Evaluating the School

In 1980, a team of four Jesuits conducted an evaluation of Loyola School. Three years later, the school published the report’s extracts in Loyola School Souvenir, a 134-page publication to raise funds for acknowledge funders of the Silver Jubilee block, which was then under construction.

Here are excerpts from the 2 pages of extracts in the souvenir.

The admission policy of the school is to select the students on the basis of an entrance test. However, Catholics and close relatives of the Jesuits and of the School’s employees, and children from the immediate neighbourhood are admitted independently of ranking.

The School grants the following fee concessions: (1) Free education to the children of Loyola’s employees, (2) Half or Full fee concession to about 60 students, the norms for selection here being the economic backwardness of the parents.

The School has a sufficiently well equipped library and laboratory. The library has over 7,000 books. The School subscribes to 20 periodicals and newspapers. Rs 10/- per student is annually spent in the library. Every week 100 to 150 books are issued to the students of Stds VI to X. In the library, book shelves are kept open and are ascessible to students.

The standard of discipline is rated very good in respect of both staff and students. There is a remarkable atmosphere of freedom and fearlessness prevailing among the students. The whole campus is also remarkable for neatness and cleanliness, as well as a sense of decency and courtesy in behaviour. Wall writings and things like that are not to be seen anywhere. Smaller boys have no need to fear bullying by bigger ones. Smoking is unknown. Corporal punishment is not allowed.

What immediately strikes one about Loyola is that here there seems to be a conscious, systematic and consistent pursuit of certain goals. Imagination, ommitment and drive seem to characterise the school’s leadership. This is shown in every aspect.

It goes without saying that in terms of academic achievement Loyola must be given Very High rating. The contribution of the School to educational thinking, taken in a broad sense, through its bold experimentations innovative programmes, (and numberous seminars by the Principal to as many as fifty schools and parent groups) must be considered significant.

Nearly 90% of the respondents characterize the School as outstanding academically and in discipline, and about 25% as Fostering creativity and critical thinking.

The souvenir presented these extracts with the heading “Know the School Better”. Three things struck me:

1. All the extracts showed the school in a positive light. I’ve quoted only a few here but there was not a single sentence in the others too about any weakness or discomfort in Loyola. Didn’t the entire evaluation report have any? If it had, why were such points not published in the souvenir?

2. The article did not give any details about the team of Jesuits that conducted the evaluation. Were all four working in Loyola in 1980? 😉

3. The evaluation was conducted in 1980, and extracts of the report were published in 1983. Even when published so late, no information was shared on how many people of different groups (Jesuits, teachers, parents, students, old boys, outsiders) were surveyed.

It could be that the entire report was placed before the Parent-Teacher Association before publication in the souvenir. There are several missing pieces and I hope more facts will come to light to clear the air. Till then, let us examine the revealed bits.

Earlier, while writing about politics in Loyola, I mentioned the Jesuits trumpeting their virtues, sometimes with good reasons. Prior to it, in the context of LA Fest, I had sneered at the culture of whitewashing that plagues recent school magazines. Read along with the publication of 1983 (of the evaluation), I discover that the school has a history of practising “Ashwathama hatah”.

Such reluctance to tell the whole truth surprises me. If the school stood out in the early 1980s (in Kerala, if not in India) it was rooted in an honest and critical look at existing practices, and challenging of entrenched beliefs. The stopping of corporal punishment, for instance, would not have happened if all were busy sweeping stories under the carpet.

On the bright side, the extracts in the souvenir reveal that an evaluation took place. I do not know whether it was a regular practice of the Jesuits. But elsewhere in the souvenir, we learn that staff evaluation and planning started in Loyola in 1979. It is remarkable for a school to have a culture of self-evaluation. I remember that a few days into every academic year, a lengthy staff meeting was held. Students played to their hearts’ content for hours. Looking back, those afternoons benefited us off the sports field too.

Or did they?

“Staff planning and evaluation” still exists for sure. This is what happens when some visionary kicks off a good practice; people follow it as a tradition.

The spirit of the evaluation — to look critically and constructively at one’s own practices — must be applied to the evaluation process itself. The school can, for example, widen the scope of the evaluation. How about including parents, teachers, old boys, students and outsiders in the evaluation in 2008? Will the school lose more than it might gain?

Re-read the extracts from the evaluation of 1980. There’s not a single sentence there that helps a good school think ahead. Its publicised findings are a listing of outcomes of reforms initiated between 1976 and 1979; they contain no insightful reflection to take the school forward.

