Thursday, February 16, 2012

How do we Decide a School is GOOD?

I went to an all- girls school. I believe, in those days, it was the right decision my parents made. Of course, the fact that it was a Parsi Girls school and my parents were proud Parsis might’ve had something to do with their decision. That the teacher who taught my favourite subject turned out to be a non Parsi is, to my mind, ironic and amusing. Whatever the reasons for my parents' decision, it was made with the best of intentions. 
Microsoft office free images

What triggered this thought was something someone mentioned to me. He said he’d moved his daughter from a local school to one in another, far-away suburb. I wondered what his reasons for the change were.

“It means her travelling time has increased. But, it is worth it. The school has a good reputation.” His face conveyed how impressed he was with the school.

“Oh. If it is good, I suppose it is worth the time she spends travelling,” I said doubtfully, thinking of the poor girl wasting an hour each way, getting bored, tired and hungry.

He might’ve seen the doubt in my face and felt compelled to justify his decision some more, for he added, “It is a girls’ school and has a wonderful reputation. At her local co-ed school she was distracted.”

“Of course,” I smiled, hoping my face conveyed understanding. “Congratulations.” 

As I continued walking, scarcely knowing where my dog led me as she joyfully ran from one tree to the next, I wondered with an inward smile what exactly he meant by ‘distracted’. Were her hormones kicking in despite her good and decent upbringing? Perhaps it was the boys' raging hormones; or perhaps the boys were too boisterous and noisy, not letting her concentrate on her studies? I smiled, amused by my thoughts. I wondered idly if girls and boys today were any different from girls and boys in our days. 

In some ways, we will never change. It is nothing to do with our culture or beliefs. It is the very nature of humans. But in others, we have. Our decisions for our kids are based, as always, on what we think is best for our kids. But, what we think is best is based, not only on the reality that is today but also on the reality that was at least two decades ago when we formed our values and opinions.

I remember reading, a long time ago, that girls were better off in all-girls schools. In co-ed schools they felt intimidated and rather than risk being laughed at by boys for asking questions, clearing their doubts or even answering the teacher’s questions, they kept quiet. In an all-girls school they had no such inhibitions. 

On the other hand, boys were better off in a co-ed school. If they were segregated, they either put girls on pedestals or thought of them as an alien species but not normal human beings. The habit of long association made them behave more normally. 

Today, girls and boys intermingle more easily than in our days. Yes, there are some from either sex who have this undeniable urge to smirk at everything the other side utters, never really taking in the actual words. But on the whole the intermingling has benefited both. Girls aren’t intimidated enough to quash their questions to, or clear their doubts with, teachers. Their confidence in themselves and their abilities has grown exponentially.

Wonder if it is time for us to rethink the reasons we get out kids to spend hours commuting to “good” schools far away. 

Also, what is the definition of a good school? To my mind it is one where the kids are taught many life skills, practical skills, outdoors and academic skills; where the ratio of teacher to student doesn’t exceed 1:30. This is easily quantifiable. If we look at the school’s curriculum and web site we come to know heaps. Today, a few good schools have sprouted up in the cities of India with less than the average ratio of 1 teacher:70 students in each class. 

Hopefully our schools will work towards reasonable (not exhorbitant) fees, NO cash donations, teachers who don't over-burden our kids with homework and who give them many and varied skills apart from an academic education. Is this too idealistic? I don't think so. Not when we think of our kids as India's future.

What isn’t quantifiable is the quality of each individual teacher. Given that his or her knowledge of the subject is good, do we ever come to know the teacher’s ability to teach the subject right at the outset? It depends on so many factors and to me the most important is the teacher’s nature – empathy and patience with the kids being of utmost importance. There are others like making the subject interesting, perhaps even fun; not offloading the responsibility of teaching by burdening kids with too much homework; being approachable, not intimidating and still in charge.

A tall order? Not if training is involved. Otherwise, a "good" school remains too much of an ambiguity, a chance, the luck of the draw.

Ken Robinson on Ted.Com talks about grown ups who love what they do and ones who hate what they do. He claims that it is education that very often dislocates people from their talents. A very interesting talk on what education should be transformed to.



  1. An ideal school in my mind is one where we can ask questions without fear and where an all-rounded personality is sought for, rather than an academically brilliant mug-pot. Well written article.

  2. Hey Pp, thanks for dropping by. Training teachers to be approachable might help. In our days many of them were scary dragons :-)

    1. You have raised some very valid questions...These days parents go by the reputation and the results...Teachers keep on changing so one never knows.

  3. I have no idea about NZ schools but yeah, know about Australian schools. They take good care for the development of kids.

    1. Hi Nisha. Welcome. The person who changed schools for his daughter is in New Zealand. He started off my thought process about how parents decide one school is better than another anywhere in the world. When I mentioned my schooling, that was in India - I seem to have a foot in both countries - can't help myself! But I suspect you understand.

  4. Exactly, Alka. Results and reputation depend on so many variables. Schools should be forced to declare the qualifications of their teachers for that year too. Or, parents should somehow try and find out.

  5. Hello Friends.........

    Great information.Thanks for sharing this useful information with all of us.Keep sharing

    more in the future.

    Have a nice time ahead.


  6. All the best with your school in Mumbai. Your website looks awesome.

  7. An amazing letter by a young student to "The Hindu" - a well respected Indian newspaper about the pressures on Indian kids to get good grades in school. If this 10th standard (Year 10 NZ) student were here, he'd receive offers from publishers for his first book

  8. Have your parents ever told you, "Nahi betey, abhi nahi," for any extra curricular activity, "pehle padhai karo"? Then this humourous Ted talk is for you

  9. Have to agree with every word here...for me, a good school is one with good teachers..and a good teacher for me is one who has a passion for his/her subject and genuine interest in the child...a rare breed I think!

    1. You wrote with passion about the importance of early childhood and Montessori schools, Karishma. Thoroughly enjoyed your informative and comprehensive article. Am putting up the link here: