Bay Farm Elementary School in Alameda where our children were enrolled at the time of relocation (2010 May) was considered among the best public schools in its category in California in terms of API state rankings. In fact, our prime concern in relocating was how the children will adapt to the totally different Kerala environment. To our pleasant surprise, the new school experience was an unbelievable upgrade and they thrived in their first year. When we scouted for school options in the Kochi metropolitan area in the 2008 time frame, the nearby options were Rajagiri Christhu Jayanti and Marthoma Public School, both in Kakkanad. It is a given, getting admission to these schools involves a certain level of influence, especially when enrollment is sought for grades other than the first grade. One can still apply, but openings come by only if currently enrolled students’ leave for whatever reason or they add a new division for a particular grade. At least, that was the impression imparted to us when we visited these schools. Further, the prospective students are subjected to an assessment test in language and science skills. Our kids stood no chance in acing these, for they had zero training in Indian languages (Malayalam and Hindi), French or Special English. Most students trying to relocate from the USA is faced with this classic dilemma. Rumor has it that with the right kind of influence and money, one can easily get into most of these schools, but that is uncharted territory for us. Our next option was to seek admission in one of the many International Schools in the vicinity. The well-known ones are Choice School, Global Public School (GPS), and Dawn Public School. We focused on GPS for two reasons:
- Being a newer school meant little more ease in getting in
- A friend who relocated few years earlier recommended it.
This compares to around Rs 15K and Rs 20K respectively for annual fees at Marthoma Public School and Rajagiri Christu Jayanthi respectively (2010). Choice Schools was around 25% higher compared to GPS overall. GPS offers both CBSE, and ICGSE options from grade 9 onwards.
A number of factors contributed to the kids preferring GPS in Kerala to the schooling in Bay Farm Elementary School in the Bay Area. Below is a summary:
- The staff at GPS takes at-least a peripheral effort to keep the students and parents content. While this is true at Bay Farm Elementary too, as it is state run, the establishment functions pretty much as a government organization with woeful service levels.
- Teachers at Bay Farm survive on volunteering from parents. In a wealthy community like Bay Farm Island, where parents who do not need to work for a living are aplenty, this cry for help is a welcome outlet. Hence on any given day and time, it is normal to see two or more parent volunteers in the classroom. While this may be considered a blessing by many parents, the downside is the immense pressure on families where both parents work – it is hard to put in volunteer hours but if you don’t, you run the risk of your kids feeling left out. Besides, there is no reason that a teacher responsible for a small group (20 students) needs hand holding in doing her job in the classroom – makes one wonder why employees in other fields are not incapable of doing their own work??? Parent volunteering thankfully is a foreign concept at GPS. We checked with the kids specifically on this aspect and they expressed relief that parents are absent in their school space.
- As with most public schools in the Bay Area, a single teacher is responsible for a class at Bay Farm Elementary. The students are subjected to the same teacher for all subjects throughout the school year. The downside with this approach is that many teachers give priority to their area of expertise when teaching. For example, if a teacher is inclined towards Art, invariably that is what the kids in her classroom will learn most. GPS, on the other hand has a teacher for each subject. When questioned on this approach, the kids expressed their appreciation in being able to interact with different teachers throughout the school year.
- The facility and the environment at GPS was a big upgrade to the kids. They loved the fact that swimming is part of the curriculum, being foodies they relish the decent breakfast that is provided to all, and the two-hour optional extra-curricular session were students can choose to train in two activities throughout the school year.
- At GPS, covering the curriculum and following standardized testing procedures is mandatory. While this is theoretically true at Bay Farm Elementary too, in reality only a small percentage of the material is covered in class, claiming students are having a tough time with the rest. The net effect is that a small section of the students who can learn on their own or have access to other resources surge ahead while the rest are fed a hodge-podge of selected topics. The issue is further worsened as students are not required to own textbooks – the pricing for new textbooks are upwards of $70 and as such only a handful of students ultimately end up purchasing them.
- Since GPS is a private enterprise, teachers have to perform. This is a big change compared to teachers in Bay Farm, a public school – in effect, there is zero accountability, although efforts are being made to change this. Most teachers are geared towards teaching perfect kids. The notion of being a perfect teacher to kids of different ability is an unfamiliar concept to most of the staff and parent volunteers.
1. Global Public School (GPS) vs Bay Farm Elementary - Comparative Review: R2I - Schooling for Kids.
2. Global Public School (GPS) - Three Year Mark Update: R2I - Schooling for Kids.
Last Updated: 04/2013.