Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Get educated about your choices.

The end of the term is upon us, for those with kids and those at Uni, this is the time when we all start to wind down and re-charge for another exciting term ahead. The next one is always the most interesting, it's the last of the year. Will the report cards or academic results be good ones? Will the results reflect the talents and struggles of the entire year accurately and will they be worth the pain of an entire year of study, new subjects and insular discussions?

This is also the time of year when parents with young children start thinking about the future of their babies. There is no information out there for parents and it is really difficult to find out what you need to know about schooling and education for your child.

Here are some tips and pointers.

When do you enrol in Kindergarten? When you are pregnant.

I kid you not. The Kindergarten at Edmonton is full to overflowing and the waiting list is hundreds long. Most other Kindy's have the similar waiting lists. Why? There are a few reasons.

Firstly, there are only 40 - 50 places in each Kindergarten. These spots are prized in the community because of their rarity and the act of just placing your name on the list comes with a $10 non-refundable price tag, not much I know, but those little bits add up for the centres and make a tidy little sum.

Next, Kindergartens are rated amongst parents, the same as elite schools and some have more social impact than others. I accidently enrolled my son in one of the elite ones and discovered that I was soon the envy of many, just because it was the nearest one to me and I got in on time. There are some new Kindergartens opened in long day care centres and schools in Cairns. One in Redlynch at St Andrews, and one in Forest Gardens at ABC Tamarind Gardens. The latter program offers fully qualified teachers, the same Kindergarten curriculum and better fee structures than the others, but the numbers are so low they can't fill a room.

The Cairns Post featured a letter recently from a mother who was concerned with the lack of places in Edmonton and she was angry that the Bligh Government promised to expand Kindergarten services and haven't. Not true. Only a few kilometres down the road she will find the ABC centre and there are plenty of available places. The real problem with filling the spots is the stigma that comes with a Day Care Centre. I have been in there and the place is clean, friendly, well staffed and the staff are enthusiastic about the Kindy program, I liked it so much that it's where my youngest will go in 2012.

Once you have gone through the angst of finding a place, securing the spot and paying through the nose for a years worth of Kindergarten, the attention of every parent turns to Prep.

By the time you are into March of the previous year, most spots are full at the private schools and the catchment zones for the public schools are shrinking, eliminating choice for most parents.

So, how do you choose a school? Do you aim for the closest? What if there are three in your suburb to choose from? How expensive is private and can you afford it? Is the public system rubbish?

The best advice I ever had was to make an appointment at each of the schools in your area, do the 'tour' that they all offer, and pay particular attention to the library. Is the library big enough to allow for further enlightenment if your child wants more information on a class topic? Is it equipped with new technologies and are staff trained in how to use them? (You would be suprised to discover how many 'smart boards' are sitting in libraries unpacked because nobody knows how they work!)

After the library, investigate the schools 'community' feel. Do they participate along with the wider community in events and activities? Do they reward students who are community minded? Teaching a child to read, write and add up are not the only important things in life. They are vital, but so is learning how to actively participate in the real world, learning respect for others and simply 'getting along' with people of different cultural, social and ethnic backgrounds. Ensure that the school you choose fosters this.

Public v's Private. In all honesty, just try and choose a school that suits you and your children. Some private schools are very expensive and can cost up to $3000 per term which puts them out of reach for most. Catholic schools sit at around the $450 per term mark, making them cheaper than Kindy or Day Care but still out of reach for some. Do not try to struggle along, falling deeper and deeper into dept over school fees believing you are giving your child the best start in life, because you aren't. While Education is extremely important, so is a childs social development and sporting pursuits. If all of your money is tied up in the school, you will have none left to give your child a 'rounded' education. Besides which, most schools are good ones. The public system is actually a very good one (contrary to popular belief) and do just as good a job as the private schools. Maybe a private school would suit your needs better. It's a personal choice as well as a financial one.

Do not use the My School website as the basis for your choice of school. By all means visit it if you wish to. Have a look at all the details they put on there, but be aware that actually walking into a school and getting a feel for the place will give you much more information than the numbers in rows on a website.

Lastly, take note of who your child is. Do they require additional assistance with speech, gross motor skills, been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, Aspergers, Autism, or anything else that may impact on their ability to learn. You will find, (I did) that even public schools differ in what they direct their additional funding toward. This is mostly dictated by the needs of the broader community around that particular school and may mean that the closest school, is not the best one for your child.

We have a child who is 'outside the box' and it took three goes before we got the right school. At one we didn't even get past the initial interview. They were very upfront about their lack of facilities in the areas we required for our daughter.

Whatever you choose, also know this; teachers come in all different shapes and sizes (literally AND figuratively) and you can choose the school, but you can't choose the teacher. You can pay a fortune for education and still get a bad teacher. You just have to grin and bear it really, but make sure any complaints you have are directed at the Principal and not other parents. Often teachers are trying their best and are unaware there is a problem with your child. They are only human.

So....Enjoy the final term for those of you with kids already at school, start studying up on your options for those who don't, and get out over the next two weeks, meet some other parents and enjoy the school holidays!!

1 comment:

  1. I Like this - Made my day... becuase you made a mention of uni students... only if we had a break Study Vac ( week long break) = Study Catch up :)