Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Guest Post - Schooling Choices and Related Considerations by Jairam Mohan




The author of this post, Jairam Mohan is somebody who pores over excel spreadsheets and power point presentations in his day job, but believes that his true calling lies in boring people to their deaths. That is the sole aim of him updating his blog Mahabore's Mumblings quite frequently. Between him and his wife, they nurture and bring up their two year old daughter as well as the blog.





Schooling Choices and Related Considerations


This post deals with one of the most critical but one of the most under-appreciated and technically difficult topic of choosing the right school for your children. I have dealt with this topic in a bulleted manner, ie, have jotted down my thoughts based on broad categories to be considered when selecting a school for children. Please note that these categories are not prioritized in any manner and are in a random order.

Location constraints

Apart from the fact that Bangalore was my home town, one of the main reasons that my wife and me moved back to the city for good in April this year was because we wanted little R to be admitted in a school which she would hopefully not have to change for the rest of her schooling days. As is the norm with most schools nowadays when you enrol your kids for Pre Kindergarten in a school, the kid continues there till he/she finishes her 12th standard, and believe me, that is a good 15 years in a single place.

Why Bangalore? Because this was the city where we didn’t have to worry about shifting residences as we had my parents’ house where we would stay and not in a rented house where our locality would be based on the whims and fancies of some temperamental owner. While staying with my parents has its own pros and cons, when it comes to the choice of a school, this clearly narrowed down our choices, which probably was a blessing in disguise.

Yes, almost all schools worth their salt have transport facilities in the form of buses or school vans. But I have always been more than a bit sceptical about how the drivers of these school vehicles actually drive on the roads. I have been witness to more than a few avoidable and questionable driving tactics of these school vans in Bangalore and am therefore not too open to making my daughter travel in one of these, if I had a choice.

This therefore meant that we restricted our search to schools which were within walking distance from home or those which were at most 15 mins away by our own vehicle. Yes, geographical location and distance from home may seem like trivial and stupid considerations, but in our opinion it doesn’t help if children have to travel 1+ hour a day two times a day and are stuck in a school vehicle when they could easily be doing something else that is more constructive. 

Curriculum constraints

When it comes to choice of curriculum in Bangalore, parents have to choose between CBSE, ICSE or the Karnataka State Govt syllabus. The decision to reject the State Board syllabus is a no brainer since I did all my education in that syllabus and I can safely vouch for the fact that it is probably the most useless syllabus in the State if not the country. 

However, the choice between CBSE and ICSE was not quite as easy as it looked. While the fact remains that CBSE is probably the most popular among Indian parents, most schools in Bangalore don’t seem to have the affiliation, let alone the ones close to my place. However, having heard from reliable sources that the ICSE syllabus is more depth when compared to CBSE which is more breadth, we decided to go ahead with CBSE as first choice with ICSE being a backup option, considering the schools close to home.

Infrastructure constraints

Given that both my wife and I studied in schools run by Christian Missionary Trusts of the 1980s, we had huge playgrounds in our schools as well as access to sports facilities in the form of sports equipment, coaches and instructors for outdoor as well as indoor sports. Given the cost of real estate nowadays and the fact that we don’t necessarily stay in a locality in Bangalore where moderate schools can actually afford to spend huge money on sports infrastructure, we had to settle down to keeping our choices limited as far as this particular aspect was concerned.

However, we did enquire about the overall infrastructure of the schools and also spoke to parents of children studying there to understand if at least all the basic infrastructure in the form of decent classrooms, labs, computer labs, etc were available at these schools. 

While we necessarily cannot control how much of time our little one will spend on the playground versus the classroom, we want a school which at least provides her with the choice of outdoor activities just in case she is interested in the same.

Financial constraints

This paragraph has to be read in conjunction with the above one relating to Infrastructure constraints as the quality of the infrastructure almost directly impacts the financial requirements from the parents. In this day and age of these so called ‘international schools’ blossoming around all over Bangalore, school fees in lakhs of rupees has become quite common. Parents discuss schooling expenditure only in 6 figures and anything less is considered quite a travesty of social status as well.

