What to consider when choosing school

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CORONAVIRUS IMPACT

It is this time of the year when parents and students should start preparing to join the school life once again.

In Dubai, the school life is different than in other countries, due to the transit nature of the city and majority of its population. Students change schools more often and the qualities of particular academic establishment, the location and the fees are considered and re-considered by parents on the annual basis.

According to Afra Al Qamzi from Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority, currently in the city are already available 13 curriculums, such as Indian, American, French, English and more. The rich choice makes it hard for parents to take a decision where to enroll their children. Therefore, we have put up together few criteria to help our readers make the right choice.

1. In Preschool: Relationship Between Teacher and Student

The connection between child and teacher is more important than any curriculum. The 3- or 4-year-olds are accustomed to being surrounded by loving people, their parents and siblings 24/7, and school is their first time spending a large portion of their day away from those people. Therefore the preschool teacher should be very engaged. Parents can have a conversation with a prospective teacher about their current classroom. Teachers should be able to speak about individual students’ strengths and weaknesses and be well informed of their background, interests, emotional and academic achievements. The ideal teacher takes great pride in his or her students’ progress and is consistently open to their improvement. It is advisable to avoid too authoritarian teachers, who are barking orders and being very harsh with children.

To meet these criteria, parents should consider the reputation of the school, if any of the teachers have made the news for inappropriate behavior. For example, teachers employed by Repton school in Dubai are often mentioned for various offences in the local media and even records for some of them can be traced online back in their home countries.

2. The Early Years: Letters, Words, Books

Children should be surrounded with words, especially in the early years. Parents should look for books in the classroom and be sure the class makes regular visits to the school library. Teacher must set aside lots of time for reading, reading instruction and storytelling. In the preschool and kindergarten years, many teachers are also providing the building blocks for learning to read. They should focus on syllabication, e.g., “B makes the ‘bah’ sound”, and therefore, plenty of supportive materials should be visible in their classrooms.

3. Math cannot be afterthought

From the first days of school, children should be exposed to math concepts. From preschool age, math concepts should be introduced to children, as a certain kind of math ability seems is innate in all humans. Parents should expect to hear teachers discussing basic math concepts with students from preschool class, words like greater than, less than, bigger, smaller and reinforcing the number concept.

If as a parent one didn’t like math or it was not good at it, it is advisable not to share this with his or her children. They can pass an anti-math sentiment on to the young students and hurt their chances of success. Math is not a talent as good singing voice, but it is a skill to develop. The ideal teacher should express a great deal of enthusiasm about math and stimulate children.

4. School Breaks

There are some primary schools built without or with very small playgrounds, based on the idea that more instructional time means more learning. Such schools should be avoided, as children need downtime – a ten or twenty minutes break from academic activities. The same is valid for pre-school and high school students.

However, breaks should not be excessive, but balanced and follow routine patterns. Parents should be aware of schools that overdo with the breaks and leisure activities and follow the academic calendar strictly. At Repton school in Dubai, for example, complete school days are dedicated to movie screening, various exhibitions or entertaining trips to Atlantis waterpark. The presence of many such leisure activities indicates that the school’s policies are not built on academic principles.

5. Teachers matter very much!

Excellent teachers teach more and can even accelerate the rate of learning among their students. If the school takes pride for it’s schools champion, it means that great teachers have grown them. Parents should look for schools that provide teachers with seminars, instruction and discussion of best practices. Serious schools do not treat their teachers as interchangeable cogs. As for example, at Repton school in Dubai, parents can often find out that the substitute teacher from year 5 is teaching geography in year 6, while the humanity teacher in the same year was last year teaching math.

Parents should ask how the teacher has been prepared for the academic year. What kind of additional training did they receive over the summer? In many European countries, it is a mandatory for teachers to possess university diploma in the subject they teach, in addition to their pedagogic education. During school tours, parents may ask questions such as, “How do administrators evaluate the teachers?” and “How often are classroom lessons observed?” Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask teachers where they have completed their undergraduate studies and what they studied. Teachers who graduate from more selective colleges get better results out of children.

6. It’s not all in the name

There is no colloquial designation that guarantees quality. The word public or private does not mean the school is a success. There is no uniformly great private school and no uniformly great public school. There is no easy name as “outstanding” or “acceptable” that you can gravitate toward that will allow you to suspend judgment. The public school down the road could be just as good as the private school that costs AED 60,000 a year.

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