7 Important questions to ask when choosing a school for your child

During this time of year, parents are often searching for new schools for their children. Some youth are progressing from primary to secondary school. Others are seeking a school with a better fit. Whatever the reason, it is important for parents to ask key questions that will help them to identify which private school is best suited for their child.

Begin with the end in mind. For primary and secondary school students, there are some basic questions all parents should ask, beginning from their final goal-university acceptance- and tracing back the quality of the steps that will lead them to graduation and university admissions:

What is the culture of the school?

Understanding the culture of the school involves three basic criteria. The first criteria can be found in the values and mission statement of the school. It tells you how the school approaches learning and the goals envisioned for its students. How well does it match your own value system? A second criterion is the diploma your child will earn. Is it strictly national, or international? Will your child go on to university in your local country or study and live abroad exclusively?While foreigners in a host country will opt for an international education, local students may opt for a diploma that combines a national education with an international education, giving a student the best of both worlds—the culture, history, values of their country with the international mindset to study and work abroad. They will be competitive internationally, but also locally, if and when they return to their homeland. The third criterion is the school climate and the degree to which it is warm, enthusiastic and creative or more traditional or conservative? A school visit will help you to confirm.

What percentage of students enters their top choice university in their local country or abroad?

When a high percentage of students enter their top choice of universities, this indicates that the school has the ability to prepare students well academically for their final destination—their next stage of education.  In addition, you will want to know whether students receive career testing and guidance and university counseling. This is an important criterion that will support your child to choose their best fit career path and university program.

What percentage of students excels in relation to national or international standards?

The quality of academic standards of a school can be compared to average scores on standardized tests in relation to other local schools. Therefore a good question to ask is , “What was the grade average of student exam scoreslast year in A-Levels, IB or the national diploma?” The higher the score the more experienced the staff is at helping students earn higher marks.

What type of learning methods does the school provide that separates them from their competitors?

The way a student learns throughout his or her school life will influence what kind of thinker and problem solver he or she will become to manage the challenges of life and the world before them.  Some schools use traditional subject-centered learning methods that require rote learning or memorizing information to achieve high scores on exams with little critical thinking and creativity in learning. Students usually rely on extra tutoring to achieve strong exam scores and rely on teachers to confirm “correct answers” on exam questions. These educational methods are outdated and develop dependent learners instead of independent thinkers.

Student-centered learning approaches, on the other hand, place the student at the heart of the learning process and provide opportunities for exploration, inspiration, experimentation, research, the use of technology and development of innovative projects and activities that strengthen 21st century skills. Students learn to think critically and apply knowledge to solve problems and make decisions.  “Learning-by-doing” creates independent learners and thinkers who understand how to analyze and apply knowledge,  and rely on themselves and not the teacher for solving problems and overcoming challenges in the classroom and in life. Student- centered learning develops confident students.

What opportunities does the school provide for educating “the whole child”?

The answer to this question can really differentiate one school from another. The 12 years spent in school will dramatically impact what kind of person a student will become. The whole child approach to learning supplements academic learning with opportunities for a student to develop socially, emotionally, physically, artistically and ethically.   In today’s competitive globalized world, it is equally important to develop youth that are aware of their cultural identity while being global citizens with an international mindset.  Serving their community and supporting those less privileged develops compassion for others and civic responsibility.  Last, the ultimate advantage of a school is when they can address the unique potential of each child whether it is supporting learning needs, individualizing instruction, and accessing exceptional opportunities for gifted children. What activities, projects, excursions, events or programs can ignite the passion of your child? Is it a program for STEM, Robotics, Entrepreneurship, Environmental Stewardship, Community Service? Ask what activities the school provides that promotes the holistic development for your child.

How does the school manage problem behavior? Do they discipline or punish?

Growing up is not a linear process but rather a path of ups and downs, mistakes and failures,successes and achievements, joys and disappointments. Schools that address problem behavior with discipline and fairness and view mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow will have a more positive impact on your child. Punishments aggravate and belittle students. Discipline, however, teaches boundaries and life lessons on natural consequences of behavior, giving students the opportunity to repair, make amends and grow, with respect.Aligning the collaboration between the student, parent and school fosters positive relationships and best supports the child.

What is the quality of a school’s teaching staff?

Aside from parents and caretakers, teachers spend the most time with your children. Important criteria when evaluating the quality of a school’s teaching staff is to determine the level of their qualifications, experience in teaching the subject and age of your child, and their ability to create a warm, caring, supportive classroom environment. Often, teachers’ personal interests and hobbies enhance their creativity and inspire lessons in the classroom. A school that provides professional development for their teachers will ensure that teachers are incorporating best practices and new trends and teaching methods, such as technology, project-based learning and others that inspire learning.

Choosing the right educational system is the most important decision that you will make for your child.   Your child is unique and the school you choose will influence their personal identity and character, their critical thinking and decision making abilities, their view of the world and how to navigate themselves in it and the university system they will be prepared for and accepted to. As you visit schools and gather information from other parents, students and educators, it is important to make this decision based on what is important to you and your child. The decisions other people make for their children, may not be the best for yours.

Ellen Froustis, M.Ed., M.A. 
EIMAI - Executive Director
Regional Director PeaceJam Greece