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shutterstock_182445968A few years ago I vis­ited Cam­bod­ia. The high­light was a trip to Siem Reap to see the largest reli­gious monu­ment in the world, Angkor Wat. This temple com­plex, ori­gin­ally Hindu, then sub­sequently Buddhist, is the cent­ral fea­ture of the Angkor UNESCO World Her­it­age Site, con­tain­ing the mag­ni­fi­cent remains of the Khmer civil­isa­tion. Built in the early 12th cen­tury when Europe was still in the Dark Ages, this mag­ni­fi­cent monu­ment is on a breath­tak­ing scale, with an out­side peri­met­er of 5,500m and intric­ate stone sculp­tures, some of which, sadly, were dis­figured by Pol Pot’s trig­ger-happy sol­diers, who used them for tar­get practice.

Explor­ing the site, I happened upon two girls of primary school age sit­ting in the ruins, writ­ing with a pen­cil stub in an exer­cise book. It turned out that the older girl was help­ing the young­er one with her arith­met­ic, and they were both totally focused on the task. It was explained to me by my Khmer hosts that the vil­lage school was nearby. This, I dis­covered, was a simple can­vas can­opy with a well-worn black­board at one end and, facing this, long wooden benches. The teach­er, a Buddhist monk, was on hol­i­day and there were no adults in sight. How­ever, the stu­dents had come to school any­way. To please their teach­er, they had cleaned and tidied up their classroom without super­vi­sion and now were out in the play­ground hap­pily impro­vising a game of hacky sack with a jandal.

This incid­ent stuck in my mind. These chil­dren had so little but they clearly were mak­ing the most of the edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tun­ity they had been giv­en. Yet with only 34 per­cent of Cam­bod­i­an school-age chil­dren attend­ing lower sec­ond­ary school, it would be dif­fi­cult for them to advance their edu­ca­tion bey­ond the primary years.

In stark con­trast, young New Zeal­anders have so many oppor­tun­it­ies avail­able at each step of their edu­ca­tion­al jour­ney. Wheth­er they will make the most of these is depend­ent on them hav­ing a pos­it­ive atti­tude to learn­ing and the sup­port of their teach­ers, par­ents and whānau. A class is com­prised of 20 or so indi­vidu­als, each with a unique set of abil­it­ies, needs and atti­tudes. The chal­lenge is to find a school in which each child learns best and where par­ents feel there is a clear align­ment with their val­ues. Make the right decision and this could lead toward a pros­per­ous, healthy life and a suc­cess­ful career, as all of these pos­it­ive out­comes are strongly cor­rel­ated to high edu­ca­tion­al achievement.

The 2014 school year is only just under­way, yet for those par­ents with sons or daugh­ters trans­ition­ing from primary or inter­me­di­ate school, now is the time for you to con­sider school enrol­ment for 2015. State or state-integ­rated or private? Exten­ded primary or inter­me­di­ate or com­pos­ite? Loc­al school or one out of zone? Wel­ling­ton stu­dents are for­tu­nate. In this region, where people are bet­ter edu­cated than the aver­age New Zeal­ander (46 per­cent of people here aged 15 years and over hold a post-school qual­i­fic­a­tion, com­pared with 40 per­cent nation­ally), there are many school­ing options.

So how do par­ents go about choos­ing a school where their child will thrive? Here are some tips. Par­ents need to be pro­act­ive and do some research. On the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion web­site is a check­list entitled ‘Choos­ing a School’, which provides some help­ful point­ers, in par­tic­u­lar about data you can gath­er. Most import­antly, par­ents and pro­spect­ive stu­dents should vis­it schools, walk around the play­ground and classrooms, and get the feel of it them­selves. Talk to the prin­cip­al, the teach­ers and staff. This is the only way you can get a feel for the cul­ture of the school and find the best fit for your child.

Carol Craymer

Carol has an MA in English from the University of Canterbury and has been principal of Queen Margaret college since 2004. Prior to moving to Wellington, she was assistant principal at Orewa college and deputy principal at Takapuna Grammar. However, Carol is not all about 'dotting the is' and crossing the t's'. She has also worked for Radio New Zealand as an announcer, acted in England in a theatre troupe touring schools and raised two daughters.

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