Since 2007 when EducationWorld introduced the annual EW- C fore India’s Most Respected Schools survey, there’s growing awareness that public perceptions of schools is important as they influence parent/student school choice, attract best teachers, stimulate alumni/public donations and earn societal and government goodwill. Dilip Thakore reports
While undergraduate colleges, universities and B-schools are rated and ranked by numerous national and regional newspapers and magazines with monotonous regularity, despite K-12 schooling arguably being more important as it prepares and equips children for higher study, perhaps for Nehruvian reasons (the great man fatally defined higher rather than primary education as the national priority), this segment of the education continuum was an area of darkness until EducationWorld began rating and ranking the country’s primary-second-aries in 2007 (and preschools separately since last year).
Consequently over the past quin-quennium, public interest in the annual EducationWorld-C fore India’s Most Respected Schools Survey, which rates and ranks the country’s most high-profile day, legacy boarding and new genre international schools inter se based on the perceptions of over 2,000 knowledgeable sample respondents polled countrywide, is rising with each passing year. Even if somewhat belatedly, there’s growing awareness, especially within the community of school trustees, promoters, principals and administrators that public perceptions of schools under their stewardship are important as they influence parent/student school choice, attract best teachers, stimulate alumni and public donations, and earn official and government goodwill.
From the perspective of parents and the public as well, the EW-C fore annual survey of primary-secondaries serves the useful purpose of promoting institutional competition, and makes school managements and principals accountable for the rise or fall of schools in public esteem. Gone indeed are the days when school trustees and/or principals were monarchs of their little teaching-learning kingdoms with negligible external assessment and investigation. Today they are answ-erable at the bar of public opinion not only for their overt acts of omission or commission but also for intangible, below-the-line failure to fulfill the holistic education expectations of their parent and student communities.
Although in EducationWorld we are well aware that not a few school managements and principals tend to regard the annual EW-C fore India’s Most Respected Schools perceptual surveys as unauthorised, and unwarr-anted intrusion, in exercise of our constitutional right of freedom of speech and expression, for reasons enumerated above, we remain deter-mined to publish our annual league tables of the country’s top day, boarding and international schools in the public interest. The annual EW-C fore schools surveys and league tables are reformist in that they discourage complacency even in successful school managements and stimulate change and improvement year on year. We believe that concerted systemwide efforts to raise holistic education standards and delivery will not only improve teaching-learning outcomes in private schools which overwhelmingly dominate the EW league tables, but in government schools as well, on the premise that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Moreover, practicing continuous improvement ourselves, this year’s EW-C fore survey has refined the schools’ assessment and evaluation process by adding four new parameters, viz. teacher welfare and development; discipline and life skills education; disabled friendliness and community service while elimin-ating the reportedly confusing integrity and honesty, and admissions trans-parency parameters.
“Analysis of feedback relating to last year’s survey received from the public and particularly from the teachers’ community, indicated that school managements don’t sufficiently appre-ciate the need to cultivate faculty. By underpaying them, giving them huge classes to teach — which in some respectable schools could be as large as 75 students per section — and neglecting in-service teacher training which sustains their growth and development, an uncomfortably large number of school managements are demotivating and demoralising their teachers, which in turn negatively impacts student learning outcomes. Hence this year we have introduced a new parameter — teacher development and welfare — for assessing schools. Moreover, following widespread reports that students from top-rated schools tend to be snooty and ill-mannered and uncaring of the less privileged, we have introduced the new parameters of discipline and life skills education and community service as also the self-evidently important parameter of institutional friendliness towards students with special needs,” says Premchand Palety, promoter chief executive of the Delhi-based Centre for Forecasting and Research Pvt. Ltd which has been partnering EducationWorld for the past four years in rating and ranking primary-secondaries countrywide.
Promoted in the new millennium year by Palety, an alum of Punjab University and the Fore School of Management who cut his teeth in field-based market research with Market Development Research Associates Pvt. Ltd, Delhi where he served for over six years, C fore has been rating and ranking higher education institutions including B-schools for reputable publications such as Hindustan Times, Business India, Mint and Outlook among others, for the past decade.
Therefore in keeping with established practice, since May this year over 100 C fore field researchers interviewed a mix of 2,044 principals, teachers and parents in 16 cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Bhopal, Jamshedpur, Darjeeling, Shill-ong and Dehradun) who constituted a representative sample base of know-ledgeable SECA (socio-economic category A in terms of education and occupation) respondents. They were asked to rate 404 day, boarding and international schools within their more familiar geographical regions (north, west, south and east) on 14 parameters of academic excellence — teacher welfare and development, competence of faculty, academic reputation, co-curricular activities, sports education, individual attention to students (teacher-pupil ratio), discipline and life skills education, infrastructure, value for money, leadership/management quality, parental involvement, quality of alumni/students, disabled friendliness and community service. Schools assessed by less than 25 respondents were not ranked and have been eliminated from this year’s league tables.
“The ratings that each school recei-ved on the 14 assessment parameters were aggregated to arrive at a total score for each school, according to which they are ranked inter se in each category, i.e day, boarding and international. To make the findings more user friendly, the ten-point score against each parameter was multiplied by 10 and rounded to the nearest whole number. All parameters were given equal weightage except ‘competence of faculty’ which, given its criticality, was given double weightage,” explains Palety.
