Schooling - it is probably one of the biggest headaches and most significant decisions any parent needs to make for their child. After all, we are talking about your child's education here, and we all want the best for your child.
I personally don't think there is a "best" school out there. I believe the "best" school is the "right" school for your child. So what makes the right school for your child?
Know Your Preference and Know Your Child
We all have different preferences, and our children are talented in different ways. My preferences will differ from yours. Here are some questions I ask myself and decision factors when I look for schools for my boys.
1. What is the school's curriculum? IB? British? American? European?
One of the best advice I was given when looking for school is to work backward. Think of the country you envision you will be living in in the future.
For example, we are pretty sure we won't be moving to America, so we would rule out the American curriculum. If we were to leave Singapore, we would most likely move back to the UK, hence why we would consider the British curriculum or IB. If you are unsure where you might be in the future, then IB is a good option because it is more international.
2. School Fees
I think the second most important question after the curriculum is school fees. We all have different budgets, and there is no point in bankrupting yourself over school fees. The most expensive school does not mean it is the best school, it is way more important to choose a suitable school for your child and your family.
Is the school walking distance? Do you have to drive there? All this plays a factor too. If you have to take a taxi there each day, then you will need to budget that in as well.
Travelling also eats into your time. If you are the one who does the school drops off, then you have to consider the time to get there and back for each journey. So if the school takes you 15 mins to get there, that is a minimum an hour each day just for school pick up and drop offs.
If your children are taking the school bus, then you have to consider whether your child is happy to be on the school bus for a long duration of the time. Some kids don't mind and find it quite fun, but some kids do not cope well with long journey in a car. So you will need to take that into consideration as well.
4. What is the student-teacher ratio?
Some children thrive in a bigger school, and some might find it intimidating. This depends on your child's personality. I know sometimes it is hard to tell, so my best advice is to try it out when they are in pre-school.
The younger the child, the more adaptable they are. So if you want to try out a different environment, pre-school is a great time to do it. I know some mums enroll their child in two different schools on different days, so they are exposed to different environments.
For us, we have only enrolled Joshua in one school. The class size is small, so if I take Joshua out of this school, I would most probably enroll him into a bigger school to see how he gets on. If he hates it, then at least I know he doesn't enjoy a big classroom environment, and I will change him back into a smaller school setting.
5. What is the school's philosophy in learning and teaching?
The school philosophy is important because it dictates how they teach their students. And if the school's philosophy clashes with yours, then that is not the right school for you and your child—schooling and parenting work hand in hand, so you have to be align in this aspect.
6. How much Chinese do they get in school?
This might not be a big deal for some parents, but this is a big factor for us. My Chinese isn't great, so I need school to provide enough Chinese, so my sons have a good Chinese foundation.
I want them to be able to read and write Chinese with ease and not struggle like me. I know many schools offer after-school classes for those who want more Chinese classes, but I don't want my kids to spend all their free time in extra academic classes. I want them to be able to be kids as well.
7. What second language programs do they offer?
Parents who do not come from a Chinese background might be more interested to see what second language the school has to offer. I know some schools offer French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and many more. So if this is important to you, it is good to find out what languages the school offers.
8. What are the school grounds like? Do they get to play outdoors every day?
My boys love spending time outdoors, so having outdoor space to play in is very important to us. I know for some parents, having natural light in class rooms is essential, so that is just up to personal preferences. So ask yourself, what type of environment do you want your kids to grow up in, and what is important to them. No school offer everything, it is about weighing out what is more important to you and your child.
9. What facilities do the school have?
Does the school have a swimming pool? Large field for sports? Good music room? A theatre? Having facilities on the ground is great because that mean your child can have easy access to them. Also less running around for you to find other places that offers the facilities your want for your child.
For us, I want the school to have a good music department and good outdoor space because both my boys love music and they need to go outside every day. Of course this differs from family to family.
10. Is the school diverse? Where are their students from?
This is a personal preference for us, but I know this isn't a big deal for some families. The reason why it is important to us is because we want the boys to grow up not to judge people based on race and respect people from different cultures. The world will only getting smaller, so it is important that our boys grow up knowing people come from different backgrounds and cultures.
11. Which school calendar do they follow?
Honestly, I didn't even know this was a thing until I started to talk to other mums and teachers at the International School Fair. So in Singapore, some school follows the local school calendar, and some follow the International school calendar. NOT all International school follow the international school calendar, so you need to ask. (Singapore local school calendar runs from January to December, and International School Calendar runs from July to June.)
If you are thinking of possibly sending your child to a local school, then you would want to pick a pre-school or school based on the local calendar, so it is easier for them to transition, and vice versa. From my understanding, with International schools, this doesn't seem to be such a big issue.
Another thing to take into consideration is holidays. If you want to do big family holidays with family abroad and need to sink up with holiday dates, then you might want to consider the International school calendar.
12. Is the school very academic? Or are they more well-rounded?
For me, this decision will be based on my child's abilities. Some kids are just better in an academic setting, and some aren't. Some kids thrive under pressure, while others find it daunting and deflate their confidence. So this is up to us parents to see and gauge what type of kid our children are.
13. Where do their alumni end up going to university?
This will give you a good indication of how academic the curriculum is. If many of their alumni go to Ivy League schools or top-ranking universities worldwide, then their curriculum is most liking to be more academic.
14. Do they have the support if your child needs extra help?
Does your child have learning difficulties? If so, you might want to look into schools that have extra support. Not all schools have that, and some schools are better equipped than others. If your child needs extra attention, it is best to find a school with a smaller teacher-student ratio or even a specialist in school who can support their needs.
Take your time to find the right school for your kids, and try to pick a school based on your child's perspective and needs. We all have an ideology of the type of school we want our children to go to, but remember, we are not the one who is attending school; your child is, so it is important to see it from their point of view, and which school they will thrive in.
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Sending you love and positive thoughts,