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Lessons to learn

india Updated: Nov 15, 2009 01:18 IST
Sumana Ramanan

Sumana Ramanan,
Senior Editor

Many readers appreciate HT’s series on schools, but some find the rankings problematic.

Hindustan Times’ Mumbai is currently carrying a series on Mumbai’s schools. For those readers not following the series, it has three parts. The instalments of each part appear only on weekdays, except for the first week, which had six instalments, with the last one appearing on Saturday (yesterday).

The first part, published over the past week, presented rankings of schools in different zones of the city and overall; the second part, which will unfold over this week, consists of profiles of schools that made it to the top three positions in each zone; and the third part describes major trends in school education in the city.

The rankings consisted of one overall table of the city’s top 50 schools, and subsequently of the top 10 in four zones that make up the city and in Navi Mumbai.

Not surprisingly, the rankings have elicited a spate of letters. Thanks to all those who took the trouble to write in.

Many readers thanked the newspaper for undertaking the series, especially during peak admissions time. But some were also upset. The majority of these readers were upset because schools they were associated with, either as teachers, administrators, parents or ex-students, did not make it to the rankings, while the remaining letters objected to the survey’s methodology.

I understand how frustrating it can be when a school one is associated with and knows to be a fine institution is left out of a major survey like this one. I’d like to assure those who have written in that almost all of those schools did figure in the first round of the survey, which listed, in no particular order, roughly 25 of the most reputable schools in each zone.

Most of them fell off the final list because of the survey’s methodology. What was that? As clearly mentioned in the small introduction above the tables and described in detail below them, the survey was a perception-based one.

The second sentence of the introduction states that the survey “encapsulates the sample’s collective impression about schools.” Then, beneath the table, where the methodology is outlined, the first point states the same thing, adding that the survey “does not necessarily reflect what it (the school) necessarily offers.”

More important, I think, are arguments against the methodology because those are about fundamental principles and not specific institutions. Below are what I believe to be valid suggestions from readers so far:

A perception-based survey has limited value because it reflects the prejudices of a small sample of people. The newspaper should do an information-based survey.

My response: The next time, the survey should involve schools and obtain concrete information about them in order to generate a set of criteria.

The schools should be separated according to board.

My response: I agree. It is indeed unfair to compare an SSC school, which has to cater to students from a whole range of socio-economic backgrounds, with an international school, whose students uniformly come from privileged backgrounds.

The survey should make clear that it is only surveying English-medium schools.

My response: I completely agree. There are, after all, some excellent vernacular-medium schools.

The survey should include a separate set of rankings for Thane.

My response: Again, I agree because the region is rapidly growing and already has a clutch of excellent schools.

Having said all this, I should add that even a survey based on a set of objective parameters will spark debate about whether the parameters themselves were well chosen. After all, there are a myriad views about what a good education amounts to. For instance, are good board exam marks the result of real learning or drilling? Doesn’t classroom diversity help learning of a certain kind and should that not be a factor? Is a school merely a service provider or a social institution?

The point I am trying to make is that, at the end of the day, which school a parent decides to send his or her child to is a deeply personal choice based on what his or her view is of what constitutes a good education and what he or she wants for the child. As a result, any survey should be viewed as only one among many inputs that parents use to make their decisions.

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