Friday, July 6, 2018

Which School? State / Private / International – it all depends

All parents want what is best for their kids, within their ability to financially and economically manage the expense and commitment.(commitment which is very important is often forgotten. That is the commitment on the part of the parent, in time to ensure that the child develops the skills they are interested in developing and are good at, but are not dissuaded from by their parents)

For 90% of the kids in Sri Lanka there is no choice, so the above question is moot anyway, as they simply go to the nearest school that is practical. For better or for worse at the scholarship exam, if they do well enough to enter a National School in a principal town, they again have to weigh the pros and cons of sending their child there, by having him or her boarded close to the school with a friend, or relative, if daily transportation is impossible. I know some who opt NOT to make this choice and allow the children to be with his or her friends throughout their education in a local state school.

It is fair to say then that for 90% of children their choices are pre-determined mainly due to location of residence and economic status to use the facilities provided by the state, no matter how good or bad it is. So I personally have NO grouse with the theme “Langama Pasala Hondama Pasala” being used by the government to improve the quality of the local schools.

The game changer here is NOT the facilities the school offers, but the quality of the Principal and the teaching staff, that can eventually determine the success of the child. That is beyond the control of the parents, and therefore it is the DUTY of the state to improve this resource, bearing in mind educational thinking for the 21st Century has moved far ahead of the present syllabus in schools and audio visual teaching methods are sadly lacking despite the ease of introduction, now that the communication links are all in place.

I know a remote village in Ampara that does not have mobile coverage, but the homes have Dialog TV reception, and so audio visual teaching should have already been put in place in such schools where it is difficult to attract good teachers to take up appointment.

I want my readers to know that even in these remote areas, the well to do of the area, if they can afford to, and wish to, somehow manage to get their children into larger (better) National Schools in towns of their choice, as they somehow know their way around the system to ensure they get what they want for their kids.

Not to belabor the point again, in order to improve the quality of our Human Resource for the Future Workplace, we have no choice but to have better teachers, better teaching techniques and more productive learning environments for our kids. Only then can we identify the truly gifted within our population and direct them through scholarships to achieve of their best as that is what we want as a Nation. Frankly, I don’t see any of this happening in practice, despite platitudes to that effect, made for media and public consumption.


Now to the fortunate sector, the 10% who have a choice, as in their locations, there are of all sorts of schools, from religious, state, private and international schools. They are the ones who have a problem in making a decision and seem to find it very hard to make what they believe is the right choice for their children.

What I personally think is the question should really come from the child. I am not saying to ask the child, I am merely saying, the parent should understand the child before choosing the school for him or her, as what they feel is best, based on their child’s personality and upbringing and language competence.

There is no right answer, as different children mature at different stages and one must have a common sense approach to school entry. The easiest thing to do first is to do a probability table of their chances of entry to all the schools they are likely to consider, and then make plans accordingly. One should always have plan B & C ready in case plan A fails, otherwise disappointment overcomes one and blames everything that the child does in the future because of the inability of the child to get to the school of their parents’ choice. The reality is that even if you want your child may not be accepted, hence other options referred to above.

No matter where in the world you are, you have an element of luck in the school your child gets into. It is just not in Sri Lanka that this arises. Don’t forget the catchment areas of the best Public (State) Schools in the USA, have extremely high housing costs just because of the quality of the schools, high local property taxes support good more funds for better schools.

In short, however much state intervention there is, the market plays a part. It is simply supply and demand that is at work, and the better schools have various criteria for entry, including tests, and admittance fees in the form of contributions to the Building Funds, because it is the premium that is charged to try and match the supply and demand, no matter how we abhor such practice.

That is why I pointed out the probability of one’s child getting in as being important. One distinguishing factor with international schools is that their syllabus caters to passing an exam of a foreign body, where the results are not accepted by the local state universities and it precludes your children from even gaining entry to the local Medical Schools if that is your wish.

If that is not an issue, then one has to weigh the costs, against the quality of the facilities, teaching staff, recognition of the body awarding O levels or A levels for entry into local or foreign private tertiary Education. Word of mouth is important to meet with parents and children who go to the intended international school to obtain some first-hand research before committal.

Do remember that children can go into the more expensive international schools or private schools after O levels, and so this route does not have to paved before, if financing is a problem. Then depending on the child’s innate ability, making the choice where “you pay your money and get your way”, only if the investment is worth their while, as some kids show aptitude to go on that path and others prefer to do something that does not require an expensive educational investment.

The Biggest mistake parents make is the belief that a school can provide that which is needed for a child to excel. I firmly believe that in the 10% higher economic status families who have a choice, it is the parents who make a better mark on their child, and not the school. If the parent abrogates their responsibility in providing an avenue for the child to explore their skills, whatever they have an aptitude for, in the arts, sports, or personality, they will then automatically excel in their studies, no matter where they go.

There are many sayings, it is better to be the best in a mediocre school, rather than mediocre in the best school. The answer to that depends on the child’s preference. Not the parents. Who said the lifestyle choices the fortunate make are easy? The wealthier one is, the more one has to compete with the Joneses. The peer group, you judge yourself with determines some of the choices you make, that may NOT be appropriate for YOUR CHILD.

Dare I say it, what is good for one of your children, MAY not be good for another, and that is a common mistake parents make, because it is easy. The negatives of that choice only come to light many years later, and I won’t tread further on that topic here.

I believe I need to make just one more observation here, and that is that the SL State Education Syllabus, no matter what language you study in, tests the child’s ability to retain facts more than the child’s creativity. A creative child will fail miserably in the State System and if you have an Einstein or Jobs at home, then an international school foreign syllabus maybe more appropriate.

Bear that in mind when making the choice, as it will mark the child for life. One thing though, count yourself lucky you have this choice, as most children anywhere in the world don’t have a choice of school, they simply go to the nearest school, whatever country they live in.

It is just that on average those schools in foreign lands are more advanced in the areas of learning, (while we remain fixated in a nebulous concept of literacy rate that means nothing in the 21st C)

Sri Lanka, which has still to emerge from 19th Century teaching methods and systems, that take the brightest child at birth and take every bit of personality ability and creativity out of him or her, in 13 years of formal schooling and leave them unsure of what they should do. That is the raw material I interview all the time, blank faces, asking me for any job, when there are a million waiting to be filled, and they have no clue what they want to do!

That is why many parents I know who came up through the State System and made it good, say never again, and put their children straight into the International School system to give them the opportunity THEY WISH THEY HAD, and I see many families, where the parents talk to them in Sinhala and the kids reply in highly accented English. I wish I knew where that accent came from.

I have asked the parents why? They said Sri Lanka is no place for them, we want to give them the chance of working overseas if they wish and an international education is the easiest means of ensuring fluent English and qualifications recognized by overseas Institutions, be they employers, or Universities. So there you have one answer.

The economically able prefer International School education, to get the best from their children’s talent, and many have project based learning and extracurricular activity, that only the elite Colombo State Schools can match.

Finally “YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR” generally holds true as there is no free lunch in this world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

More important than primary and secondary is pre-school.

So the state which invests nothing on this area, must as a matter of priority invest more than ever in improving pre-school and there are plenty of examples from overseas and also in the history of Sri Lanka to learn from.

Creativity comes at pre-school and most of the children are in rural areas, ideal location for creativity to explode, and we are not doing so, why?

MORONS in charge of education, who have no education