In choosing school, learn from students

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 June, 2011, 12:00am


Choosing the right school or curriculum for a child is understandably of much importance to all parents. But how do you make a good choice? Pragmatic factors such as financial affordability and school location are valid concerns. It is disputable, however, whether an overseas curriculum is necessarily superior to the local system.

After years of local reforms and with the newly introduced senior secondary curriculum, students are now exposed to wide-ranging learning experiences - a prominent trend in today's world of education.

'Local schools offer many extra-curricular activities. As for making a decision, it depends on parents' goals for sending their child to a particular school,' says Cheng Kai-ming, chair professor of education at the University of Hong Kong.

He agrees that in the vast majority of cases, parents want to get their children into a decent university. The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme has an advantage, he concedes, because it is recognised by universities worldwide as almost a guaranteed benchmark for quality.

'It offers broad learning experiences which are included in its assessment system. That is very important,' says Cheng, adding that local schools that adhere to the reform path would not be worse off.

In selecting a school, he advises parents to check on the history of the institution, such as its graduates' university admission rates, and to consult the views of other parents, such as those with children enrolled there. A strong reading culture is an 'accurate indicator' of a good school, Cheng adds. 'You never see a school with a strong reading culture turning out to be a bad one.'

For those eyeing the IB curriculum, he dismisses concerns that it may be too tough and demanding for some students. 'In countries like Finland and Norway, all students learn from that curriculum. I can't say whether or not all can benefit from it. No one knows because the claim has not been put to any test,' Cheng says.

Neither does he think that students switching from one type of curriculum to another - for example, from local to IB - would have major adjustment problems.

There is no doubt about the prominence of a broad curriculum in today's world. It is almost inevitable for students to cope with studies and other activities at the same time, Cheng says, so it is important for them to learn to set priorities and manage their time. Rather than telling their children when to do what, parents are advised to leave the choice to their children. 'People learn through experience. Children should be given the opportunity to manage their own time,' Cheng adds.

Dr Harry Brown, the principal at Renaissance College of Hong Kong, emphasises the importance of independent problem-solving skills and the ability to work with others.

'With easy access to online information, there is a need for us to work together as communities to solve problems,' says Brown, who worked in the education sector in the United States for decades. 'Research shows that the brain makes connections by being active, and the way to make it active is to give someone a problem and say, 'Solve it yourself.' The more a brain is activated, the more engaged learners are,' he says.

'Learning is the ability to go ahead and gain something from new experiences - to make connections. People who are really smart can make connections between things that the ordinary person does not see. Those are the connections that employers want to see, the connections that win Nobel prizes.'

Duc Luu, chief executive of The Edge Learning Centre, says parents should listen to their children more to identify the most suitable training for their kids, the avenue that best develops their talents and potential.

'It's a choice of what you want to do as a parent and what your child wants to do and what skills your child are showing. Parents should listen to their kids more,' he says.

'It is always a good idea to start exploring that and providing the right opportunities for a child at a young age,' he adds. 'You can tell his or her tendencies and interests at a young age and nurture them. Their interests may change two years later, but parents can open as many routes for them as possible.'


Advice for parents

Listen to your kids - they know themselves best

Give them a chance to make their own decisions

Listen to other parents' views and experiences

Look into the history of your target schools