Is it worth switching schools? And tips for a smoother transition

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"Students who previously switched schools noted the way in which the shift helped them to develop a sense of independence, responsibility and accountability." Photo: Getty Images
"Students who previously switched schools noted the way in which the shift helped them to develop a sense of independence, responsibility and accountability." Photo: Getty Images

Whether it's because of having to move, a change in finances or a quest for better quality schooling, moving your child to a different school can be tough to navigate. 

For the child, growing up can be considered a whirlwind on its own what with figuring out how to excel in academics, coming to grasps with social rank and understanding various cultural dynamics.

So, should you make the switch, and if so, how do you manage it?

A child's stress 

Researchers at the MacArthur Foundation found that changing schools drastically adds to a child's stress and inhibits cognitive functioning, recording a decrease in cognitive scores and a polar increase in emotional problems.

Fractions4kids.com also found that switching schools can lead to lower self-esteem in children and make it 60% more likely that the student would experience at least one psychotic symptom, including withdrawal from loved one's anxiety, difficulty concentrating, moodiness and depression.

Preparatory school teacher Indiphile Qabaka noted that, though class peers were inviting and friendly, new students found it challenging to adjust to the new school culture and make friends.

She describes how a new student in a class she teaches kept having anxiety attacks in the beginning because she was anxious about the new environment. 

Read: Why you should think twice about moving your child to a new school 

"I learned to adapt"  

Though these statistics and anecdotes seem shocking, many students also report positive outcomes.

For example, students who previously switched schools noted how the shift helped them develop a sense of independence, responsibility, and accountability.

"I learned to adapt to different situations and cultural groups – I can be put in different settings, and I will be fine," said Obed Kadima, a former school transitioner.

"Now I'm able to be put in any environment and adjust quickly – it forced me out of my shell," said school transitioner Nontsikelelo Sibande.

Some students noted that switching schools aided their growth in that their new school was a better fit, challenging them intellectually and opening their mind up to new experiences and walks of life.

While the positive contribution to character-building, interpersonal skills and preparedness for future events, such as the beginning of university life, are encouraging, the negative attributes cannot go unnoticed.

With South Africa's wide race and class divide, many school transitioners noted that the cultural shock caused an increase in willingness to succumb to peer pressure to fit in, feelings of loneliness and an initial drop in confidence.

"I did not feel like I belonged due to the socio-economic shift [between the two schools] – I started trying to act like everyone else," said former school transitioner Lennon Muhita.

Undoubtedly, the decision to change your child's school is a considerable one, so if you decide to make the switch, here are some tips to help smooth your child's transition.

Also read: How to tell if your child's educational needs are being met at school

Tips for a gentler school transition:

1. Stay in touch with old friends.

Keep in contact with your child's friends from their previous school/schools so that they feel less lonely and do not feel their support system has been pulled from under them while they are still in the process of making new friends.

2. Communicate with teachers. 

Keep regular and open communication with the new teachers. Stay updated with the child's progress so that you are aware of their struggles and improvements and can help in their areas of difficulty.

3. Provide additional academic support.

If you are aware of drastic curriculum differences, ask educators and parents about tutoring programs to close the academic gap.

4. Be patient and speak openly.

Encourage open communication with your child, validate that the change can be difficult and understand that this period might leave them feeling unsettled or worried.

5. Be prepared.

Learn the details about the new school to ensure that the positives of the move outweigh the negatives and mitigate the shock factor and make the environmental change feel slightly less drastic. This can be done by planning and understanding the new schedule and possible lifestyle changes.

6. Pay attention

...to subtle and extreme behavioural changes. Be aware of moodiness, withdrawal or complaints of disruption or lack of concentration from educators. If these behavioural changes persist or intensify, do not hesitate to seek professional assistance.

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