Friday, 19 September 2014

How We Chose The Big School

The Big School is our nickname for the school that The Little Girl has been confirmed for Reception come January 2015. It will be quite a grand start to the new year, as you can probably foresee by now.

I will share what we did in our limited experience of selecting The Big School:

Firstly, schedule a school tour, interview a teacher who is free to speak to you during the appointment, observe the students during class/recess/games/assembly. Walk the entire school ground, observe security measures, rate the cleanliness and safety/HSE plans. We did, and we made notes! We took photographs where permissible. We asked to be shown the fire escape routes, emergency plans, fire drill frequency and safety assembly points.

Secondly, there are reviews and resources available online and offline that can help narrow down your choice. Join support groups to find out parents' perspective and experience. Meet and speak with other parents who already have children studying at your choice school to gauge. Listen to their personal encouters and mentally assess if the schooling routine/calendar and lifestyle are within your comfort zone.

Thirdly, research the books and materials used in each of the education system. Libraries, school bookshops, general bookstore. How accessible/affordable  are those books and materials? Are second hand textbooks available? Are online resources  updated?

After narrowing down our candidate schools, we further asked ourselves the following:

1. Syllabus
We were firm on following the Cambridge/British syllabus as we have family in United Kingdom. In the event we choose to relocate, having a syllabus not alien to the kids will hopefully offer a smoother transition, and less culture shock.

Honestly speaking, the English-Bahasa Melayu pendulum for Science and Mathematics, new education blueprint etc have shaken our core. We are not 100% comfortable, especially when national level major examinations' questions can be leaked so easily, passing rate graphs speculated to be flexible, and students polarised according to race and religion.

The Other Half studied under the Malaysian KBSM syllabus with UPSR, PMR and SPM before moving on to a twinning programme with a British university. He disliked the regurgitation style offered by his local alma mater and refuses to let his children suffer the same limitations to ideology, approach, methology and pedagogy. What a mouthful! 

I went through my UPSR, SRP and SPM and scored "stellar" results by being an all rounder. Prefect, school cooperative president, choir and music club president, librarian, Leo Club secretary, and some other clubs too, all helped to hone leadership and membership qualities. Sports were offered (except swimming which is such a basic life skill and should be introduced!).

Sometimes, I do wonder what happened to The Other Half as he comes from a supposedly urban school in bigger city with better facilities? I am truly blessed as  the Convent I was registered at had high standards and still does till today. It is a shame though as I am not moving to my home state!

However, I realised too that I had only really emerged as a person of my own right at my Year 12 New South Wales High School Certificate. My TER Ranking was 84.5 and that reflected my (limited) abilities and talent without having to memorise much. I came face the differences between learners/students and thinkers/memorisers. It was a huge shock and major adjustments had to be made in the short 9 months I was preparing for my Year 12!

My law degree is from a British university, where some form of memorising of case law was required but facts are facts, history is history. Memorising is part of the deal. The differentiating factor is in writing opinion. I found my British friends who may not have cited as many case law and sections of the statute but were able to articulate their opinion and views concisely, astutely and almost professionally scoring the 1st class and Upper Second Class. I worked hard but only deserved a Lower Second, proving that critical thinking is crucial at tertiary level. Some of my friends who could not adjust within the short 3 years were awarded with Third Class and General Degree which prevented them from reading The English Bar, much to their dismay!

That, my lovelies, boils down to early education. I am not saying British syllabus guarantees a first or upper second class. I am saying the cognitive experience, thought process, outlook of life in general and technical approach differ, and a wholesome early education crossing into formative years of a child,  is crucial. 

Personally, I feel that British and Australian system shifts a person from a reader into a thinker. I can only vouch for these 2 as I have not experienced other systems first hand. Having said that, some of my smartest girl friends graduated from US, Japan, French and Canada education systems!

2. Location 
Closest possible to home is my choice but alas, circumstances beyond our control changed slightly and we are going to a temporary campus before moving back to the newly renovated campus. For the long term, we are budgeting for a family home closer to campus when everything is more certain and the dust has settled. I am going to need a lot of prayers answered regarding finding a suitable home close to school as property prices have escalated over the years (and will probably continue to appreciate).

Carbon footprint, escalating fuel and toll costs, commute time, alternate drivers in case of emergency, drivers' allowance and salary...please factor those in. 

3. Fees
Reasonable fees within budget and ability for at least 11 years. Projection of inflation, fees increment and cost of living. I was sleepless for many nights, and one day Allah swt did answer my prayers in the form of an education trust fund. Thank you Allah swt! Still, we must work hard to meet escalating primary, secondary, tertiary and post-graduate fees.

In fact, you may consider placing your savings for your children into managed funds such as Amanah Saham Didik or its equivalent for this special purpose. If your principal sum is substantial, the dividends yield may be withdrawn to settle school fees. 

4. Networking
The schoolmates I grew up with are my closest friends now. I want the same for my kids, and want them to cherish such invaluable, trustworthy friendships for life. Never underestimate the power of links and connection of a good and strong alumni.

5. Culture and Tradition
Many people I know do not consider this point at all and were surprised when I raised this point. My family feels that culture and tradition that are not against our own faith in Islam are the threads that weave the fabric of our lives! We are multi-racial family to begin with, so this is a point close to home. 

6. Moral Studies and Religious Studies
We did not even want to consider schools that do not offer these as options. The Other Half and I know how tough it is to pay good fees and still not be able to find reliable Ustazah. We had tried and tested external Ustazah and know for sure we require a school that offers Islam as a subject.

In conclusion, I sincerely hope that some of the above points will benefit you when it comes to selecting the right education system/school of your choice. Only you can decide which will work best for you and your child. Good luck and have fun hunting!


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