One of the most daunting decisions to make for parents today is the school their child would go to. This is because of two reasons - First, because it greatly influences the child’s upbringing and second, this lays the foundation for the child’s future success as a grown-up.
As a parent, I have gone through the same trauma of school selection for my daughter after I moved back to India. In fact, the education setting is a bit more challenging in India that what I was used to in the UK. In my quest to find the perfect school for my daughter in India, I developed an approach to shortlist the top 10 schools most suited for her that I would like to scrutinize. This approach is a combination of my earlier research on schools in London followed by my visits to over a dozen Gurgaon schools, interaction with school admission staff, principals & teachers, and experiences of parents of school going kids. This blog is an attempt to share my understanding and opinions to help parents cut through the clutter when putting together the list of best schools for their child.
[Other Recommended Read: Top 30 Preschools in Gurgaon]
Below is my 5 step approach. While I used it in this order, the order is not important but getting across all five is.
Step 1: Decide if you want to send your child to a boarding school?
Are you and your child ready for a residential school? Or would you rather have your child have a routine at home that includes meals with family and homework under parental supervision? Or would you prefer your child to do his/her school work under the supervision of qualified teachers at a day-boarding school but still come home every evening? This is the first decision to get out of the way. There could be several reasons for choosing one or the other kind of school based on your circumstances and your child’s needs. Read my blog Back home or away from home? for top reasons why you should select a boarding school, day-boarding school or day school. In my case, day school turned out to be the best fit for now for three reasons – first I could commit significant amount of time to my daughter’s education as a now stay at home mum, second I felt personally confident with the curriculum to complement my daughter’s learning and finally there was an abundance of day schools near me that fit my shortlist. On the contrary, boarding school turned up best for my nephew since his parents wanted to inculcate independent living from an early age. Like I said earlier, the combination of reasons for selecting one of the other will be different for different people, but it’s important to have given each due consideration.
Step 2: Know the different education boards (CBSE, CISCE, IGCSE, IB) and curriculums and what each one of them is geared towards.
When I did my schooling in Delhi almost two decades back (stop calculating my age!), the only education board I knew of was CBSE that followed a NCERT curriculum. Well, to be fair I did know of another board, ICSE, from some of my cousins from another state. But then CBSE had to be the best, so so I thought, as it was being followed at my school (which was the top ranked school that too in country's capital) and at all the others schools that my friends attended. The world has evolved ever since (that still doesn’t make me old, so stop guessing now!). Some of the top international boards such as University of Cambridge’s IGCSE and Geneva’s IB boards are now available to choose from. In my blog What is International about International schools? I discuss what makes an International school, surely not just adding international to their name. Not all children (and neither their parents) today have the same career aspirations as earlier. The board that you choose will guide your child’s education/career paths in later years in the most direct way. My blog Which education board is right for my child? explores the popular education boards in India more closely.
Step 3: Decide if you would prefer time-tested conventional teaching/learning approach or the more modern methods or the completely different alternative education?
In general some people might consider CBSE (and perhaps CISCE) affiliated schools as following a textbook based conventional method. However, the trend I have observed is that the more established schools with decades of legacy usually follow a conventional teaching method that is time tested for them. There would obviously be exceptions to this. However, many of the newer schools surely seem influenced by ‘modern’ experiential teaching/learning methods. While they might still prescribe to a conventional curriculum some are blending a conscious mix. This is most relevant if you decided to go for a CBSE board in the last step. You should speak to schools to understand what their philosophy is and if you agree with it. The more radical teaching method that is now beginning to gain critical acceptance amongst many is the Alternative education, also known as non-traditional education or progressive education. It has its roots in cultivating the moral, emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of developing a child. This curriculum is said to keep pace with each child’s individual ability and is thus believed to be less stressful. Look out for my fellow author Shivani's article Is alternative education a good alternate? where she discusses what this is based on her experience growing up with people from institutions that have pioneered progressive/alternative education in India.
Step 4: Know the benefits and possible drawback of single-sex schools or co-educational schools
The choice is already made for parents who opted for a boarding school in step 1, as most boarding schools are single-sex residential schools. For the rest of the parents, at least in the past, this hasn’t really posed a concern as it was only either of the one and the other was not even part of the consideration set. I belonged to the same set of parents, until a couple of years back. Honestly, it’s the time I spent interacting with both types of schools in the UK that has helped me build a real perspective. I urge parents to understand the merits of both and make an informed choice. I am confident many parents will get swayed to the other side. My blog Single- sex schools: the case for and against should make an interesting read.
Step 5: How deep are your pockets?
As unfortunate as it may be, the reality is that choices you make has a price tag even for education. It is best to clearly establish how much you are willing to and can spend on your child’s education based on your budget. The expenses could hugely vary depending on the school type, location, legacy, brand etc. The particulars of the one-time expenses would usually read admission fee, capitation fee, donation, security deposits etc., while the recurring ones may be in form of quarterly fees, transport charges, stationary charges, uniform charges, charges for excursion and special day. Some parents also claim to have experienced a few schools that notoriously present many additionally ‘extra’ excursions and activities as mandatory for all or a selected few. The best way to know is collect reviews from parents before seeking admission, so that you are not held to ransom later. Look out for School Reviews at SchoolWiser.com that is aimed at parents to collect and share all information school related.
I encourage all parents with school going children, teachers and current and former students to share their opinions on this blog to provide more perspective to other parents. Thank you for your participation, I am sure all parents will appreciate it.