parental frenzy and pressure percolate down to schools who seem more than eager to keep the ‘customers’ (in this case, parents) happy to be in the business. As a result, there is a constant effort by schools to ‘teach’ the children and make education as competitive as possible by including extra-curricular activities, projects, et cetera even for very young children. We didn’t want any of these for our daughter. But it’s almost impossible to find a school that does not put an effort to introduce children to formal education at an early age. Hence, we decided that the best school for our daughter would be one that showed a child-centric attitude towards learning.
After we went through the rigour of researching, visiting, discarding, choosing and finalising a supposedly good school for our daughter, we realised that there is no ‘best’ school for a child. Although educational institutions are graded based on multiple factors, the needs of a child, individualised care, et cetera are often neglected. At the end of the day, most schools following the standard norms set up by the Ministry of Human Resource Development provide more or less the same education to children. The difference, perhaps, is in terms of exposure to science and technology, innovations, the world outside one’s immediate surroundings etc. I firmly believe that this exposure is very important for a child. But I also believe that life is a much larger space and we often see people do reasonably well in their lives irrespective of what kind of school they attended. So, while every parent wants to send their child to the best possible school according to their means and capacities, I feel we should find a school which is capable of meeting the requirements of a child. That, in all likelihood, would be the best school for our child.