Our (read my wife’s and my) upwardly mobile middle class upbringing shocks us to the core when parents we know talk of paying more than Rs 1 lakh for school donations and around Rs 50,000 for annual fees for Pre Kindergarten for their kids. I mean, isn’t Pre KG just a glorified name for Play School? What do these schools teach them or provide them for half a lakh of rupees a year? 

I mean, my daughter is okay if the school doesn’t have an air conditioner, or fancy desks and chairs to sit on and doodle. She is fine as long as the rest rooms are clean and the school staff is courteous and gentle with her, and that should not cost that kind of money in our opinion.

We therefore didn’t even bother enquiring more about a couple of these international schools which are quite close to our place.

Summary and current state of affairs

At the end of this crazy decision making exercise my wife and me finally decided that we preferred a regular school where middle class children were enrolled, with decent sized grounds and where students were at least given opportunities to participate in extra curricular activities. While we outright rejected the crazy costly schools, we have no choice but to settle down for the relatively costlier schools which had the necessary basic infrastructure that I talked about earlier.

At this point the short-list is down to three of which two application forms have already been bought. One Parent-School interaction has been scheduled for the 6th of Nov when hopefully little R will find her second home for the next 15 odd years starting June 2014.


It is difficult not to nod in agreement with Jairam's views or not go 'tuch tuch' when he talks about the 'business' of schooling these days. I share his shock at the numbers which have made Play Schools a luxury item almost - unaffordable and very different from the cosy ones we went to, as children. I am sure most of my readers can relate to this wonderfully composed post on this father's ideas of picking the right school for his little R. Would love to know what your experience has been!   



34 comments:

  1. Aha...the awesome twosome unite again, and for an explosive topic none-the-less :) Great post Jairam. We're still a bit off from going through this, but your post will definitely help nevertheless. All brilliantly valid points, and good luck for the "Parent-School" interaction on the 6th. Though not in the same league, we did go through some of it when we were considering pre-schools (i.e. glorified Pre-Kgs) for the little one. Though we personally haven't experienced your concerns yet, I've seen it happen again and again when my nieces and nephews started schools a few years ago. As if the six figure fees (et all) aren't enough, they have periodic expenses every quarter or so, even for some of the most established schools in the country. I'm sure our parents had an easier time picking schools for us, and we turned out fine (Reckon some might disagree with that statement).

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    1. @Sid, believe me, no amount of talking to other parents, reading guest posts on blogs will prepare you mentally for the ordeal that school admissions are. As if the above considerations are not enough, the constant nagging feeling of doubt in your mind as to whether you are doing enough as a parent will also keep bugging you to no end.

      As for my parents, well, they put me in a normal school, and look at where I am today, writing guest posts on Sakshi Nanda's blog, no less :)

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  2. Hello Jairam and Sakshi. Well this is a topic very close to my heart because I personally feel I owe more to my school than any other phase in my life. Having said that I too feel that today's parents have a bigger task to select the right institution for their ward than before. And most of the reasons you have covered but the reason which makes me feel more so in this direction is that today even best of schools with an international reputation fail to deliver. When my own time arrives with this decision I too will revert to a lot of points you have already mentioned :)

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    1. @Richa, am not sure if schools and children nowadays are the same as they used to be when we were kids. This generation somehow seems more friendly and addicted to their smartphones and gadgets than to their friends themselves, at least this is based on whatever little I have seen of today's kids. Having said that, given that children spend more than half their day time in schools, the choice of a good one becomes quite an important decision, doesn't it.

