The Anxieties of Starting A Child’s School Life

Dear Mr. Parkinson,

My older son is about to turn three, and we are looking at various schools in Delhi where he could apply. I have been keenly following your blog, and am very impressed with the education philosophy that you (and others) have put to work at Shri ram. I had some specific questions, that I was hoping you could provide some perspective on:

(1) I notice that you are now working towards a school that will follow the CBSE curriculum. In your view, what are the strengths and weaknesses of CBSE compared to ICSE?

(2) Shri ram school is one of the few schools that prefers children to be 3.5 before they join at the entry level class. Given that many countries in the world delay formal schooling till even later, do you think 3+ is too young to send children to school. And if a child is January or February born, they will be 10-11 months younger than their classmates. What effect can this have on confidence etc., as there is bound to be some disparity in fine motor skills etc.

(3) How do parents find out information about schools. It is such an important decision, and yet, there is such little information accessible on each of the schools, and how they differ from each other. For example, Vasant Valley, Shri ram and Sanskriti are regarded as some of the best schools in Delhi – but I am sure there are major differences in educative technique etc. How do parents find out about things like this. I notice that Shri ram has an elected student council which is very different from a nominated set of student leaders. This is normally something that happens in college, and I am sure its introduction at the school level must engender a sense of responsibility. Why does Shri ram prefer this system?

Look forward to your views.



Hi Aman,


You have really asked a number of very critical questions that go to the heart of the issues for all parents choosing a school for their child in the Indian scenario.

I will try to give answers that do your questions justice;

1) On the CBSE vs ICSE question, I don’t want to draw enemies as people’s views do tend to be quite polarised! However, a few general observations. Firstly, and examination Board has the onerous task of sitting in judgement and claiming that they KNOW what knowledge a young person will need to succeed in the world in 10 or 20 years from now. I would not want to be in their shoes as I can say in all humility I don’t have a clue what a person will need to know in that time.

There was a piece of research about 2 years ago that suggested that when we look at elementary age children today, 65% at least of them will do a job that we haven’t even invented the name of yet!

Of far greater significance than the Board a school pursues is the way they transact the syllabus. Both ICSE and CBSE tell schools what the destination is. Neither of them really tell schools what route to take to get there. To my mind, the route taken is critical and all important. We are even seeing many IB Schools in India whose routes to learning border on the traditional and veer away from the transaction methods IBO would wish to see,

2) The age that children start school here is a historical accident, for which you can blame us British! Children in UK also start far earlier than in Continental Europe.

We have to live with reality as it is, rather than as we might wish it to be. If children are starting school early, my own personal view is that we must resist all efforts to fill their days with learning lots of STUFF! The early years should look and feel more like a Playgroup than ‘school’.

I hate to see those schools who believe (usually for marketing purposes to impress parents) that it’s necessary to mug the younger children up on X number of colours, Y number of fruits and Z number of vegetable names. Whilst parents do get swayed by such things it’s no excuse – that is mugging, pure and simple.

As regards your child being amongst the youngest children in class, you only have to have read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” to be aware of all the risks. When parents are making such decisions their focus tends to be very short term. I wish much more attention was paid to the longer term. Especially in the case of boys, we have to think not just about where the child stands vis a vis their peers today, but where they will stand later at age 14, 15, 17 or 18. If your son, at that time lacks the maturity of his peers, quite simply there is a serious risk that his efforts towards studies will mean he achieves performance well below his potential. In today’s world that can have big consequences. In the future, I hope the consequences will not be as great, but still the child will have built a hurdle that will require hard work, character and a lot of self-belief to overcome.

A piece of research published not so long ago (I think in The Lancet), stated that most children born since 2000 in the developed world (and I think that includes our children in Metro india) have an above average chance of living to 100. I live in hope that as more come to realize all the implications of this we will see less haste in education and a greater inclination to let the youngest of children take on their learning at a pace that’s consistent with their individual neurological development (instead of forcing things along as though they are hot house flowers).

3) I’ve heard this question raised by many parents confronted with the challenge of wanting to do their research on schools as thoroughly as possible, but struggling for accurate information. Over the years, most have relied on word of mouth, giving most credit to respected sources. However, this was never completely ideal, so I think it was a good thing to see a website emerge that seeks to fill this gap: Admissions Nursery . This hyperlink will take you to the website that contains lots of information, shared by parents just like you (and sometimes supplemented by representatives from the schools)

Good luck in your search. My one final thought would be not to get too anxious. When it comes down to it a child still has the lion’s share of their waking hours at home and not in school, so you and family will remain the biggest learning influences in your son’s life!


4 Responses

  1. this is a post that a lot of other parents should read!!

  2. Hi. The Kunskapsskolan model of one size does not fit all and each child must progress through a tailor made curriculum at a pace that works for them has some similarities to the approach Mirambika follows (Mirambika might be more unstructured). What is your view on Mirambika as a school and do you think exposing the child to that model of education in the first few years till class 4 or 5 could help develop another part of the child that other mainstream schools may not focus on too much. Also since education in many countries in Continental Europe starts only around age 6 one does does have the flexibility of trying a different approach to start with and then moving the child to a model like Kunskapsskolan if they open in Delhi! and have had a few good years behind them which I am sure they would as the philosophy sounds very good OR to move the child to another mainstream school at that time. Does Kunskapsskolan start at age 6 in other countries? In case it does, what do you plan to do in the first three years in India as a model for that would not exist in that case? Your views on all the above are highly appreciated.

    (Another Aman not the one who wrote the super post above!)

    • Hi to this Aman,

      Wow, there are quite a few questions wrapped up in that one post. Some of them might necessitate far longer explanations and a greater understanding of the perspective from which you’re coming, so might be better answered personally through a visit to the school.

      On the subject of comparison with Mirambika there are both similarities and differences in my opinion. I am most certainly all in favour of any education or upbringing that gets children close to nature. One of the biggest reasons our environment is at massive risk is an ever growing proportion of the population who feel no connection with nature or understanding of the natural world in anything other than theoretical constructs. It’s much easier to destroy something you don’t love!

      Mirambika works with a high proportion of trainee interns. This has pros and cons. they are giving their efforts selflessly, but at times may lack the professional training and acumen required in a structured education environment.

      One way i take issue with the ‘system’ as it has evolved in India, is that we’ve arrived at a situation where people are ready to embrace wholeheartedly holistic, sensitive, child-centric education at the Primary School level, but then once a child moves to Middle School their priorities change and they switch to varying degrees to models of education that look little different to those practiced 30 or 40 years ago.

      If i was a child making that transition from class 4-5 to 6-7 quite frankly I would feel cheated and that parents and educators had conned and tricked me. Howard Gardner’s work on MI doesn’t somehow stop applying to me because i reach the age of 11. Sir Ken Robinson wasn’t just talking about the needs of Under 11’s. The reality is that all the evidence backs the fact that our young people need and want humanistic, sensitive learner-centric education throughout and can thrive and succeed as a result, academically as well as in a whole variety of other ways.

  3. Good info. Lucky me I recently found your website by accident (stumbleupon).

    I’ve saved as a favorite for later!

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