So. When we finally decided on a school for Benji, I thought I was done with the angst-ridden admission process. Apparently, such luck was not on the cards for me.
Benji never quite took to school. After the first couple of weeks which kids naturally take to adjust, he was still unhappy to go. He seemed disoriented and never really told us what was going on. Increasingly, we got the impression he didn’t like his teachers. I put it down to his shyness and retiring personality, and figured there was not much I could do. We had one episode which disturbed us enough to go to the school and talk to the supervisor, and while not entirely satisfied with their handling of it, we let it go and hoped for the best.
A few weeks ago, I met the mother of an Indian child in Benji’s class. I asked her how her daughter was liking school. She hesitated and then said that her daughter didn’t seem to enjoy school anymore. I was surprised because this little girl was one of those who skipped to school on her first day and never shed a tear when her father left the class. She is very confident, outgoing and articulate, the polar opposite of Benji’s personality. Yet, she was unhappy.
Her mother told me a couple of incidents in the school relating to the class teacher. What she said coincided with my impression of the teacher from Benji. Since this girl is much more articulate, I got a clearer picture. I realised that while Benji’s personality might have something to do with his unhappiness at school, there was a problem with the school itself. The teacher was probably inexperienced and scolded the kids excessively to maintain order in the classroom. While this might be par for the course, if she managed to browbeat a child like that little girl into disliking school, it gives me pause.
The fact is I knew from the start that the school was traditional and the teachers might not be the finest. However, the school had a good reputation and I was hoping Benji would be fine. Unfortunately, he has not been, and I realised from that conversation that it was not just him.
So I began to look at other options. Both the husband and I want the kids to go to preschools in our district or nearby, so that restricts our choices. We are willing to raise our budget but do not have an unlimited budget. Finally, the only candidate I found suitable was a new school that opened last year and seemed to be more international, though it substantially more expensive.
Just after I set up the interview at the new school, Benji seemed to have miraculously settled into his old school. This doesn’t mean that he’s loving it, but he doesn’t seem actively unhappy to go. Give him a choice between staying at home and going to school and he’ll choose home, but he’s not howling every morning before going either. He seems more willing to talk about what he’s doing at school though still not super enthusiastic.
After some discussion, V and I decided we would consider the new school only if they were willing to let Benji repeat Class 1. Our reasons for this are twofold: 1) I finish my PhD in three years, and V wants to move back to India. If Benji goes into Class 2, he’ll finish preschool in two years from now and we’ll have to find a primary school for him, and then shift him to another school in India one year later. We’d prefer him to just spend three years in the same school. 2) Benji just about made the age cut-off for Class 1 when he started last year. According to his class teacher, he is behind on some things. We were thinking it would benefit him to be the oldest in the class rather than one of the youngest.
At the interview, however, Benji performed very well and shocked even us by answering almost all the questions correctly. We were surprised mainly because Benji normally clams up in front of new people. It was testimony to the skill of the principal of the school who drew him out very gently, which is one of the things that gives me a good impression of the new school. Also, we were impressed by how much he knew. Clearly, in terms of learning, the old school had done its job. However, I was never in any doubt of that, though since the impression they gave me was that Benji is behind on stuff, I was proud of how much he knew and confidently he answered.
Although the principal recommended that Benji could start in Class 2, she was willing to put him in Class 1 and we could revisit it in December and see if he could be moved up. So we got our wish, except we’re not sure anymore.
Pros of the new school
- Principal who seems experienced and to understand schooling and children. This is my impression. I am not sure of her exact qualifications because there is not much transparency on this.
- A more international approach, which means less expecting kids to be automatons and better communication with parents.
- A better curriculum and pedagogy (though I’m not unhappy with the curriculum at the old school).
- Very nice facilities and a bright and cheerful environment. (All things being equal, this is high on my priority list, though it’s nice to have).
- We can keep Benji in Class 1.
- Almost all parents who have visited have been impressed with the school, and I have read one good review from a parent of a child who goes there.
Cons of the new school
- It’s newness. This is the biggest one. It’s not so much the track record or the primary school placements that worry me, than whether the school can remain financially solvent with less students and the crazy rents. Recently, there was a case of a school (ironically one under the management of Benji’s old school) losing its premises due to increased rent. With a school that has been around for ages, this is not something one would think about. But what if the new school shuts down? Am I crazy for giving up a place at a stable though not ideal school for a fledgling one?
- It is more expensive (but we can manage this)
- It is further away (but not unreasonably so).
Pros of the old school
- Well established
- Decent curriculum and facilities
- On the cheaper end of the fee scale.
Cons of the old school
- Very local approach in terms of expecting kids to be super disciplined. Not great communication with parents, or admin system.
- We can’t keep Benji in class one.
Okay, so it’s looking like a choice between a mediocre but well-established school that Benji is not that happy in versus a start-up that looks really exciting but doesn’t have a track record that I instinctively feel Benji will be happier at. Also the relative merits of keeping him in Class 1 vs crossing the bridge of where to place him in 2016 hence at that point (though I would have start looking into that fairly soon if we let him proceed to Class 2). The choice was much easier when Benji was visibly upset by his existing school. Now that he’s not obviously upset, all the other factors magnify themselves.