I was recently a part of a panel at a discussion on ‘how to select a good school for your child’. The dialogue began around distance, classrooms, building quality, sports infrastructure, teacher qualification, list of toppers and so on. This wasn’t surprising since these are also reflected in the advertisements, advertorials, and literature of most schools. Our discussion made me reflect on my 3-year long journey of discovering the greatest schools in the world. Based on what I’ve seen and experienced I started exploring each of these myths.
- Distance is indeed a factor in selecting a school. However, should it be a major factor? Should we select an average school next to our home over an extraordinary school a few miles away?
- Are gleaming classrooms and buildings enough? During the past decade, there has been extraordinary research done on how classrooms create a barrier to learning (Blueprint for tomorrow, Harvard University Press). Classrooms were necessary when schools were meant to educate the factory worker. Factory workers were required to receive standardized instructions to carry out standardized tasks inside factories. Such instructions required all students to learn the same thing the same way and at the same pace. This is simply not the case today. We live in the knowledge era where each child’s learning requires personalization and needs to work individually and in groups. Children have different learning styles and even learning speeds. These are things that are impossible to achieve in a classroom setting.
- Does only having infrastructure lead to the making of great sportspersons? The fact is that many great sportspersons emerge from difficult conditions where infrastructure was poor. This is not to say infrastructure is not important. The overarching question is what were the conditions that created these great sportspersons? Are schools able to create these conditions? Do they develop a child’s lifelong love for sports? Do they consistently build mental toughness through sports? How are schools imbibing lifelong habits of sports, fitness, biomechanics, and nutrition? Statistically, very few adults continue to play the sports they played at schools, so what goes wrong? I have seen acres of empty sports fields and yes, even empty horse-riding fields in schools in India. As a parent, I’ve often wondered why we pay for these empty spaces and how our money could be better utilized.
- Similarly is teacher qualification a good enough parameter? Would we entrust our children to qualified teachers who don’t love children or have a true passion for learning? Or should we try and understand how the teachers were appointed and who trains them? Could the teacher induction process and track record of trainers be the critical missing piece?
- Should a school be assessed only by its list of outliers: toppers, sportspersons, and celebrities or should it be assessed by how it delivers learning and impact to all its students? How high is their average? What does a school do for the majority of its children?
So now on to the question ‘how do we select a good school?’
The greatest schools in the world create a different kind of magic. Walking into these schools I saw extraordinary student work all around. Student work answers all questions on ability and talent – and it applies equally to both teachers and students.
- I saw no classrooms, only variable zones where students were working on projects. They were creating, innovating, problem-solving and working in teams. It reminded me of how we work in the real world. Learning spaces were designed like a place ‘where Google meets Lego’. Reconfigurable spaces that personalize learning for each child. I saw children fully engaged in their work and completely immersed in their projects. Children told me they didn’t like leaving school, in fact, some preferred school to vacations.
- Exam scores were great too, sparked by their love of learning.
- Teachers were inducted through an exhaustive process and trained on a continuous basis.
- Parents, community, and professionals were welcome to participate.
- The schools were open to being assessed! Scores of educators and policymakers were visiting from around the world, everyone was welcome and yet nobody was getting disturbed.
That’s when I understood that schools become truly great when they themselves become learners when they become transparent and allow the real world to assess them. When divisions between the home, the school, and the real world diminish, the greatest schools are born!
This article is written by Sandy Hooda, Co Founder Vega Schools. Sandy Hooda is an ‘Edupreneur’ who believes that traditional school education undermines a child’s love of learning. His life’s mission is to revolutionize education, based on research, and prepare learners and community for life and careers of 2030 and beyond.