Friday, January 27, 2012

Which education system is better for your child

There are many school education systems. If one were to try to evaluate them, one would get lost in mountain of data and still not make sense of it, because it would require expertise to understand the variables. There are too many education systems to choose from.

Some of the well known one's are Calvanist method ( also called as traditional schooling because it is the most popular), Progressive education ( originated by John Dewey) , Transcendental method (that originated in Europe ). There are more than 20 alternative methods of education that are less popular, but equally effective. Some of the well-known are Waldorf system (originated by John Steiner), Montessori system ( founded by Dr Maria Montessori), and Reggio Emilia system (named after a city in Italy where educators started these different kind of pre-schools after World War II).

But all these complexity can be reduced to manageable levels by evaluating these different systems on two axis: purpose of school education and teaching style used in school.

Purpose of education ( Development versus learning-centric approach )

The two distinct purposes of an educational system are either to assist development of a student's personality or encourage learning of language and other subjects. This does not mean that a system is only development-centric or learning-centric; it only means that the primary focus is on one of the purpose.  To understand more about the development-centric and learning-centric purposes, please read this.

Although all development-centric schools focus on the development of students, schools vary in their development approaches. Some schools, for instance, believe in using religious education to develop children. Examples are schools of Catholic, Jews, Muslim and other origins. Some schools believe in developing moral code without using religious orientation such as Carden ( founded by Mae Carden) and Core Knowledge schools ( founded by E.D Hirch). Some like Waldorf focus on developing student's artistic talents. Montessori schools focus on developing personality of students primarily through enabling 'concentration'. 

Learning centric schools, on the other hand, focus on the academic rigor, content-rich curricula and emphasis on basic skills of reading ( also sometimes called as total reading) writing and arithmetic. Traditional schools, which are seen in plenty, follow this approach.

Both type of schools have their pros and cons. Generally speaking, development-centric schools are difficult to 'manage', because of which they are less in number. Development-centric schools sometimes tend to 'overvalue' development at the expense of 'learning content/knowledge'. Parents should remember that 'Learning' and 'development' are not inversely proportional to each other; infact right kind of learning promotes development. Therefore, if developmental school ignores 'learning', that can be dysfunctional. Montessori school systems have an ideal mix of development and learning incorporated in it.

Learning-centric schools similarly by overvaluing learning, do not encourage students to develop qualities like patience, concentration and social skills, which are universally acknowledged as the ills of today's traditional school. Learning-centric schools try to patch up developmental qualities by adding extra courses like emotional intelligence or Sex education, but this practice does not produce desired result ! It only misleads parents in believing that their children are also 'developing'. To understand how important is design of 'teaching environment', see how Montessori designs its environment for developing one quality in a child; social skill.

Teaching style( Teacher-driven versus student-driven)

The two distinct styles of teaching are teacher-driven versus student-driven. Teacher-driven approach of teaching promotes teacher-paced learning done according to the strict time-table, curriculum, and prepared text books. Teaching is done to a group of similar-ability students. Assessments are done on the basis of tests. Obedience, conformity, and silence are actively promoted in the students to ensure learning happens at the pre-determined pace. Grades are used for facilitating competition.

Student-driven approach of teaching, on the other hand, promotes student-paced learning driven by his/her  needs. Teaching style is meant to facilitate every student to learn from his own actions, also called experiential-based learning. Teaching therefore is done either in a group of multi-age students, because it promotes inter-student learning ( also called as cooperative learning). Feedback is multi-dimensional instead of one dimension of 'marks'. Grades are meant to provide feedback to the student instead of promoting competition, so that the student learns his mistakes.

While development-centric schools are compelled to use student-driven approach of teaching, learning-centric schools are seen to use teacher-driven approach. Although this is a general rule, it is not universal. For instance, Waldorf school follows development-centric approach through teacher-driven approach of teaching.

Learning-centric schools, because of competition, follow a hybrid-mix of teacher and student-driven styles. For instance, I know of a school in Bangalore which teaches a subject in a very 'cooperative learning' mode where students are encouraged to talk on a subject before they are given a 'standard work paper'. Some learning-centric schools also follow a experiential-learning method, for instance, in science subjects.  Many schools are seen giving high importance in developing 'artistic talents' where courses in sculpture are also conducted. Some schools like International Baccalaureate (IB) schools, challenge gifted students to take advanced courses of a college level that are recognised around the world as a sign of high academic achievement. Grades, which are now banned by Government, may hopefully help these learning-centric schools to develop better multi-dimensional scale of assessment, which until now has been based on single-dimension.


Given the nature of education today, it is imperative that parents consciously chose the education system for their child, instead of blindly taking admission in a school that is closer to your house. I am aware that  the above first-cut evaluation is just a first step in understanding 'what is on offer' in education. A more detailed  evaluation of a system may be required to seek detailed answers of a specific method, ferret out wheat from chaff, and arrive at a more 'fit' for your child. More importantly, as each school is unique, one will have to ask more questions to find if the 'target school' is indeed delivering the results promised from the education system it is following.

If you are interested in knowing about a specific system of education, such as IB, Multiple Intelligence or Foxfire, please write your query in the blog comment. We shall attempt to provide you the details in reasonable time. Or else please keep coming back to this blog for more information. 

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