Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to find a better school for your child?

By now, you are aware, that the schools are fundamentally different only in two aspects: Teacher versus student centricness and Learning versus Development orientation. Other differences in the school are just superficial. Do not get misled by it.

However, because most of the schools at least in India are Teacher-Centric Learning oriented schools (TCLO) schools, you need better methods of evaluating them, without getting sidetracked by the superficial glossy-looking features of the school. Let us call this TCLO school as classical school because they are available in plenty around you.

When you are evaluating a school for your child, ask these five questions about the school: Instruction design followed in the school, System for tracking and correcting lagging students, Building inter-subject connectivity, Building Real-world connectivity of a subject and Student guidance available in the school. 

1. Instruction designs followed in the school : Instruction design is the design of teacher to help the student learn a specific lesson. The lesson could be of LCM or Fractions in Arithmetic, or it could be Radiomagnetic waves in Electricity, or volcanoes in Geography. Design includes elements like ' method of teaching, sequence of introducing content to the child, getting feedback from students to ensure that the progress of teaching is appropriate, and helping the student to connect with students outside the school'. School therefore has to set up a 'system' to help the student learn a specific subject well. If the 'system' is better, it helps the student to understand the 'content' of that subject in a more easier, faster and accurate way. All three characteristics of instruction design - or system- are important. Please understand that 'teachers' are just one part of the system; good teachers alone are not enough. 

Because setting a system takes time, schools tend to have good 'systems' ( which is formally or informally designed by Instruction designers) only in specific subjects or areas. That is why you will find some schools are known for producing better 'mathematics' students, while some produce better 'arts' students and so on. I have also seen some schools specialised in producing 'Sportsman' in hockey. Find out what the school is offering and match it with your child's needs.

2. System to track and correct lagging students in time:

Despite a brilliant 'system' set by a school, not every student learns at the same pace and time. Some students understand a 'lesson' faster, some slower. Some students may also miss a lesson, because they are not 'attentive' on that day. Variations in understanding the lesson in a class of 30 student are enormous. When a student lags behind in specific lesson ( say LCM), they have to be corrected quickly because that also slows their learning of next lesson , say in fractions. In other words, the effect of 'not learning something' in time can be cumulative. It can set a student progress behind by considerable amount. This is an inherent weakness of a teacher-centric system, in comparison to student-centric system.

To overcome this inherent weakness, a school therefore has to set up a 'feedback system' to track a student's grasp of a specific lesson - after the lesson is taught to students - and then 'immediately' correct those lagging students who have fallen back. Spotting the lagging student and correcting them are both required for a teacher-centric school. Swedish schools, who have ranked the best in the world, have alternative teachers who are responsible for both tracking and correcting the student. But this system is practically absent in many schools in India. But some schools, using e-learning packages, have set up a system to at least track the progress of student's learning and spot the lagging students.

3. Building Inter-subject Connectivity 

Although subjects - Mathematics, Science, History, Biology - are taught independently in a school by separate teachers, in real life they are connected with each other. When a school helps the child to 'see' these interconnections of subjects, learning of student deepens. For instance, teaching geometry while teaching solar system in Geography helps the student deepen his learning of both subjects. Or teaching History and English together, or teaching Algebra and Geometry together. And so on.

Montessori schools (which are student-centric) deepen the students learning because they help students connect the apparently disconnected subjects. Some classical teacher-centric schools, like IB schools, also follow this practice. Many school teachers follow this practice informally at their individual level, but until the school formally adopts this system, this is not very useful for students.

4. Building Real world connectivity of a subject

A concept in a subject can be understood best by a student, when he sees it's practical life application in the real world. For instance, the concept of longitude and latitude is best understood by understanding the coordinates of one's 'house in a city'. Or one can understand understand the concept of light while constructing a camera. Or understanding the concept of compounding by understanding its application in the multiplication of money.

Many schools have caught on this idea . Some schools, who practice this a lot, call themselves 'Experimental schools'. But many schools follow these principles in bits and pieces, only in certain areas and subjects. Therefore, while evaluating these schools, ask some probing questions to ensure that the school is indeed following these practice.

5. Student guidance available in the school

Because of teacher-centricness of the school, a school has to help a student to focus his efforts. Not all children are alike. Some are better at mathematics, some in language. Some learn better by doing, some by observing. Some prefer to be in student groups, some prefer to be alone. Some like to study in the morning, some in the evening. Some are good in understanding a subject in depth, while some are good in scoring marks in that subject. Although emotions help learning, some children are too emotional while some are too rational. Both require separate guidance. Morever, negotiating the transition of 'adolescence', for instance, is one of the toughest hurdle of a student which can derail a child's learning. Without this guidance on different aspects, the students cannot utilise the facilities of the school, even when they are available.

Surprisingly, despite plenty of availability of such guides, only few schools utilise them. Many schools instead have counselors whose job is to deal with 'problem children' in the schools. But a TCLO school requires this support for their 'normal children' so that they can focus their 'efforts' only on chosen areas. We shall discuss about the features of this Student Guide later.


Whenever parents meet me for the first time, they ask me 'Which school is better of my child?'. I hope these five criteria of choosing a school can help these parents.