By Lyra Pore-Villafaña

My family has had a number of conversations lately about the best high school for our oldest daughter who’s now in Grade Six.

“I want to go to OLMC,” she declared last year. OLMC is an exclusive girls’ school run by the Sisters of Mercy in Australia.  It prides itself in educating Catholic girls in the Mercy tradition for over a hundred years.

My daughter has been particularly impressed by the breadth of extra-curricular opportunities that OLMC provides.  There’s a string ensemble, a cake decorating club, a debating team. Name any activity that will catch the fancy of teenage girls, and they probably have it.  They even have a strong swimming team that my child, who loves racing, is looking forward to joining.

We’ve already  made up our minds about OLMC that we’ve  enrolled her there one-and-a-half years before she’s due to go to high school.

Then a few weeks ago, my daughter received an offer from one of the government-run academic selective schools.  These are like the Australian equivalent of the Philippine Science High School system.  Each year, thousands of Grade Six students apply for admission to selective schools, but only a few get offers because places are limited.

While we are all extremely happy about her passing the test, the good news suddenly throws  our plans into disarray.  My daughter will have the opportunity to study in one of the best high schools in Australia at a very minimal cost to us. All we have to pay for are the school uniforms and supplies and a small contribution to educational resources. The decision to forego private schooling seems to be a no-brainer ― but it actually isn’t.

Yes, the quality of education in an academic selective school will be superior. Yes, it will save us a fortune. Foremost on our minds though is this:  Will she be happy in a highly competitive environment that these schools are known for? Will she thrive in a school where she’s constantly striving for good grades, leaving her with very little time to pursue other interests?

My husband and I have been in the workforce long enough to know that building a successful career isn’t all about having the brains to do the job. Don’t get me wrong. Having walked the grounds of the University of the Philippines in Diliman myself many years ago, I am all for academic excellence.

My experience in the “real world”, however, has also led me to appreciate that doing well in life doesn’t depend on intelligence alone. Equally important is one’s ability to build relationships, to bounce back from failure and rejection, to keep one’s focus even when the going gets tough.

What type of school will help a person build that character?  It depends. Some children excel in a highly competitive environment. Others blossom when allowed the time to  pursue arts, music, sports, and other co-curricular activities.

We decide to give our daughter room to weigh her options. Though she’s only 11 years old, we feel that she should have a say in the matter.  It’s her future after all.

“I’ll go selective,” she announces just a few days  after  mulling things over.  “And why is that?”  I ask, amazed at how quickly she has come to a decision.

“Well,” she begins.  “I checked out the school uniform, and I think I will look good in it.”

“And I have some friends who are going there too.”

So there.  I seem to be making things more complicated than they really are.  To an 11-year old girl, it’s all about the outfit and the friends.