Top 10 questions parents must ask when choosing a new school

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Like the rest of the world, there’s no denying that online and hybrid learning will continue to accelerate in South Africa. However, with so many learning options to choose from, it’s essential that parents and learners thoroughly research the reality of what is being sold to them by prospective schools. 

Before Covid19 even existed, Teneo Online School was strategically established in 2018 as a means to take South African education into the digital sphere, removing physical boundaries and connecting learners with qualified, experienced teachers. Today, with over 9 000 students and 520 teachers, Teneo Online School remains the leading live online school offering 18 hours of structured, live classes per week, as well as recorded sessions for students looking to have a more flexible schedule or who wish to repeat a class. Teneo is in good company, as countless hybrid and online schools have surfaced since the pandemic thrust blended learning upon us.

With more parents and learners now seriously considering online school as an option, it may seem as though each school is offering something others cannot, which can be confusing. Jackie Cook, veteran teacher and Chief Operating Officer at Teneo, shares the crucial questions parents must ask when researching any school, including online ones.

10 QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN RESEARCHING A NEW SCHOOL:

  1. Are the children at the centre of everything the school does? 

Parents must question if their intellectual, physical, social and emotional wellbeing are considered.  

  1. What is the vision, goal, philosophy, culture of the school? 

What does success look like to the school? Is their 100% pass rate the school’s selling point, or are they looking beyond that to what success looks like for a student’s tertiary education?

  1. Is the school a safe space for everybody – physically, emotionally, socially and mentally?

Safety is important for cognitive and intellectual success and it’s difficult for children to focus on learning if they are running in “survival mode”.  An established school with good communication will have processes, procedures and resources in place to ensure each child’s safety. 

  1. Will my child be encouraged to measure themselves against their own interests, aptitudes and abilities? 

It is important to determine if there is a balance between challenges and realistic goals that are personalised to each child. Will children be given realistic goals and ways to measure their progress and growth? Will quick learners be challenged at a level that holds their long-term interest ? 

  1. How much live/social interaction is incorporated into the daily life of the school?

Schools are schools, whether they be online or physical, and human interaction and social skills are essential life lessons. If you are considering an online school, find out exactly how many hours of live instruction time the learners get, as this is an important factor that relates to the extent of social interactions with teachers and classmates. Are all the lessons pre-recorded so the child works at their own pace? How are learners encouraged to do group projects and tutorials? All of these questions will help you choose the school that will best suit your child. 

  1. Are teachers experienced, qualified and SACE registered? 

There is no substitute for a passionate subject specialist who encourages life-long-learning because of the example they set. In a live class, an experienced teacher can identify whether a student is not understanding something based on facial expressions, body language or “off-the-cuff” discussions. They then have the ability to change tactics to ensure the concept is understood before moving on. This is hugely important, as many children benefit from being “caught out” in this regard, as not every student is comfortable asking questions in class. This technique helps in ensuring no child gets left unnoticed. 

  1. Are teachers considered the primary educational resource, and how are they supported to do their jobs well? 

Simulating learning experiences using avatars, quizzes, gamification and other interactive activities appears to be in fashion. These tactics may be fun and memorable, but they are not in line with how the children will be assessed at the end of the day, so ensuring that teachers are still the predominant educational resource is essential. 

  1. Are teachers familiar with the requirements of the curriculum and moderation tactics? 

Adequate assessment is one of the biggest pillars of any good school and this involves extensive pre-moderation and post-moderation techniques which ensure that the correct levels and standards are maintained. Are teachers given frequent training and support in achieving these standards? Is the school accredited with a legitimate examination board? How many teachers are grade 12 sub-examiners, examiners and markers?

  1. Are parents viewed as a vital part of their child’s learning journey? 

When parents are actively involved in their child’s education, we often see improved results. Find out the level of involvement the school requests and how parents are included, informed and given feedback. Is there transparency, and do parents have a clear idea of what their children are learning?

  1. Are there proof points? 

Are there any student stories in the news? How long has the school been going? Is it a new school, and if so, have their first batch of matriculants written yet? Did they walk away with the same National Senior Certificate (NSC) accredited by Umalusi? How were their marks? These questions are a good benchmark to determine whether the school is assessing students adequately.  

Conclusion: Digital school today for digital work tomorrow  

Selecting the right school for your child requires some research, as you’d like to enrol them somewhere they will be comfortable, challenged and ultimately, thrive. At the end of the day, we send our children to school to prepare them for their future. Today, that future is digitised. Your child may start their first job from the comfort of their living room one day. 

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