When school envy strikes, ask yourself if the class is really greener

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am


I was quite happy with my daughter's primary school until last week when I visited my friend's son's school. It was really lovely and spacious with lots of expensive equipment, and now I am wondering whether I made the right choice. Is this kind of second-guessing common?

A successful education has many features, and the dynamics among the various elements are very complex and often hard to evaluate. There is no doubt that a bright, comfortable and even colourful environment is important, as it can set a high standard of general presentation that can translate into high standards of student work and achievement.

Space is also important. It can be difficult to learn in a cramped, uncomfortable environment where distractions may detract from students' ability to concentrate and get the best from lessons. We all prefer to feel comfortable in our work environment to be as productive as we possibly can.

You do not specify details about the physical conditions at your daughter's current school, but it is important to remember that, although a pleasant layout and high-quality equipment can indeed have an impact, it is likely that the quality of teaching and the effectiveness of the interactions between teachers and students will have a greater impact.

When you chose your daughter's school, you will have done so for a reason (or number of reasons), and whatever they were, they will still be valid. And the fact that, until this recent development, you have been quite happy with your decision indicates that you probably made the right choice at the time with the information you had.

All schools have strengths and points for development, and there will never be a perfect combination of all aspects of any educational establishment, either in theory or in practice, because different elements are more or less important to individual students depending on their needs and preferences.

Raising this question will now enable you to re-evaluate your original choice of school. It is often the case that parents lack some of the necessary knowledge and experience to know what really is important for their children's education and to evaluate the credentials of the dazzling array of choices facing them when their precious charge embarks on their lifelong educational journey. All too often, parents simply accept what they are given once they have chosen a school and are resigned to the fact that their child now has no option. This is not the case.

Of course, it makes no sense to just chop and change. Consistency is important, and parents need to be aware that no school is excellent in every respect, but it does no harm to keep a child's education under review and to make a change should it prove absolutely necessary and in their best long-term interests.

Now that you have witnessed your daughter's experience at her current school, you will be more able to judge the advantages and disadvantages there and be able to make a reasoned review based on your daughter's strengths, needs and requirements.

A fabulous learning environment is very welcome, particularly in a place like Hong Kong where space is at a premium and sports and recreational facilities are highly valued. However, none of these things is any guarantee of a good education. Every school should strive to do its best with whatever resources it has available and try constantly to provide the best conditions for its students and teachers, but there is no substitute for committed, professional staff and motivated peers who are expected to produce consistently high standards. Some of the best schools in the world in places where resources are scarce know that education is, at the end of the day, an intellectual endeavour driven by curiosity, problem solving, inquiry and passion, and can be as successful in an open field as in a state-of-the-art facility with central air conditioning.

Carpets, cafeterias and curtains are all very nice and definitely should not be dismissed out of hand. But look beyond the surface and dig deeper to see what a school is really like and you won't go wrong.

Julie McGuire teaches at a Hong Kong primary school