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  3. The most-searched topic of the season is here Sakshi.. Jairam, I strongly agree with most of the points except the first one. Having travelled for more than 30 mins to school as a kid, I never found it to be a waste of time. I socialized with different kinds of children and enjoyed watching the city through the grilled bus windows. Maybe that is more of a personal choice. Thanks for the valuable inputs, I am yet to start with it for my preschooler at home :)

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    1. @Vaishnavi, am more than sure that the 30 mins you traveled in the school bus as a kid was not on roads with crazy peak hour traffic and surely was not with drivers who drove the bus like Sebastian Vettel does on the Buddh International Circuit :) Am sure you will research about the schools themselves before you enrol your kid into one, but please ensure that the buses of the school are also in good condition before you select the school itself :)

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  4. These days It is easier to get a job after an engineering degree than getting an admission for a toddler in the city. The parents have high expectations, Schools have high expectations and hence it is difficult to find a common ground. Sadly in many such cases, the life of a toddler is at stake. Because the kid has to go through 15 years of a single decision by the parents. All points here are very very valid and wonderfully written :-)

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    1. @Ashwini, oh yes, the admission procedure for most companies who offer jobs to engineers is fairly transparent, you just need to have decent marks and good communication skills and a likeable personality. Whereas for a kid to get admitted into a school, you not only need a presentable personality, but your parents need to have the financial ability to pay a hefty capitation fee, regularly keep coughing up money for uniforms, books, school outings, events that are conducted in school, etc.

      And yes, the 15 yr thingie is what makes it so much more complicated, given the fact that it is next to impossible to change schools midway through this window.

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  5. This is such a nice post abt the current state of schooling in India. I tell you, the situation in Delhi is the same too. My cousin is still searching for a good and economical school for her twins, but these days schools work more like greedy commercial companies...she was so depressed abt all this and shared this issue with me over a phone chat..i wish all such parents luck!

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    1. @Ankita, please don't get me started on the education system in India which places such a premium on the rote system of learning, that is the subject matter of a complete blog post of its own.

      And your cousin's story is just one among a million other parents' story all over India today. These days education has become more of a business rather than a venture to ensure that our future generations are actually educated. Schools do everything today except educating kids.

      And yes, all Indian parents today need luck more than anything else to get their children access to a decent affordable education.

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  6. Hello Sakshi and Jairam..Well this a topic nicely written and of course looking for a school with a yardstick is quite an herculean task.Good Day

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    1. @Veena, in fact looking for a school without any stick (pun intended) is more than a Herculean Task. In fact, am sure Hercules' Twelve Tasks (on which the phrase is based on) were quite easy compared to selecting the appropriate school for kids.

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  7. This post came at such a perfect time. I am right now at the same juncture of putting my two year old in school. We decided to wait till she was atleast two till she starts school. So when I called a certain play school to enquire...this is the reply I get "madam you are already 6 months late. Bring her right away. We have to cover 6 months of portions. " :O..that's the last they heard from me. I personally am looking for the following in a school....one, safety. Two, montessori or similar system of teaching with a lesser student
    teacher ratio and three, not any effulent or high funda school that teaches my daughter you can do anything with money and last, fees.

    I am sorry about such a long comment I could go on and on. We live in the out skirts of chennai and thus have fewer options. Great post both of you. :) Timing could not have been better. And all the best to your daughter jairam sir...or should I say all the best to you :)

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    1. @Preethi, OMG, your two year old has not yet started play school, she is doomed :) Just kidding.

      Love how you are clear about your priorities, safety, teacher-student ratio, middle class values and fees. As long as you stick to these, you will surely find it easier to put your kid in a decent school.

      And given that I was in Chennai from 2010 to early 2013, I know how tough it can be to find affordable schools in the outskirts, especially in and around OMR where IT money rules and everything is so costly. All the very best to you if are from that side of town...

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  8. That is a very good analysis of the factors to be considered while selecting a school. When we were looking for a school in Chennai we had the problem of not having enough ICSE schools ( I did ICSE and ISC and I think it is by far the best syllabus in India!) . So our choice was narrowed down to just 3 schools in south Chennai, which were all thankfully close by. I think pedagogy is another factor that you might like to list. Our daughter goes to a Montessori school. She is now in the 11th standard and I think the methodology was very helpful in her learning. Another factor would be class sizes. A class size of 30 is the optimum one for learning as the teacher can manage the class well and devote adequate attention to the kids. Overall I think school education in Bangalore is far better than what we have here in Chennai. Here there are only cram factories and schools that negate the existence of any subjects other than science and maths!!! BTW your blog is not a bore by any stretch of anyone's imagination !!!

