Monday, November 18, 2013

School Admissions Anyone?

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:

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!

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!

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)

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!)

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…

For full reading, stop by the complete post on Parentous ; Edited and key snippets are published here 

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