Could it be a coincidence that the school, in terms of education, eschewed reforms and went into ‘maintenance’ mode soon thereafter? New Principals and Vice-Principals — many of them good individuals — came and went but none took the school to noticeably great heights. They focused on strengthening the hardware: facilities such as a mosaic basket-ball court, a rebuilt tennis court, a large playground, or a large auditorium. I suspect that it took their attention away from the software: education, curriculum, training and other invisible, yet key domains. Maybe the school needed a good dose of hardware then. Maybe it needs a similar dose of software now.

The new auditorium of Loyola School - opened 2008

I often hear old boys say “Oh! Loyola is not such a good school these days. My neighbour, whose son is in Loyola, tells me…”, or “There is no longer an emphasis on extracurricular activities” and so on. From the other corner, I hear current students and those who passed recently speak highly of the school. Each of us consequently has pet theories and grouses grounded in anecdotes than any fact, or meaningful survey.

Schools, like firms or organisations, have to improve their services, not just to compete with other schools but also for society’s progress. I believe that a Great School Campaign is needed, and that it should begin with trying to understand the school today. The first step could be an honest and critical assessment conducted by a mixed team (of Jesuits, teachers, parents, students, old boys, and outsiders). After sharing that report with the public — yes, the school is embedded in a community and non-Loyolites too have a stake in Loyola — the old boys should institute endowments, promote alumni participation in school activities or do whatever emerge as action points. Old boys, instead of pumping money in a fit of nostalgia, should behave responsibly with meaningful interventions.

In 2008, the Parent-Teacher Association, with its deep stake in the school, should initiate a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of the school. That way, when Loyola celebrates its golden jubilee three years from now, the school will have a blueprint for life after 50, not merely a glossy, colour brochure patting itself on the back. The school will benefit more from a gutter inspector’s report than another round of whitewashing. Let us not turn the clock back to 1980.

Can I ask for 2 minutes of your time this month? Please participate in a 2-question survey on the Great School Campaign. Poll open till 28 March. Results will be announced on 30 March 2008.

Update! Results of the 2-question survey are now available.

15 Comments

  • When it is a publication to raise funds for the Silver Jubille block, can we expect them to highlight the weaknesses of the school brought to light by the survey? 😉 .

    I guess there needs to be a bi-annual (or 4 yearly) survey which needs to be conducted with an intention of being able to measure how far we are progressing towards realising the dream of becoming a “great school”. It should be an unbiased publication made available to students, old boys and the rest of the junta.

    For that we need a vision statement (or do we have one? 😉 ) and the effort in realising this goal has to be a bottom-up one.

  • I agree that ideally an evaluation should take place which is more inclusive in nature. Practical difficulties, however, present themselves on whether the Jesuits would take it to be an unwarranted intrusion into their domain?

    Plus, there are things no longer within the school’s control. A fall in teaching standards has been noticed all around India, the reason being that the rewards and recognition of the profession are easily forgotten when a thicker wad of notes is waved under the job-seekers nose. Teaching being the most integral part of the software abovementioned, this remains a problem of monumental proportions. I can say with the utmost confidence that one of the findings of such an evaluation will be that teaching standards have fallen drastically. All the old teachers are gone and many of the new are ill-suited for the job at hand. And there’s nothing we can do about it!

    I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist, but these are thorns that pepper the way forward.

  • Yes Karthik, monitoring will help. The souvenir was not “to” raise funds; it was to acknowledge funders. Even in such a publication, I think the school would have only raised its image by presenting a fuller picture. First vision, then vision statement 🙂

    Nowadays, Jesuits are led by parents. So, pressure from PTA will swing matters towards an assessment. (Whether individual leaders in PTA are interested and have guts is another matter.) There are several things, including teaching, which are within the school’s control. The old teachers Bimal talks of were once new. And yes, to be a great school, thorns must be removed; no pain, no gain.

  • I think I may have been misunderstood. Quality has, I agree, something to do with experience. The point I was trying to make, however, was something completely different. Agreed that the old teachers I spoke of were once new. But they were qualitatively much better even then than the teachers that are being recruited now.

    I may be wrong here, but even when I was in school, reports were coming in of new teachers being recruited who did not even know how to speak English correctly. Seeing that no school would do this on purpose, it stands to reason that there were no better candidates available. Hence, my comment on the larger problem.