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    1. @Meera, although I agree with your viewpoint that Chennai schools do generate cram machines in the form of kids whose only aim in high school life is to get a centum in Maths, and more than 97% in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, am not sure I completely agree with your point that school education in Bangalore is "far better" in comparison. I guess they are both similar in their own ways.

      With regard to ICSE, from what my wife and me have heard, apparently the syllabus is crazy tough during High School compared to CBSE leaving very little time for the kids to participate in any other extra curriculars. And both of us learnt more from extra curriculars than from our text books, at least I did :)

      And yes, class sizes and teacher - student ratio was one point that I hadn't mentioned in the post above, which you highlighted in this comment of yours.

      Glad you enjoyed the post :)

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  9. Jairam, now this is a comprehensive post. As someone who lives in Bangalore and has two school going kids, I can relate with your experience. For someone, who has changed multiple schools during my own childhood due to the transferable nature of my father's job, it did not matter if my child does not study in one school for too long though I would prefer stability in the later years. Initially my younger son did his PreKg and LKG from a nice convent school which was reasonable, followed ICSE curriculum and where I taught as well. But later, I moved him to a neighborhood school only due to distance.Like you, I am not in favor of young kid traveling miles both ways. Fees are sky high in Bangalore schools. And like you, I never considered international schools; they are obscenely expensive. Currently both my children are in the same school (I preferred that) that follows CBSE curriculum. The school is barely a couple of kms. from my house. And though I tried dropping and picking up for two years after car pooling, it was too strenuous due to traffic and a huge drain on time so finally they commute in school bus. The school is talking about fixing speed governors in buses but it hasn't materialized as yet.We have quite a few reputed schools in the neighborhood but talk among parents tell me that they are almost on par. Like you, I paid attention to large playground and co-curricular activities. I am also happy that the Principal is receptive to feedback and makes changes too (but I found this out later). What I am not happy about is the quality of teachers and their training. I have come across some sterling teachers and some average and bad ones too. Most schools do not pay teachers too well; there is a paucity of trained teachers and high turnovers also because there are numerous sections in each class. And, one thing I've realized is that no matter what school you put them in, be ready to be around to teach them. And no matter what do not enrol your child into pre-Kg if they are underage; that takes a toll on them. At the end of the day, you have to do that no matter which school you choose for your kids. Overall, I am happy with the current school of choice for my children.

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    1. @Rachna, wow, that one comment could qualify as a separate blog post by itself :)

      But you have mentioned all valid points, distance, quality of teachers, facilities offered, these are probably the top of mind criteria that all parents have during their choice of a school.

      And unlike our days it is not quite easy to shift schools nowadays without either having powerful political influence or financial muscle.

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    2. Yes, I realized that I had almost typed out a blog post in the comment :). Sorry about the rambling. Your point is very valid about change of schools also because of the exorbitant admission fees.Seriously, education becoming commercialized is a huge pain.

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  10. All valid points, well-described. Of course, schools are the only businesses which are still a 'seller's market'! Often, the final choice is not in the parents' hands.

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    1. @Proactive Indian, you hit the nail on the head when you say that education today has become a 'sellers' market', quite sad thought that we use the term market and education in the same breath, don't you think?

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  11. The choice is always difficult, for me it was do I put my kids in hi-fi schools or schools where they can learn the lessons of life. Today I am happy with my choice but it is a strain with two kids. Apart from the fees there are a million other things that they ask money and help for. Plus whenever i need an opportunity for my kids to shine I have to be there talking and looking after the teachers. Schools are no more institutions, it is a full fledged business.

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    1. @Athenas Take, the situation you mention is quite sad but a true story of today's situation and that probably is the reason that this post came from me. It is extremely frustrating today to find a decent school which actually teaches children something useful apart from what the text books prescribe, isn't it?

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  14. Very interesting post which I will keep in mind when time comes.. One thing that concerns me is how difficult for a couple with single income to choose a proper school for their child...