Despite not a few school manage-ments and principals harbouring reservations about the purpose and utility of the EW-C fore league tables compiled every year with incremental effort, expense and professionalism, many knowledgeable education professionals are inclined to endorse these annual surveys as effective messengers to parents, schools and communities.
“School managements and leaders tend to be very inward looking and unaware of developments in K-12 education in the wider universe beyond their school gates. The compilation, publication and ranking of league tables by external agencies which assess their education delivery performance against rational parameters of academic excell-ence serves the very useful purpose of preventing complacency and incenti-vising continuous improvement. True the league tables are based on perceptions, not facts. Therefore they shouldn’t be received as gospel. But public perceptions are important not only for individuals but for education institutions and hence should not be disregarded either,” says Vivek Ramchandani, the well-known Delhi/ Dehradun-based education consultant and former founder principal of the top-ranked The Shri Ram School, Delhi and hitherto the Nairobi-based advisor of the Aga Khan Education Trust.
From the viewpoint of parents — especially young parents — intent upon choosing the best schools within their budgets for the education of their children, the EW-C fore league tables are an informative guide. Contrary to popular perception, all parents aren’t looking for cram schools with excellent academic reputations. A growing number of them prefer progressive schools which also focus on co-curricular and sports education and equip school-leavers with well-developed life skills — including good manners — and social sensitivity. A close scrutiny of the EW-C fore league tables of 2011 indicates that schools which provide balanced, integrated education to develop the multiple intelligences of students, have moved up in the rankings, surpassing schools reputed for single-minded pursuit of excellent board exam results.
“Ideally the EW-C fore rankings should be a combination of facts and perceptions. But if that’s not possible for whatever reason, public perceptions are a reality and therefore a broad indicator of the perceived strengths and weaknesses of education institutions. As such they are a useful guide for shortlisting, even if not selecting, the most aptitudinally suitable schools for children,” says Anand Sudarshan, the Bangalore-based managing director and chief executive of Manipal Universal Learning Pvt. Ltd (aka Manipal Education), India’s largest private educ-ation transnational which comprises over 55 education institutions with an aggregate enrolment of 125,000 students spread over four countries.
The notable feature of the fifth consecutive EducationWorld survey of India’s most respected schools is the seesaw jockeying for top position among day, boarding and international schools which have been topping the EW-C fore league tables for the past four years. In this year’s day schools all-India league table, The Shri Ram School, Delhi which after a two-year reign had been pushed down to second position last year, is back on top with Cathedral and John Connon, Mumbai, which was ranked first in its sesquicentennial (150th) year in 2010, pushed to second spot and the Mallya Aditi International School, Bangalore (joint second last year) into third position which it shares this year with the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan (PSBB), Chennai. Significantly, there’s a razor-thin margin of one point in the aggregate scores separating the three top-ranked schools.
In the league table of legacy/traditional boarding schools as well, the top 10 ranks are occupied by the usual suspects except that the alternate-style Rishi Valley School, Chittoor which was co-ranked first with The Doon School, Dehradun (TDS) last year, has been ranked solo first this year, reflecting a clear shift in public preference towards new age boarding school education. TDS and Mayo College Girls, Ajmer (ranked third in 2010) are jointly ranked second and Welham Girls, Dehradun (fourth in 2010) third.
Likewise in the league table of new genre international schools, there’s been a rearrangement of rankings with the vintage Woodstock School, Mussoorie (estb.1852), regaining its head position on the top table. But the real winner is the Indus International School, Bangalore (IIS, estb.2003) which has broken the monopoly of former siblings Woodstock and Kodaikanal International School (estb.1901), alternatively ranked first and second for the past five years. Co-ranked second this year, IIS has seen a remarkable rise in public esteem given that the school is less than a decade old.
The publication of the EW-C fore India’s Most Respected Schools Survey 2011 comes at a critical time in the history of Indian education when there is rising awareness within society of the vital importance of QEFA (quality education for all), especially in India’s 1.26 million primary-secondary schools. Ironically despite the Union and state governments between them having promoted and running 1.25 million primary and an estimated 60,000 secondary schools countrywide, the highest ranked government-run day school (excluding army, air force and public sector corporation schools) is Kendriya Vidyalaya at IIT-Bombay, ranked 166 followed by several other KVs at the fag end of the list of the country’s top 321 day schools. Altho-ugh the Planning Commission holds out the 952 Kendriya Vidyalayas managed by a Central government-promoted trust as models for all government schools, quite obviously the country’s SECA middle class which appreciates and values high quality education to give their children a head-start in life, is unimpressed by them.
Yet government-funded schools can be managed efficiently provided they are not directly controlled by the Central and state governments. This is proved by the high ratings and ranks awarded by sample respondents to the Union defence ministry’s Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun (ranked 7th among boarding schools) and the Army Public School, Dagshai (11).
There’s a mine of information in the pages following our much-awaited annual survey and cover story in which we present detailed national, regional and parametral ratings and rankings of the country’s most well-known primary-secondary schools, whose manage-ments are now thoroughly seized of the importance of continuously improving teaching-learning and standards in education defined in its broadest sense. If the top 321 best schools — and mere inclusion in the league tables makes them the country’s best — rated across 14 carefully chosen parameters of education excellence and ranked inter se, set their hearts and minds on contin-uous improvement of their perceived infirmities, K-12 education nationally will receive a huge qualitative boost.
This denouement will undoubtedly impact school education beneficially, as upcoming primary-secondaries in search of excellence can draw upon the institut-ional development experiences of India’s most respected schools.