A parent’s natural instinct is to always want the ‘best’ for their kids. When it comes to little, insignificant choices here and there, we are ready to compromise. However, with more important aspects such as schooling for example, our aspirations for them only keep getting bigger. And before we know it, we are part of the rat race.
Living in Dubai for over a decade has certainly taught me one thing – to see beyond the obvious. Hence, when I was on the look-out for an appropriate school for my daughter, I was more focused on picking the ‘right’ as opposed to the ‘best’ school for her (as much as for us). I had a firm criteria and I stuck to it. For the benefit of all others in a similar dilemma today, let me share this criteria with you.
- Distance: This was my no.1 consideration. I was sure I wanted a school within a 10-15 kilometer radius at the max. Some might argue that roads in Dubai are super and hence distances do not matter. Well, all I can say is that when you are responsible for the school drop offs and pick ups, when you have just had another baby or are expecting one or when you have to deal with temperatures of 50 degrees and above each time you step out , distances matter. They matter big time. Also, even if we were to assume that your little one is a ‘bus child’, it does not solve the problem. If distances are long, not only will your kids end up spending that much more time commuting, you will end up spending that much more money towards the bus fees.
- Money: As expats, we’re all here with a purpose. Earning a decent amount of money is good; spending it judiciously is even better. With schooling being generally expensive in this part of the world, I had the more mid-ranged schools in my radar. This also meant opting for the older, more established schools which was an advantage in itself. Honestly, there was a ‘brand new’ school in our neighborhood, almost at a walking distance and who in the world would not prefer that. However, new schools with their new set-ups have higher operating costs which ultimately translates towards higher fees.
- Ratings: Let’s get real – ratings matter. For sure, an ‘outstanding’ school is outstanding for a reason (or two) no matter what anybody has to say. Hence, in keeping with the majority, I did apply to a few outstanding ones which also fit the other 2 important criteria of distance and money. Having said that, keep in mind that while an ‘outstanding’ school may be that tad bit better than a ‘very good’ school; a ‘very good’ will be better than a ‘good’ which in turn will be better than a ‘weak’ or an ‘acceptable’. Get my point?
- Climate: A lot of us tend to depend on word-of-mouth reviews, but the ideal way to get the feel of a school is via a school tour. A tour is a one-time opportunity to assess the school – meet with its teachers, understand the teaching philosophy, look at the infrastructure, study its after-school activities and basically clear any specific doubts that you may have. I remember the time when I was touring schools back-to-back, to the extent that I even walked into the canteen for a tete-a-tete with a couple of students- so much for first-hand information!
- Curriculum: This was my least important criteria. The only thing I was not looking at was the Indian curriculum; as being based in Dubai, I wanted to give her a multi-cultural, international exposure. At the same time, I never did really mull over the British and IB curriculums either. In fact, my daughter spent a year in IB before moving on to a British set up eventually – but only because she got selected by a school which fit the first 4 criteria better. Based on my experience though, if I were asked to describe these two set-ups in a single word today, it would be ‘spontaneous’ for the IB and ‘structured’ for the British curriculum.
Another important thing – most Dubai schools are heavily over-subscribed at the primary level. Hence, try to put your applications in as many schools as possible. Fixed criteria or not, bear in mind that a lot of times it is the school that ends up selecting you rather than the other way around.
And finally once the choice is made, fees are paid and uniforms bought, one would think that the struggle is over. Not quite. Despite all the research that goes into selecting a school, sometimes the setting is just not right for the child. It could be the curriculum, the teacher or the student itself. Watch out for these red flags which indicate that the school in question might be an ill-fit for the child.
- Reluctance to go to school, well into the academic year.
- No signs of progress – whether academic, physical, social or emotional.
- No friends in school.
- Exhibiting symptoms of stress or fear at the mention of school – headaches, nail-biting, bed-wetting etc.
- Absence of initiatives on part of the school.
While this is a one-off case, it does happen to some. For parents of these kids, unfortunately it means that the ‘search must go on’.