A Closer Look at Progressive and Traditional School Settings

Second Friday of the month:  Kids and Schooling 

"One size fits all" -- certainly not with schools.

Now, more than ever, choosing the right school for children has become more complicated and confusing. At least for me it is. It's not a walk in the park especially for parents scouting for their kid's first school.  Unlike in my time (think 2 to 3 decades backwards!), there were only a handful of 'old reliables' that my parents looked into. Considerations were either it's Catholic or Christian, Co-Ed or Exclusive, standard of education, if it teaches Chinese, proximity, and fees.

About two years ago, while school-hunting for my own kids, I learned that there are three distinct types of school settings available in the Philippines: Traditional, Progressive, and Montessori.  I also came across teacher Tina's blog, an advocate of progressive schooling, which referenced a talk by Ms. Didi Manahan of Explorations Preschool.  Recently, I found myself attending that same parent seminar / forum entitled "The Inside Scoop on Traditional and Progressive Settings", which will be the subject of today's post.

The seminar was conducted at Explorations Preschool in Mandaluyong City. The forum aims "to enlighten those who are in the process of discerning the next phase of their child's education."

Though I already have a clear idea of how different these two school settings are, I still signed up 'coz I was really interested to get first-hand insights from other parents and the students themselves.  Elementary school children from reputable traditional 'big schools', like Ateneo, La Salle Greenhills, Immaculate Conception Academy, and progressive school Keys Grade School, were part of the panel. They were joined by their parents for the open forum.

If you are in the process of finding a school for your child, take a serious look at the presentation below to help you weigh in on the pros and cons of sending your child to either a traditional or a progressive school.

The Inside Scoop on Traditional and Progressive Settings
Talk and slide presentation by Ms. Didi Manahan, MS Ed.

Ms. Manahan, the school's directress, gave a very informative and straightforward analysis through the following comparative charts:

Traditional School does not necessarily mean Bad
Progressive School does not necessarily mean Good

PROS of Traditional Schools (left column) vs. Progressive (right column)

More on traditional setting, with random feedback during the open forum:
  • Bigger class sizes, like 35:1 student-teacher ratio (and even higher in some schools!) -- therefore, you can expect a lower tuition fee as compared to most progressive schools
  • Bigger class = more friends
  • Classes start very early, before 7:30 a.m. for most
  • Lecture method of instruction = Teacher-centric
  • Cover various subjects individually, like Math, Social Studies, Science, Reading and Language - organized structure and generally focused on academic excellence
  • Offers high school levels
  • With better facilities, numerous school-wide programs and sports activities are available for kids to participate in
  • All students need to cope with the pace in class, pass or fail
  • Given the bigger population, issues on bullying are predominant
  • Students bring homework almost everyday = More stress = Less time for after-school extra-curricular activities

PROS of Progressive Schools (left column) vs. Traditional (right column)

More on progressive setting, with random feedback during the open forum:
  • Smaller class size, like 1:12 teacher-student ratio (and even less at lower levels) -- therefore, a higher tuition fee
  • Close-knit community of students and families
  • Classes start later than traditional schools, around 8:00 - 8:30 a.m.
  • Investigative and experiential approach to learning = Student-centered
  • Most subjects are integrated, with immediate application of lessons learned & encourages critical thinking
  • Most progressive schools do not have high school levels
  • Fewer, more essential lessons = more depth than breadth (in terms of mastery of subject matter)
  • Students bring less homework, a few times a week = more family time and after-school extra-curricular activities

With many new schools claiming to be progressive, the directress, however, warned it is "dangerous" when schools do not apply the proper methods and teachers are not well-equipped in skills and training. The fact that most educators in the country are trained for a traditional school setting, the pitfall of having poorly-trained instructors in progressive schools is inadequate education for the students.


Ms. Manahan illustrated how students learn through theme investigation from KEYS Grade School.
One very important issue raised during the forum was about homework and tutoring.  It was admirable that all four families from the panel do not hire tutors. It did not matter whether they are from traditional schools, which usually have more assignments, or from progressive schools which generally have less. Here's what they have to say:
  • Being involved in their children's studies show that education is priority - difficult but very important to make time for it despite being working parents; mom and dad share in the responsibility
  • While still young, guide and supervise them while they do their homework to establish good study habits - this will help them to be more independent and learn to study on their own next time
  • Tutoring their children is a bonding moment that allows parents to know how the child is doing in school - can monitor academic performance and social activities
Nowadays, having a tutor is the norm. It would have made a more interesting discussion if there was a family represented in the panel that hired a tutor to share a different perspective on this important aspect of schooling.

After the open forum and side-by-side comparison of traditional vs. progressive schools, here is my personal views on what type of students can thrive and perform well in a traditional or progressive setting:

Traditional School is good for:
  • Children that require minimal supervision - can work independently
  • Can listen well and sit through longer periods of time
  • Self-disciplined and with good study habits
  • Confident and self-assured even in a big group
Progressive schools are for everyone. This setting is also an ideal environment for:
  • Children with shorter attention spans - interactive setting can provide a more stimulating learning experience
  • Introverted personalities - will feel more secure and build better self-esteem within a smaller group

The new generation of parents, myself included, are really more fortunate in terms of having more options when it comes to choosing a school. This also comes with the responsibility of educating ourselves on what these learning institutions have to offer and which one will best serve our kids' needs.

We have to acknowledge that each individual differs in learning styles.

Aside from the teaching method, we also need to factor in a number of considerations when choosing a school, like cost of education, religion and school philosophies, proximity and convenience.  Different strokes for different folks. It's not about what approach is the best. What's good for one may not work for another. The most important is finding the right fit for your child.  As parents, we have to know our children well enough to see and assess their strengths and weaknesses, and identify which is the most appropriate learning environment for each child.

What are your thoughts on this?

Also read this follow-up post:
On Progressive Schools: FAQs and More

Didi P. Manahan, MS Ed.
MS Early Childhood & Elementary Education
Bank Street College of Education, New York
25th year in Education
Directress/Curriculum Coordinator/Co-Proprietor of:
Explorations Preschool and Keys Grade School

Top image is from www.lubbockareafoundation.org

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