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Monday, March 03, 2008

On How Much is Too Much

The blogosphere is discussing about the priviledges wrt education across timespans.
Here I record my two-bit on the subject.
Three decades ago, the only concern for parents was all-girls/ boys school or co-ed school among the so many convent schools in a town like mine. You either take that or end up in a co-ed government school. A metro was more advanced in the sense, public schools and co-education was the accepted norm and the debate was always between the merits of either kind and the fantastic class X results that each school boasted of every year. The fight was between CBSE and ICSE with or without State Board added to the pool. But in Bihar, State board was not even discussed as an option.
Teaching methods were not debated. The syllabi was not debated and standard of teachers were a given or rather expected to be the best considering the ranking of the school in the city.
Today, the parameters have changd. The bar has moved. And the factors that go into selecting a school for our child has changed. We have a school for your child depending upon the method of education you want for your child. We have a school for montessory philosophy, another for regular, another for academic-bent school and another for holistic- philosophy. To each his own.
Loosly comparing it to any product in the market, the consumers have a choice of specifications (variants) to play with but not enough volume of schools(production), branches (SKU's) or seats (capacity). Today it is not enough that you register your child when the time comes. It is not even enough if you go there when your child is 6 months old. You end up in the waiting list. You need to register when you are carrying your child. Then you can be assured of a seat. We faced this- we had gone in 2006 for admission in 2009 and were waitlisted and a friend got admission for her unborn kid but not the kid who was of age for nursery. There are other schools of normal fees structure that will admit students within 5-km radius only. Fair enough for those who live within that radius! And there are others where we pay exorbitant sums and then confer with the Delhi/ Mumbai counterparts and breath a sigh of relief that the scene in Chennai is not as bad as other cities and consider ourselves lucky. Let's leave out the logistics, availibility and finances of admissions and park these thoughts here for the moment- more so because getting the right school according to my perspective within our affordibility bracket has been relatively easier.
My perspective about selecting the right school is driven out of other factors, some shallow and some profound like-
1. Do I feel a kinship with the surroundings? Will I like going back to it everyday for a large and the most important part of my life? Will my face light up with anticipation each day when I walk in here? I am assuming that if I like it, my kids will also like it, considering that they are too young to decide for themselves. This is my first factor because this is what my school meant to me. I loved the space, I loved the building, the classrooms, the playground. I loved it when it was hot and I loved it when it was raining and we walked under the trees teeth chattering under our umbrellas and in our raincoats. Chatting nineteen to a dozen while boarding our buses to go back home. We loved the sand pit and we loved sitting under or climbing on the mango trees (the fruits of which we were strictly forbidden to pluck). Well, I eat my words, even if Ojas & Tejas cannot decide for themselves, they can definitely express their comfort or otherwise. Ojas has definitely taken to the idea and Tejas is still suspicious about the school. What was most heartening was that kids were refusing to go home after school and parents had to literally cajole and coax them to go home! That's my idea of a good school.
2. What is the quality of teachers? Their commitment levels? Are they teaching because they are passionate about teaching or because they have to? Probably I am trying to be idealistic but really, such people do exist. A colleague mentioned a teacher in The School who was so commited to teach there that he returned from abroad to join as a gardener until they had a vacancy for him. My ex-CEO used to take training workshops for the employees and clearly his energy and passion for people development was evident. Such people are rare but they exist and even a handful of such teachers will make a difference. Not that I can judge that from outside or reading the prospectus but I am hoping word-of-mouth and grapevine will alert me. And there will be a lot of PTA opportunities for me to judge. Today, a parent is not a parent of the student but also a consumer, a brand ambassador and more. A parent is expected to participate in the child's education not just be mute spectators or help with craft/ needlework stuff. This school assures that PTA meetings are also meant to take our voice to the administration. I am hopeful. Rather than shaking in my shoes at PTA's fearing what they will feedback on my children, I am hopeful I will look forward to the opportunity of a constructive interaction.
3. Holistic rather than completely academic - We used to be told, pay attention to your studies and don't participate in all extra-curriculars. If you are weak in a subject, keep working hard over it. Today the methodologies have changed. We are talking about focusing on our strengths and managing our weaknesses. We are talking about uncovering and tapping into our talents and following our passions. For parents who wish that their child focuses on academics, have endless tests to take and practice till they are perfected for the boards, there are options. But for parents like me who wish for more than just studies, there are options again. I have not been great shakes at anything other than academics. My school gave opportunities in the form of annual days and cultural days but no more than that. The school which I have chosen for the kids offer opportunities to take classes of choice and appoint instructors to train. They promote movie viewing on some Fridays and do a lot of activity and project based sessions- hands on, experimental and experiential, so to speak. I am not for a moment trying to disregard my education. It was the best of the lot in the city, a respected school and had earned a name for board results and quality of teachers. But today, we can do better than that. To me, a child is a mass of clay waiting to be moulded into shape. And we parents are facilitators or enablers helping the clay take it' s shape. The child needs the right opportunities that we parents can direct towards them. As parents, it is our duty to ensure that the opportunity is given, what the child does out of that depends on his ability, talent and willingness. But as a parent, I will strive towards getting the suitable opportunities available to him. Again it will be what we think as a right opportunity until the child can think for himself. Prodigies do exist but they are few in number. For the moment, I am not taking any risk and covering all possibilities. Giving my children more options so that when the time comes, they can choose between careers rather than be able to think of only doctor or engineering.
4. Infrastructure- We cannot escape technology. Any school that cannot keep up with the latest is out. Computers were in the nascent stage towards the end of my school life. Today kids know what a laptop is before classifying a PC as another computer. (Educational) toys in my time meant picture boards, mugs to pour water into a bucket (and believe me I refused to do that out of shyness in KG class), a rocking horse but today we have choice. Is the school keeping up? I would expect it to.
A friend congratulated me on the "huge investment" we have done- she meant school admissions. Well, the fees is definitely more than the other schools but the distance between the other best school that I had registered is not so much. And if that extra money gives me a self satisfaction, I am all for it. This school has a feel-good factor that I was looking for and that's enough for me. I am shallow probably but that's about it. And after all, how choosy can one get?


