With the recent proliferation of schools in the city, parents have a range to choose from. For many, getting admission in the school with a good reputation is paramount -- after all, passing out from a good school is a ticket to future success. Still, many parents may not appreciate the gravity of the decision they’re making – after all, their child will spend the 16 most formative and crucial growth years of their life in the institution they select and when they graduate, the world will be so different from what it is today. For too many parents, the choice of school is driven by perception, word of mouth, the school’s infrastructure, and even peer pressure. Too few miss asking the really important questions—the aspects of a school that will have a profound influence on the kind of education their children will receive.
It’s not enough if the school has a great infrastructure or technology, or teach a well-regarded curriculum. It is not enough if it has enjoyed a good reputation in the past. It is not enough if your own experience attending a particular school was a positive one. There is a lot more to education, and a lot more to ensuring that a school will prepare your child well for their future. Here are ten questions I think you should ask schools before making this important decision, perhaps one of the most important decisions you will ever make for your child!
1. What is your educational philosophy?
It is important for the school leadership to establish the educational philosophy of the school. Some school leaders, for example, believe that students learn best through inquiry. Others believe that students learn best through structured, hands-on, active learning. Some schools don’t even have a clear philosophy. Unlike poor-performing schools, successful schools have a coherent and shared belief about how students learn best. Teachers translate a school’s philosophy into their daily teaching practices. Some schools haven’t thought too much about how children learn (and therefore, how teachers should teach)—this could signal that the school is not really serious about incorporating best practices in their classrooms.
2. What is your approach to discipline and behaviour management?
Every school should have an articulated disciplinary policy (in writing or shared through training) that is applied consistently across the whole school. Teachers should not administer punishment for poor behaviour. Schools should subscribe to "positive discipline," which involves maintaining consistent classroom routines and ground rules in class. Positive discipline involves encouraging reflection, giving warnings, and then administering consequences. Successful behaviour management system should not shame or embarrass a child, but instead, help them to understand their behaviour so they can control it themselves. A successful disciplinary policy is based on teaching good behaviour and giving students opportunities to develop self-discipline skills rather than being punitive and eliciting fear, anger, resentment and humiliation in students.
3. What is your policy on languages, religion, and Bangladesh studies?
Since these aspects of your child’s education have a significant impact on their own identity, it is important that the school’s approach matches with your family’s philosophy and approach. Does the school teach Bangla? How is religion addressed in school? And how are students taught about Bangladesh – our history, geography, culture and heritage? Ask if the school has qualified teachers, what curriculum is being followed and what level of proficiency students are expected to reach by the end of their schooling. For all these questions, it is important that you feel comfortable with the approach and policy adopted by the school, and the reasons behind its policies.
4. Do you train your teachers? How are teachers supported and held to a high standard? What is the level of teacher turnover?
You should find out about the experience and qualification of the teachers, and how the school arranges for ongoing professional development to stay abreast of the latest methods of teaching and learning. If teachers are not learning on a regular basis, they are likely to fall behind and their methods and resources will become out-of-date. Very rarely do parents ask to meet the teachers of the school they are considering for admission. This is a mistake, because these are the people who will mold your child. Your son or daughter will spend over one-third of their life with them for the next sixteen years. So, ask to speak to a teacher or two. A short conversation can give you great insight into the teacher community and the school’s culture. Ask if teachers collaborate and have a unifying vision and goal for their students. How does the school ensure teachers are developing their skills and implementing what they are learning? Teacher retention is equally important. Most successful schools have low teacher turnover, this allows them to ensure training is implemented, curriculum and teaching methods are consistent, and that the school’s philosophy is understood and applied consistently.
Successful behaviour management system should not shame or embarrass a child
5. How does the school measure individual achievement and progress? What is your approach to assessment and testing? What is your approach to homework?
Assessment is best administered as a part of the learning process, using tools such as observations, presentations, journals, and portfolios. Focusing on assessment through coursework allows a teacher to assess authentically the knowledge and skills of each child, and this helps teachers to better support their students. Through these tools, assessment is also not stressful; in many cases, students may not even be aware that they are being assessed! This is not to say that testing and exams are entirely obsolete – as children get older it helps them to consolidate their learning by giving tests, and it serves as good practice for school-leaving exams. However, the most successful schools understand that tests and exams are not the primary tool for assessment nor are they the ultimate goal of education, and so they minimize their frequency and introduce them only at higher class levels. Exams and testing should not be a source of stress for students.
