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How to choose the best private school for your child

Ms Evaline Ogesa, a teacher at Shauri Yako Primary school in Homa Bay town teaches grade four pupils agriculture on January 10, 2020. [James Omoro, Standard]

Choosing a private school is a complex process and the wide range of available options does not make it any easier. Choosing the right school for one’s child is a critical decision, and parents need to look beyond the marketing and sloganeering to identify a school that will help their child meet their aspirations, education experts say.

All parents want the best for their children, and in Kenya, more and more parents are sending their children to private schools.

It is important to remember however that not all private schools are the same, or provide an equal offering in terms of academic excellence. Parents should still do their homework to ensure that their investment in their child’s education will provide the necessary returns in terms of quality and that it will be the right fit for their child’s unique needs.

These days parents are spoiled for choice when it comes to their children’s education, but they must carefully consider a number of issues before making a call on which school will best serve the needs of the child, and ensure they receive a world-class education.

The following considerations should factor into parents’ decision-making:

History and Reputation: While the private school sector is growing, the ability of new schools to live up to their promises must be scrutinised, to ensure that they are able to deliver well on school-leaving examinations.

Where a school is part of an established network, for instance, the ADvTECH Group (Africa’s largest private education provider) parents can look to the track record of other schools in the group. This is not possible with standalone new schools and established schools are easier to assess, as their track records should speak for themselves.

Teachers: A strong cohort of teachers will combine new tutors with their energy and innovative ideas and recent training with a group of seasoned ones with an established track record.  A school that employs only new teachers may be more focused on costs than on achieving the outcomes you want for your child.

Speak to current and previous parents and students to ensure teachers are knowledgeable and have demonstrated to have the best interests of students at heart.

Leadership: Schools succeed, or fail based on their leadership teams. If parents cannot access school leaders when considering a school, or if they are not able to answer questions on matters such as school culture, then it is most unlikely they will be accessible and engaging when the child is already enrolled. 

If the leadership is not available to parents as prospective fee payers, they are also not likely to be accessible later.

If parents try to understand what the school leadership believes about growth and discipline and community, they will quickly be able to identify synergy with their family values.

Curriculum and Results: Different schools offer different curricula, and it is important to identify the academic path that is in line with the student’s future aspirations.

Regardless of the specific curriculum offered, a non-negotiable would be the school’s focus on 21st Century Skills and Global Competencies. Preparing students for the future that is unfolding, vis-a-vis the focus schools, had in the past, is paramount. Some schools offer international qualifications like Cambridge International Assessments while others offer the Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education (8-4-4 system). Regardless of the specific curriculum, schools must demonstrate that their approach is learner-centred, focuses on holistic education, and is able to prepare children for the future.

Co-curricular options and facilities: A quick tour of the school will show where they spend their money. What the school chooses to show parents first, or most shows what they value. The way in which the school has thought through the needs of parents in matters such as parking, logistics, aftercare arrangements, and communication channels indicate how family-centred the school is.

Additionally, no educational journey is complete when it doesn’t include a holistic focus on co-curricular development and stimulation, so find out what extra-curricular activities are made provision for, and whether the facilities are suitable. Have a look, for instance, at a school’s computer rooms, science labs, creative and studio spaces, laboratories, and sports facilities (including swimming pools). Also, take into consideration the recreation spaces available to students.