Kodi's Mom said...

I completely agree with your perspective on #3. none of your factors sounded shallow to me, to me, the 'huge investment' you're making is in your kids - and nothing but the best will do.

it is nice to read about how The School offers a plesant atmosphere and about their teaching approach. am eager to read about Ojas & Tejas' adventures there!

Itchingtowrite said...

k's mom- thanks for the vote of confidence! You know, I am pretty excited abt it, as if I am the one going to study there! sometimes i feel like joining there to teach so that I can watch them njoy their school

Chaitali Patel said...

Very curious - are your kids going to The School K.F.I? I went there and I can go on about what an enriching school life I have had. :)

Itchingtowrite said...

chaitali- no, they admit only from class 1 this year onwards. though i wud hav loved to consider the option. My colleagues daughtr i mentioned in th post studies there

Rohini said...

Agree but would add peer group to the list. I want a school where a majority of the kids come from a similar band of socio-economic background as us - especially not rich brats who have no value for money or rules..

Itchingtowrite said...

rohini- u r absolutely right
Frankly that was also one of the concerns I had but completely missed while writing it.
a good cosmo crowd is what we were looking at, not the typical local crowd who cannot speak beyond tamil or their mother tongue! i mean the ones who are extremely fanatic abt their mother tongue...and its extremely annoying when they give the excuse that they cannot express well in english .. well how do u write your exams then??? i would want my children to b comfortable switching between the languges

choxbox said...

Excellent Itchy!

All I want is a school that does not kill a child's curiousity. At one point I was considering home-schooling but the lack of peer interaction isnt worth it. Might consider it as a short-term option if in future I feel the need. Or hey I might start a school myself!

Sue said...

The School is supposed to be a great place. When we were kids there talk of Baba moving to Madras, and my mother had her heart set on sending us there.

Glad they're in.

Itchingtowrite said...

choxbox- i used to the say the same thing when i was thinking of play school. actually started talking to eurokids for franchisee but realized thy had got th financial projections worked out totally wrong and also more important, i didn't have the place to do it.
sue- just a correction- thy are not in "the school". They have removd nursery section completely from this year