With September finally here and school soon in session again, for newcomers to Qatar – or those with young children enrolling for the first time, choosing the right place of learning can seem insurmountable when you’re new to the country. However, there are certain areas of consideration that shouldn’t be compromised – making it easier to parents to make the right choice for their child.
Bill Clinton’s advisors famously helped him focus by telling him “It’s the economy, stupid”. For parents, without a doubt the most important thing to focus on is “It’s the teachers”! Are the teachers from a wide range of countries? For example, Ireland in particular produces excellent international teachers. What professional development opportunities does the school offer for teachers? For example, does the school sponsor teachers to do Masters Degrees? Do teachers cooperate with teachers in other schools or, indeed, teachers in other countries? Does the school allow you to actually talk to teachers when you’re being shown around? Do you get to see inside actual classes during a lesson? Do the teachers’ own kids go to the school?
As confusion reigns over the place of A levels and their changing curriculums and levels, research shows that University admission tutors believe the International Baccalaureate (IB) is the best curriculum for preparing your child for post-secondary education. IB students are less likely to drop out, and are seen by universities as well-rounded students who have the organizational and academic skills to cope with the jump to university education – an adjustment that many A level students find difficult. The International Baccalaureate organization has a rigorous quality-control system; an IB School normally means a good school.
Does the school truly believe that all children can succeed with support and hard work, or do they just pay lip service to this? The acid test is to ask whether they set by ‘ability’ in Mathematics. If they do, they don’t truly believe every child can be good at Mathematics. Incidentally, most research suggests that ‘setting’ doesn’t work, and in fact harms the progress of most children. Ask how ambitious they will be for your child.
Does the school have links with other organizations to enrich their curriculum? Do they have a vibrant music program? Do the students do STEAM projects highlighting skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics? Are they on the cutting-edge of these developments? Again, many schools will say they include these aspects – but what evidence is there that they’re acting on this?
Does the school have a diverse range of students from a variety of backgrounds and countries? If you’re looking for an international school, how ‘international’ is it really in terms of its students and teachers? Does it have an international, inclusive curriculum like the International Primary Curriculum or IB Program?
Providing that the facilities are at least adequate, I believe this is the least important aspect. Many parents are blinded by state-of-the-art facilities and, only later, find out that the school they’ve chosen doesn’t develop teachers, or labels their child, thus stemming their potential.
Look beyond the gloss and the marketing and try to understand how the experience of learning will be for your child. At the end of the day it’s teachers working with children that make a school successful – not bricks and mortar, or concrete and glass.
Simon Porter is the Times Educational Supplement ‘Subject Genius’, and our Director of Learning.
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