December 13, 2017

What parents should expect from for-profit education

With the aim of diversifying the education sector in Myanmar, the private sector was permitted to establish schools that teach according to the curriculum and regulations prescribed by the Ministry of Education in 2012 after the enactment of the private school law. This initiative has resulted in three positive outcomes. It has expand parents choice regarding the education of their children, raised competition among schools enhancing education quality, and enabled the government to concentrate its resources on the section of the population that genuinely needs assistance with education.
This opening up of the education sector to the private sector has attracted many investors with various motives. From a financial point of view, the education sector is a growth area for profit generation as many parents living in urban areas and some affluent parents living in rural areas are in search of top-quality education for their offspring and are willing to spend a large portion of their income on it. From a social perspective, the education sector is an extremely attractive one for those with a strong desire to contribute to the intellectual, moral and physical developments of young people. From the faith dimension, education institutions create opportunity to strengthen religious faith from a young age and also win new converts. Hence, the opportunity to establish private schools has been taken up by many and the number is growing annually with private schools even spreading to smaller towns in the country.  Just as good government schools have their advantages, such as, the low cost of schooling, experienced teachers, effective discipline, egalitarian atmosphere and spacious grounds, so also good private schools have their advantages. They possess skilled teachers, effective heads and modern facilities, and can provide individual attention as they can limit the number of students.
Due to the high school fees charged by private schools, parents expect better results and better facilities. Busy parents who send their offspring off to private boarding schools, located  in the town or city where they live or in a different town or city,  also expect private schools to only take care of their children’s academic development, but also their social, moral and physical developments on their behalf. Some well-established private schools are able to live up to the parents’ high expectations and provide all-round development to their students, while others serve more as cram schools and are more concerned about examination results, as they serve as one of the main attractions for most parents.
With the new academic year about to begin, parents ponder on which school they should send their children to in the coming academic year and owners of private schools are advertising their schools drawing attention to their advantages.  Some of the ads centre on the credentials of the school owners. Some focus attention on the number of distinctions gained by the previous year’s matriculation students, some make the claim that students do not need to take tuition because of the good and comprehensive instruction they provide, some emphasize the qualifications of teachers, some point to the good facilities they have, and some stress on character and all-round development being instilled by their schools.
It must be acknowledged that all parents want their children to be outstanding in their education and to be able to gain high marks in their matriculation exam so that they can choose the subject they want to specialize in when they attend the university. We also know that parents are willing to spend as much as they can on the education of their children, even to the extent of undergoing great deprivations to do so.  But, should gaining high marks in the matriculation exam be the be-all and end-all of providing basic education to children?  Education after all is not just to prepare young people to study for a profession at a university.  Among others, education also trains students on promoting health, thinking skills, creativity, communication and social skills, making use of what they have learnt as a basis to carry out lifelong learning, asserting rights and recognizing obligations to society, living harmoniously with others in society, appreciating and accepting diversity, sharing and caring, being able to work together with others as a team and endeavouring for the progress of mankind and the protection of their environment. Hence, parents need to carefully observe whether the school they decide for their children are endeavouring to provide all the different types of training or just academic success, so that they grow up to be not just academically outstanding but also to be persons of good health, sound character, able to live in perfect harmony with their society and who can make positive contributions to its development. Moreover, parents and schools must provide young people with enough time for leisure, so that there is a good balance among work, play and pursuits of their interest in their young life.
Consequently, it is important for parents to consider the following points and not just how many distinctions the previous batch of students of a school got before deciding on which private school they should send their child to.
The first point is location. Whether the school is located in a good clean environment and not next to factories belching out thick smoke, or behind smelly markets, and whether it is close enough to the student’s home so that the child does not have to spend half the day travelling to and from school in order that he/she will have some time to relax are points to consider. So also, parents should definitely consider whether the school has a modern outlook and has set visions, mission and goals appropriate to the time, aims of the education sector and the needs of society, and see what they are doing to achieve them and whether they coincide with the parent’s priorities.
The next factor for parents to think about is the facilities the school provides.  In this connection, parents must ensure that both they and their children are getting their money’s worth. The school they choose for their child should provide children with modern facilities necessary to widen their general knowledge, carry out in-depth and practical studies of their school subjects, and develop their physical and intellectual capacities. Private schools should possess the standard facilities of a school such as, playground, gym, library, science labs, language labs, computer labs and assembly hall. Parents must demand that the school look like a school, be like a school, must have space enough to carry out the activities of a proper school, and fit for active, growing children. They must not be located in cramped rooms, apartment building or a series of unconnected apartments as they are schools and not tuition classes.
