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Making a choice for a school

What is the right school for my child? A lot of parents are struggling with this question and as educator and parent I have experienced that parents tend to keep on assessing schools and bringing up this issue. Thus, an interesting topic to discuss!
We all agree that the choice of a school is important. Everyone is looking for good quality schools for the best price. Harder is it to answer the question: "What is good quality?" If we examine this question, everyone will come up with a different answer. 

For some, quality is found in the academic achievement of a school, for others it is the school's facilities and then there are parents who say that a school is a good school when the communication between school and parents is effective and responsive. I think it is safe to conclude that all of these aspects (and more) are important indicators for good quality. Nevertheless, agreeing on what is quality is tough. 

Consequently, when defining quality is hard, how do parents choose a school? Research on school choice is extensive and shows that most parents choose a school because it is located near to home. 

Other aspects that are mentioned are, for example: the curriculum of the school and factors as "Is the curriculum self built by the school or is it part of a bigger network?", "Is the curriculum/school accredited by an independent organization?", etcetera. Especially, this last question gives important information on the results of the school in relation to other schools. This is a more or less independent and abstract quality measurement. 

Strangely overseen is the fact that a school is a learning institute. In other words, the "product" of a school is the learning that is taking place within the classroom and the school. 

Most researchers agree that learning in schools should get a holistic approach. Which means that learning is not only about knowledge, but also about applying that knowledge and combining knowledge and skills to understand processes and developments in the world outside school. Only focusing on knowledge (academics) is selling your child short. Especially in the hi-tech world we are living in today, where the amount of knowledge is extensive and a lot of it is fluid. Accordingly, combining knowledge and skills to gain understanding are all three equally important elements of the learning triangle. 

Subsequently, research demonstrates that, as the result of upbringing, heredity and environmental differences, people preferentially take in and process information in different ways. 

There is also the idea that people use different intelligences to learn new and consolidate old information (refer to Howard Garner and others). Thus, we can conclude that every person learns and develops her or his talents and skills differently. It is evident that a school, being a learning institute, should accommodate these differences to their school population. 

Having a complex process as learning as the core business results in lots of different schools and learning-cultures. Parents having to choose a school are therefore facing a challenge. Recommended is to look for the best match between the child and the school's learning culture. 

Some questions that might help to find out if the school is the best match are: "Can I see evidence of learning taking place in the school?", "What is the learning approach of the school?" and "How does the school find out the specific learning needs and learning styles of my child?" 

Children are resilient and most will adapt to their school environment cheerfully, and being happy is an important ground for learning! Nevertheless, as a parent it is also important to look beyond that joy and choose a school that understands the holistic concept of learning in relation to your child's specific learning. 

Source: Karen Peters , Contributor , Jakarta | Thu, 01/22/2009 4:35 PM | Supplement 
-The writer has a PhD in Educational Sciences and works at Partners in Educational Development, Jakarta. She can be reached at: educational.development@hotmail.com.