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    1. @Simple Girl, yes, it sure is a financial nightmare for a single income couple to enrol their kid in a normal school (forget even thinking about the fancy International Schools). And that is the sad part about education in India today.

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  15. I am a victim, have been so I could resonate with all the points mentioned. Great going!

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    1. @myriadrainbowhues, all the parents whose kids are in school today are probably victims, and can probably relate to this post quite well, can't they :)

      Thanks for reading the post and leaving behind your feedback.

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  16. Caution - my comment might become a post in itself :)

    Well, this is one topic which I have experienced both sides. Son's first years was in Kochi and we were very happy with their approach, not by rote and excellent teachers. Moved to Bangalore when he was going into 2nd standard, got admission into one of the 'old, well- known schools'. To say the least, it was a disaster. Moved him into one of the 'expensive' schools and the change in him within a year was astounding.
    Started daughter's schooling in Bangalore, considering the distance factor, put her, again in one of the 'well - known, old girl's' school. First year went off fine. Second year, first few weeks were ok, then she started refusing to go to school, apparently she was bored. Reason? Books were not available even after a month for few kids and they were asked to sit quietly in the class when others were working. That is a story in itself. As for teaching, few words were taught phonetically, then started the 4, 5 and 6 letter words which they had to learn by heart. I gave up there.
    Moved daughter to son's school this year. Yes, the fees burns a huge hole in our combined pockets. The guilt melted away after talking to a parent whose daughter continued in the old school. Two weeks into the new academic year, for each subject, the kids are supposed to learn answers in sentences and write it as well. Mind you, this is after they had learnt just a few words the previous year. The parent spends a minimum of an hour and half each day helping the child with home work.

    Now, whether the money that we are paying in the current school is worth it? The school develops its own curriculum with ICSE as the guide. It is updated every year with the latest topics. Goes through two rounds of review with peers and then with the subject experts in the school. Sports is compulsory, a 45 minute session each in the morning and evening. First two years, they get to try all sports by turn. From std 3, they get to select one activity as the chosen one which they get to do every day and continue with other activities in the afternoon session. There are stage activities in which everyone has to participate, kids from std 1 work on a school magazine and things like that. Learning is experiential, no formal exams or home work till class 6, but there are lots of projects which the kids have to work on themselves.

    What I have noticed with both of them is the increased level of confidence and awareness of what is happening around them and in the world. Wouldn't a normal school provide it? Maybe, but we have burnt our hands once.

    They increase the fees by 10% every year, and each year we wonder whether to continue. Then we take a look at where we spend otherwise and come to the same conclusion, this is one thing that we cannot compromise on.

    As for distance, it has never been an issue with son, in fact he and his friends enjoy the ride, they have developed their own versions of cricket and football that can be played in the bus.

    Yes, the thought does pass through the mind , we studied in the 'normal' schools and turned out pretty alright :) I guess the difference is in the teachers, for many of them who taught it was a vocation or a calling and for many a teacher today it is a job. In a nut shell, I would go for a school where there is some evaluation of teachers from time to time. The ultimate test would be whether your child is happy and eager to go to school everyday :)


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    1. Oops! Didn't think it would be this long.

      Jairam / Sakshi, hope its ok with you...

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  17. @wanderlust, that was quite some comment and yes, that does qualify as a separate post by itself :D

    I think you have summarized it beautifully in the last sentence where you say that the ultimate test is whether the child is happy and eager to go to school everyday.

    The point of my post was not to say that normal schools were better than international schools or anything like that. It was more to do with what criteria I personally chose for my daughter when selecting a school for her. It might very well turn out that the school that I have chosen now might not be appropriate and I might have to change schools all over again also :D

    Anyways, thanks for reading the post, and leaving behind your feedback, and sharing your experiences.

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  18. I am amazed by the amount of money schools are charging as donations. Why can't the government ban it? Or do they get a cut from it?
    It is shameful that parents have to pay lakhs of rupees in addition to the regular fees.

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  19. @Amit, am sure that the local governments and the educational trusts are in cahoots with each other. Sad but true state of affairs of our era.

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