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Triin Lauri – Should the Parents Choose the School for Their Child?

14.02.2017

Should the parents choose the best school for their child, or should it be appointed centrally? Studies show that the way elementary school seats are allocated has a direct effect on the study success of the children – in a wider perspective, this could even be seen as a key question in educational justice, says lecturer of public policy at the TU School of Governance, Law and Society, Triin Lauri.

Why is that? Generally, children go to the school that is near their house. The increasing layering of the cityscape has brought about a situation, where schools in the same area can have very different levels of quality. Both the variation of the level, as well as the parents’ wish to choose the best school themselves has depleted our belief in the common school.

Thus, more than half the children in Tallinn are initially signed up for a school further away from their home. To be accepted to this school, the parents are willing to pay for pre-schools and hire tutors. Pre-schooling as a business and the competitive factor of starting school both thrive. Thus, to have a better chance in being accepted to a ‘good’ school in Tallinn, it is best to have financially successful parents with higher education.

There are situations where schools choose the children and parents, not vice versa. The result is a winner-takes-all solution, where the winners are a few schools with the best pre-schooled children and the best teachers. Such an accumulation of advantages is achieved on the account of other schools and children. The ever-increasing gap between schools translates to a loss of the general level of education in the country.

What to do about it? How to distribute the seats in a school in a situation, when the location is not an argument, but rather brings about inequality? A comparative study conducted in several European countries shows that the option to choose your children’s school might not automatically mean an increase in inequality. Although, this only works when school choosing policies are handled configuratively. This means limiting giving the option only to certain patterns. This way, the most important element apart from the choice itself would be limiting the choice through central application requirements. This would help keep tabs on the social essence of education. Another important element is favouring multifaceted schools, as only then can the choice have a deeper meaning.

Thus, it is possible to arrange school-choosing in a way that gives the parents the option to choose, but at the same time control the dangers of inequality. As we saw, the question is not whether to keep the option, but how to handle and govern the choosing policies.

If we want all children, irrespective of their domestic background, to have equal access to good basic education, we cannot rely on a model that is based on the ambition and success of the family. This would punish the children whose families are not like that. This would also diminish our general level of education.

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