  • At 50, the challenge before the school is to reorient itself towards practices which the best schools and colleges in the world follow. It calls for some very creative leadership by the men at the helm of the school’s affairs. I wonder how much, a school is still part of a boy’s life, having to compete for attention along with the cable TV, the personal computer and the internet. If the Nature Clubs, Science Clubs, LENS, etc still function these co-curricular activities are going to be the hinges around which our school can influence student’s personality development in a significant way. Young people of today realize that more than academics, its all the other facets they could add to their personality while at school, that matters a lot in their adult life and would have similar aspirations for their children. If the school doesn’t begin to cater to the parents of tomorrow, hope the parents of today, the PTA would prod the school to release some sort of a vision statement on where the school should go.

    The excerpt from the souvenir was a nice treat. I saw a response from Fr.Toby in an earlier post. Since he is the only presently active teacher from Loyola who thought it fit to leave a comment here, it would be interesting to know the point of view from somebody like him or anyone else in the management, to this post.

    Excellent one, Ashok…your posts are gentle indictments on the Loyola of the past and gives hindsight that will benefit the school in making descisions with foresight.

  • Bimal, I agree. A sparkling pool of teachers may be unavailable. Would therefore expect masters of education to guide, shape and develop available talent. As professionals, teachers too should continuously learn, and the school can encourage that.

    As Jiby said, creative people should be around. Managers often get caught up in fire-fighting (temporarily solving day-to-day problems), and there is little thought or action for the long-term. So, either the leaders should be creative, or they should get good and creative advisors.

    With India’s diversity, I am confident that even if the school does absolutely nothing, there’ll still be demand for Loyola education. Parents of Tomorrow might take their children elsewhere. No problem — Parents of Yesterday will rush in with their kids. 🙂

    Looks like any progress will mostly benefit children who are now in UKG-Class 7. It is their parents who should wake up, question, act and prod the school to go forward.

  • I’ve been visiting on and off since I graduated in 2000 and the biggest change that I’ve seen is that academic achievement in terms of board scores and entrance ranking seems to be the primary object of the management. Not that it is necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes at the cost of draconian disciplinary measures and reduced importance accorded to vital events such as Youth Festival, then it is cause for concern. I don’t see the majority of the parents caring; as long their kid scores they are happy; most of them really don’t understand what makes Loyola Loyola.
    The Loyola I know and love is a place where I had opportunities to express myself, be it in sports, or the arts. Time spent playing, at the library, practising for dramas and group songs for the Youth Festival, preparing speeches for the assembly are the abiding memories I have of the place. I had a few good teachers (and principals), but the ones I remember aren’t necessarily the ones who were good at their subjects, but those who were wonderful human beings and guides.
    It would be a sad day when Loyola becomes just another school that churns out entrance toppers.

  • Srikanth, my impression too is that the management and the parents are academic-focused. In the 1980s too, the parents often expressed concern at the focus on extra-curricular activities, but the Jesuits remained firm.

    Paradoxically, the shift in emphasis has occurred when there are several Loyola old boys in the PTA. I would explain the Old Boy Parents’ inaction in terms of how Loyolites are awful in politics.

  • Srikanth more or less hit the spot;more than quality its the attitude of teachers that is a cause of concern…..but one cant really blame them for having a purely academics oriented approach if its so ingrained in them by the management……
    and as bimal said due to the practical difficulties encompassed in having an all inclusive evaluation session isnt it more feasible if two or three old boys go and have have a proper sit down with the principal…..coz i dont think the reality that the school is in a regressive state has hit him yet…..

  • Ganesh, if the school management thinks that their present approach is progressive, the situation is more dangerous than I thought. 🙂 Even after much public discussion here (remember, Jesuits too read this blog), is it likely that the school mgmt doesn’t know? Urangannuvanay unarthaam. Urakkam nadikkunnavanay unarthaan pattumo? 🙂

    Since each group blames the other (mgmt says “parents want this”, teachers say “mgmt wants this”…), I doubt whether 2-3 old boys dropping by one summer morning or a snowy evening can show that there are miles to go, in the opposite direction. I don’t see the “practical difficulties” in having a couple of serious PTA meetings and initiatives.

    Pro-reform, outsider old boys cannot do much when the leadership within the institution is poor. Piece-meal efforts like Rejuvenating LENS might work; large-scale reform needs good leadership within the institution.

  • Mat, sorry, I do not know which are the “best”. I’ve not heard of independent, meaningful school evaluation for any city in Kerala. Please check your Inbox for a slightly more informative mail.

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