I have noticed that working and non-working parents in Jakarta usually have their children cared for by nannies at home in the early months following birth, and then send them into more formal educational programs such as preschools at the age of around six months. Where I’m from in Melbourne, Australia, children are generally sent to kindergartens only when they reach around four years of age. Before that, working parents enrol their children into childcare centres during the day while they are at work because nannies are not an option.
There are many preschools to choose from in Jakarta and the level of education is quite high. Here is the process I used for finding the right preschool for my son.
1. ASKING AROUND
Most of the preschools in Indonesia are privately owned and their teaching methodologies and curriculums vary wildly. Some schools are franchised from other countries and teach in various languages, not just English and Bahasa Indonesia (I chose an English language school for my son). The tutoring fees and class hours also vary from school to school. It was important that my son’s early education aligned with our home country in case of repatriation. I also wanted a multicultural setting with exposure to different nationalities and cultures.
Even though there was a lot of valuable information available online, my first step was to ask friends for their opinion and experiences. I always like to ask similarly-minded friends who share the same value system. This cuts out a lot of wasted time and helps in narrowing down to similar budgets and learning expectations.
2. LISTING MY PRIORITIES
Living in Jakarta, location is a huge influencing factor, especially with the traffic and unpredictable events such as flooding and rallies. However, this early in my search, I was unsure if proximity took precedence over quality.
My top priorities for a school were that the teachers and staff were trained in first aid and that it had a robust medical emergency procedure in place. This criterion was absolutely non-negotiable and I discovered that not all preschools offered these things. That’s when I quickly learnt my lesson to not taking things for granted in my new country of residence. Just because something is done a particular way in my home country, this does not mean that the same principals automatically apply everywhere else in the world.
Critical and potentially life-saving skills in first aid medical training can easily be overlooked as a criterion because it is easy to assume that educational institutions are focused on the safety of our children. This isn’t always the case and it is our responsibility as parents to do our own due diligence, even more so when we are living in a country where we are unfamiliar with the culture and its practices. Don’t assume that just because you are paying someone a lot of money to do something they will do it as you expect. Ask the important questions, even the seemingly simple ones, and don’t be afraid to voice your concerns.
I learnt that I needed to be very specific with the questions that I asked and had to use precise scenarios to get a complete detailed response. For example, I asked about their procedures for medical emergencies such as broken bones, choking and allergy management. I asked how they responded to a child with a severe allergic reaction. Did they own an allergy pen? Although my son isn’t allergic, the schools’ responses indicated to me their commitment to health and safety.
Another deciding point for me was the school environment. It needed to be clean (but not sterile!), inviting and have an outdoor playing area. Emphasis on recreational and creative activities was also important for me, especially music and sport. I think school at this age should be fun.
My final area of concern was the warmth and enthusiasm of the teachers. This is something that could only be assessed by visiting the preschool myself.
3. VISITING THE PRESCHOOL
Most schools offer free trials and they are definitely worth your time and effort. Firstly, I drove to the preschool at the same time as I would be taking my son to gauge the level of traffic.
Sitting in the classroom with my son I was able to participate in the activities and observe the teacher’s demeanour. This was so important to witness first-hand because I noticed that schools adopt different teaching and disciplinary styles. I noticed that some environments were warm and encouraging, and others were distant and strict. Most schools boasted a Montessori style approach but I think that this was more of a marketing tool rather than truly adopting the teaching style. What I learnt from my trials was that I didn’t necessarily want a true Montessori approach anyway.
4. FINDING THE PERFECT MATCH
I did find the right preschool for my son and it was a match made in heaven! In the end, I chose a school that was mainly attended by Indonesians and not Australians. My son is learning to speak English, Indonesian and Mandarin. On top of this, he is learning tolerance and acceptance of all cultures, in a safe, fun and caring environment. This school definitely exceeded my expectations and I am so impressed by the level of education offered in Indonesia. I truly believe that my family is blessed being here to experience the diverse offerings of this country, and my children are incredibly lucky to be raised in this multicultural setting. I’m so happy we can call Indonesia our home.
This article was originally published on Expat Indonesia magazine at http://indonesiaexpat.biz/education-2/finding-right-preschool-jakarta/