#SaraChats: Is your child’s school right for him/her? With educationalist Shweta Sharan
Sara: As the founder of ‘Bangalore Schools,’ a 48,000 strong community of parents, tell us what are the factors parents must take into account when they select a school for their child.
Shweta: Every child is different and so one type of school won’t suit all children. Parents need to sit down and list their priorities – pedagogy, location, school fee, student-teacher ratio, etc. They also need to understand their child and find an environment that will nurture him/her.
Personally, I believe that parents should look for a school that truly values their child and doesn’t look at him/her as just another admission statistic. They should look for a school that follows a culture that is nurturing and supportive. They also need to closely align with the school’s philosophy and the way in which they teach and work. I find that more and more parents are looking for schools that encourage children to apply their learning and work collaboratively. Parents and schools need to work together to solve the many challenges that could come up in any child’s life.
Sara: Does the ‘perfect school’ exist? Or is it a myth? What are some of the best practices good schools undertake that can be emulated by other schools?
Shweta: I don’t believe that the ‘perfect school’ exists. Having said that, I do believe that some school practices are important. I am a firm believer in pluralizing education instead of standardizing it. I also believe that children’s underlying strengths should be nurtured and this can go beyond academics. One practice that irks me is when you apply to a school in most cities in this country, there is an admission test that looks at your child’s literary and numeracy skills. But isn’t a child more than just words and numbers? What if she’s good at art, sport or music? What if he’s a great doodler or can beatbox really well? Most schools scream from the rooftops that they look at the holistic development of the child but in the end, all they are looking for is a child who fits into an academic mold.
To circle back to the question, no, a perfect school doesn’t exist. You cannot find a school that “has it all,” so to speak but you need to sit and prioritize. Personally, a school’s infrastructure is not a priority for me at all but another family may value it. In the end, we cannot find everything we want in a school but we can look for one that gives us a good chunk of what we want and work with them to help our children thrive.
Sara: How can a parent evaluate if their child is happy at the current school and if the school is a correct fit for them going forward?
Shweta: I think that talking to the teacher and looking for signs of anxiety, unhappiness or withdrawal in a child will help parents evaluate whether or not their child is happy in the current school. Does the child have friends? Does she enjoy going to school? We all want to take a day off now and then but does the child really like going to school and talk about it eagerly? Is the teacher responsive to your queries? Does he/she observe how your child is doing emotionally and not just academically? I have also met parents who have children who have managed to thrive in a school that is extremely academic in its focus but who have felt that somehow, that school is stifling their child’s voice. So I’d say listen to your instinct. I always trust a parent’s instinct.
Sara: With Covid impacting schools this year, do you have any words of advice for parents who have been panicking about a year wasted? Is online school a good substitute? How can parents help their child adjust to the new normal in schooling?
Shweta: When I interviewed an educator recently and asked him about the so-called learning slide that everyone is worried about due to a year of no school, he told me that we should not be worried about that in so much as a psychological slide. What he meant was that children will have months of not meeting their friends. Every semblance of normalcy is taken away from children and we are dealing with such an unnatural situation. They are not playing outside, touching and feeling the world, meeting people and experiencing the world in all its fullness. I think we need to worry more about them missing out on these socio-emotional skills and multisensorial experiences than focusing only on academic benchmarks. I don’t believe that this is a wasted year, as long as they are learning in some way.
As for online learning, we don’t seem to have any other substitute at the moment. Not all of us have the expertise or the resources to home-school our children. It also depends upon the school and how well it delivers an online class, and the adaptability of the school’s culture. It may not work for everyone. Not every school might be doing it right and I believe that as parents, we need the right to choose what works for us. On my daughter’s part, online schooling really works for her. She craves peer learning and interaction, which she cannot find at home.
About Shweta: Shweta Sharan is an education journalist with bylines in Mint, Deccan Herald, and The Hindu. In 2012, she started a Facebook group called Bangalore Schools that has now grown to 48,000 members. She writes on children’s books and works with Toka Box, a Seattle-based company that handcrafts STEAM activity boxes and curates books for children. Shweta also works with different schools on their outreach strategies.