The issue of homework is a controversial one. Some experts believe homework is entirely ineffective and should not be given at all; others feel that certain types of homework can support learning and lead to better academic outcomes. Although there is no consensus in the educational community, most successful schools tend to minimize the homework that is given (at all class levels) and they also ensure that whatever homework is given is effective, relevant, not too time consuming and that it supports the learning happening in school. In all cases, schools should encourage children to rest, play and be physically active, explore their non-academic passions and interests, and spend time with family and friends in their afternoons and weekends.
6. What are the school’s expectations for its students? How does the school respond to students who are not meeting academic expectations?
Academic excellence is not the only goal of education. Such a narrow view of the role of the school can lead to exclusionary practices for those students who are unable to meet high academic standards despite their best efforts. Most successful schools acknowledge broader outcomes of education – the values that the child is learning; whether they are well-adjusted, healthy and happy; and whether they have acquired the knowledge, skills and attitudes to contribute meaningfully to society and lead a happy life. Such a broad understanding of the school’s role, if appropriately implemented and communicated to all members of the school community, will ensure a well-rounded education. Of course, the best schools also hold students to high standards, but their expectations are described in terms of students’ own potential, not arbitrary external standards.
in addition, ask - if students need additional support, how will the school provide it? One point on which all educators agree is that private tuition and supervision of students doing homework or ‘revising’ school work is ineffective and harmful to students. Any school that encourages or even approves of private tutors should raise a red flag with you. The best schools provide the support and assistance that students need in the school itself, and its teaching methods ensure that students have the confidence to complete their school work independently.
7. How do you support children with different learning styles and needs?
Does the school have an inclusive culture where the teachers and leadership understand that children learn at different paces and have varying styles and needs? Over the years, your child will face different challenges—they may struggle in some subjects or may find that they are quite advanced in other areas leading to boredom in class. It is important that the school will recognize your child as an individual and cater to their specific needs. Is the school culture an inclusive one, where students with special needs are not penalized or ignored, and where students who need additional support are given that support without placing undue pressure on them? Schools should have qualified counselors who can work with students not only on their academic needs but also to provide emotional and personal support; and teachers should be trained to address the needs of students who learn at a different pace to the rest of the class.
8. What is your policy on physical education, IT and creative arts? How much time is dedicated to them at different class levels?
Good schools understand that sports and physical education play an important role not only in ensuring healthy growth and development of children, but also in ensuring good behavior and better academic outcomes. They invest in their physical education program and have well-structured curriculum and infrastructure in place for rigorous and regular physical activities. Research also shows that the creative arts play a vital role in the cognitive and creative development of children, throughout childhood and their teen years.Successful schools not only provide ample opportunities for children to develop their skills in the creative arts at all levels, but they also ensure that students are given the freedom and confidence to make art that truly expresses their individuality and their own imaginations.
In general, experts suggest that IT should not be incorporated into learning in the early years. Although the research is mixed, most experts suggest that IT be incorporated into classes within limits so that the role of teachers and active learning are not set aside. Many successful schools use technology as a tool and as a supplement to education, but keep the focus on student-centered learning.
Schools should encourage children to rest, play and be physically active
9. How do you ensure high standards will be maintained? Is your school future ready?
No one knows what the future holds. Your child will be in school for sixteen years. The world will be a totally different place by the time they are ready to go to university. It is important to equip children with skills that can help them navigate the uncertain future and succeed in the jobs and workplaces of that era. Ask the school how they will teach your child to adapt to uncertainty and change. Crucially, are children learning how to learn? Are they learning enough about how technology works so that they grow up as digital natives? Children should be taught to be confident and resilient, ready to face challenges and tackle new situations. They should be media savvy and able to think critically about the sources of their information, while challenging assumptions and making independent decisions based on research and logical reasoning. They must be able to work successfully in groups and think critically to solve problems. They must be able to tolerate ambiguities. Many schools in Dhaka may not be teaching students all of these things yet, but is the school striving to do so? Is the school forward-looking and does the school leadership appreciate that it has to keep evolving, developing its curriculum and teaching resources, and re-thinking its methods as the world changes?
10. How is your school different from others?
Each school has its own culture and philosophy, strengths and weaknesses. Get a clear sense of their philosophy and if it meshes with your child’s interests, strengths, and personality and with your own values and priorities. If the school has no pedagogical philosophy or curriculum theme, ask what the school is most proud of. Learning about some of the highlights of the school’s facilities or services will give you a good sense of the school’s identity and values. Ask the admissions counsellor or school leadership about how they think they are different to other schools. This will give you great insight into their values and principles and how the school is managed. Ensure that what the school leadership values is also what you value as you consider the best school for your child.