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What to consider in choosing your child's first school

A child’s first encounter with learning in a formal environment sets in motion the way in which they will view learning. [iStockphoto]

Choosing the right learning environment for one’s young child is essential as it will play a large role in the success of the child’s learning experience throughout the rest of their life.

A child’s first encounter with learning in a formal environment sets in motion the way in which they will view learning, how they foresee their role in society and the contributions they will make locally and globally later in life, education experts say.

The process of choosing the learning environment that will best suit a child’s personality and needs is complicated by the numerous options available to parents and guardians. This can make them feel overwhelmed and even confused about how to determine what is and isn’t right for their child’s journey ahead.

The first step is identifying the things that you value as a family - your hopes and expectations, and what you are wanting to get out of an education system for your child. While we know and celebrate the importance of academic achievements, we often forget that the child is both capable and competent and comes with unique qualities and talents.

It should be recognised that children are in charge of their own learning – meaning that as much as we try to mold and drive them, ultimately, they will follow their own interests and curiosities.  By meeting these unique needs, interests and talents and recognising that success comes in many forms, we have a better chance of helping the child reach their full potential and ensure that they in their own unique way contribute positively to their community in the future.

Secondly, the aim of a school is the development of academic excellence for the learners in their care.

Schools must continually evolve and adapt to ensure they are highly prepared for the world of tomorrow. Pupils must be able to progress incrementally from the start of their academic journey, and be supported in the development of global competencies and 21st Century Skills. Ultimately, learning must prepare them for high-stakes exams later in life and successful entry into adulthood.

Thirdly, academic excellence requires confidence if a pupil is going to reach their full potential. This requires that the school provide a safe and enriched learning environment, and that their wellbeing is nurtured and protected from the very beginning. Where the child feels safe, they will be open to learning.

When looking for a school, parents/guardians need to be open to possibilities and feel confident that the learning environment will support learning in a holistic way.

It is important to listen carefully to the messages being delivered by the school, align their views and expectations to that offered by the school, and more importantly, research and ask questions, listening to not only what the school is saying but also to what they are not saying.

The fourth consideration is non-negotiable:-  that the teachers are fully qualified, that the ratio of competent and responsible adults to students is in place, that the integrity of the curriculum is not compromised but rather enhanced. The focus should be placed on future-focused teaching and learning techniques and strategies, and that all this takes place in a nurturing and responsive setting.

It is advisable for parents and guardians to visit schools in person so that they can gain information firsthand, make comparisons, investigate, interrogate, and explore the integrity of the learning environment, the approaches to teaching and learning, the schools’ views on discipline and assessment, as well as how they view the child.

Learning in the early years is often perceived as not being as important as the learning that takes place in the older years.

However, this is a misconception as the early years lay the foundation for all future learning. When choosing a school that best fits your and your child’s needs, it is key to be aware of global trends, investigate possibilities and options available, and be prepared to hold schools accountable.

Coetzee is managing director, Crawford International School Kenya, and Ouya the Education Director at the Makini Group of Schools