The next point for parents to consider is the academic programmes and extracurricular activities the school provides.  Parents should try to find out if the school covers the whole prescribed syllabus and not just the bits they consider important so that students thoroughly master the subjects they study and not merely those portions important for the exam. Moreover, as private schools are permitted to offer a few subjects in addition to the subjects prescribed by the Education Ministry, parents should find out if the additional subjects will be useful to their children in their future life, have a systematic syllabus and are taught by qualified teachers. In addition to the academic programmes, a school that seeks to offer comprehensive education should take their students outside the confines of classrooms and connect what they are learning with the real world. They need to hold sports activities, and competitions that promote communication, artistic and other abilities, and take children on school outings to learn about their surroundings, nature, people, culture, history, the work people do, etc.   Parents should also find out if the school also produces students who are outstanding in other spheres apart from the academic area such as sports, art, music, dancing and community service as these talents will play an important role at some point in the life of their children.
The next factor for parents to consider is the qualifications and experience of the teachers and the methodology they use to instruct. While there is no doubt that all teachers who are appointed in private schools will have the necessary qualifications and certificates, it must be pointed out that they must also have the understanding, skill and vision to impart knowledge and develop thinking skills from the lowest to the highest class using active student-centred methodology and relevant techniques while creating a joyful environment for learning, creating,
innovating, observing, imitating, practising and playing and refraining from using rote learning as much as possible and turning their classes in cram schools. Schools must also ensure that the knowledge, skill and methodology of teachers are constantly updated so that they are in touch with new developments. In addition, for teachers to serve as good role models to their students they must be innovators and lifelong learners themselves, respected for their knowledge, sincerity, honesty and high moral principles and loved for their dedication and service to their students and their community.
Another aspect that parents should be interested in is student performance. For parents to be able to judge for themselves whether the majority of students in the school are outstanding in both academic and other fields or only just a few, school must provide information to parents regarding the number of students taking exams, or participating competitions and their performance rather than just the number of those who have gained distinctions or won prizes.
The next factor that parents need to think carefully is the school fees. Parents must make sure that schools are charging fees in commensurate with the quality of teachers, instruction and the facilities they provide. Parents must also see that the fees are affordable to them in the long run as it is a financial commitment concerning not just a few months but many years.
Another important factor that parents must not forget to assess is the school atmosphere, as their child will spend about half of their waking hours at school and it is vital that their school provide a warm, friendly, happy, relaxed and supportive environment. There are two main groups of school citizens – students and teachers. It is important that teachers be kept happy and contented with an appropriate salary and various incentives as they are the driving force in not only providing knowledge but also in influencing the disposition of students.  Happy unbiased teachers will nurture students to become happy and balanced human beings and happy students will desist from bullying and tormenting fellow students and this will encourage all students to be happy at school.
Apart from the school atmosphere, it is also necessary for parents to find out about the character and behavior of students as they will have an important influence on the formation of the character of one’s child. Parents should observe whether students in the chosen school are well behaved, disciplined, obedient, polite, cultured, considerate, well-integrated, maintain their national characters, etc., or are spoilt, arrogant, boastful, disrespectful to their teachers, are inconsiderate and selfish, possess bad habits, have alien mannerisms, etc.
The final factor in measuring the quality of a school is the administration.  By looking at the outer appearance of the school and the grounds, one can get a rough idea of the quality of a school and the persons administering it. A look at the facilities and classrooms, the furniture and the teaching aids installed will give a better idea, and close observation of the teaching methodology of the teachers, students’ academic performance and the behaviour of the students both within and outside the classroom will give a better insight. All education institutions advance and decline depending on the calibre of the school administration, and together with it the quality of teaching and learning also rise and fall. Hence, parents need to judge the quality of the school head in order to ensure that they have enrolled their child in a school that is advancing and not declining.
Certainly, the establishment of private schools is to be welcomed as it promotes quality, choice, change, creativity and competition. To enhance the positive side of private schools and restrain their negative aspects, education authorities must ensure that parents and children are not being deceived through misleading advertisements by those whose sole aim is to make money, and that private schools strictly abide by set rules and regulations, and are inspected systematically and regularly to ensure their quality.  On the other hand, parents must also try to learn as much as possible about the school they intend to send their children to, and find out if the sole motive of the school they choose is profit, or for other more altruistic reasons. The kind of private school that parents should look for is one that is dedicated to raising its reputation, enhancing the potential of its students and making the society and the world a better, fairer, happier and more secure place to live while charging school fees that are reasonable.

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