The Strengths Inherent in Small School


PARENTS today have a range of schooling options to explore for their children which can sometimes create a confusing myriad of questions and concerns. There are big schools, small schools, religious schools, and even home schooling options! As you visit several of these schools in your decision making process, it’s important to note the ‘cultural feel’ you experience as you enter each campus – since this will be reflective for how your children will also respond. On visiting the larger schools you would be immediately impressed with the facilities and services these campuses have on offer, further overwhelming the decision making process for parents as they grapple with their concerns of: Will my child develop to their full potential in this large environment? Will they be able to cope emotionally and academically with a large campus and numerous teachers? Will they receive individual attention at this school?

Smaller schools have a distinct advantage over larger campuses as they typically serve a community nucleus and often present as intimate learning environments. In several countries, including America and Australia, there is a distinct movement towards regenerating small schools, particularly within city environments. Much of the research focusing on small schools is published from America. On perusal of the research available the following conclusions are most common in their summative findings:

• The size of the school does not inhibit personal interaction – but encourages it! Small schools invite strong community support from parents and outside community members, as well as enhancing working relationships among the school staff. Students readily develop relationships across a range of ages and in small schools interact frequently outside of their immediate peer and age groups.

• Morale and self esteem in students is higher in small schools as they are generally exposed to more opportunities to develop public speaking and leadership skills as they encounter a greater diversity of situations.

• A greater sense of belonging and pride in the school community is reflected in the student attitudes, and as a result students are less likely to create discipline problems.

• Teachers have a stronger and more personal relationship with their students as individuals, and often are familiar with family backgrounds fostering stronger cooperation and partnership between students, parents and teachers.

• Relationships between administrators and teachers can be more personal, fostering an increased tendency for cooperation amongst staff.

In smaller schools students feel valued as the ‘centre’ of the school, since there is less bureaucracy, and scheduling can be more flexible to accommodate changes to timetables and instructional activities which enhance student learning outcomes. During a recent enrolment at ACG International Jakarta Campus it was comforting to hear a parent commenting, “I want my children to be known by you (Principal) and their teachers. I want them to be known as individual students!” In small schools administrators are more likely to spend time out of their office and be with students thus developing a stronger bond in the relationship between students and administrators.

Small schools therefore should not apologize for their size. The strengths inherent clearly support the characteristics and practices often associated with research findings regarding ‘effective schools’. The challenge they face centres around how to capitalize on the many advantages of their ‘smallness’ in order to maximize student learning outcomes and therefore provide the best quality education possible. Students in selective small international schools in the greater Jakarta area are beginning to reap the benefits as some Principals collaborate to achieve this outcome.

During the last two years Principals of local international schools began to meet regularly to share common information and practices and gain benefits from working collaboratively together. This network has recently formed the JAIS – “Jakarta Association of International Schools” comprised of: ACG International School – Jakarta, AIS – Australian International School, BIS – Bandung International School, ISB – International School of Bogor, NJIS – North Jakarta International School, NIS – Netherlands International School, NZIS – New Zealand International School, SIS – Semarang International School, SIS – Singapore International School.

These schools are combining their resources to gain benefits for professional development purposes, and increased educational and sporting activities for students. The Principals meet regularly and teaching staff are beginning to network closely for professional opportunities.

A recent combined sporting event was held in Kuban Raya Botanical Gardens in Bogor which proved extremely popular with both students and parents. Secondary students from ACG and AIS also enjoyed a social evening together with their teachers, and a collaborative. Art Project is in progress. Events are scheduled for the remainder of this year with a calendar of events for the new academic year already underway.

In summary, parents need to seriously consider the benefits of small schools for their children, and Jakarta now has excellent choices for them to select. (William Xue)

Jakarta Globe, November 17, 2009