Anuradha M. is an anxious parent. Her daughter, who was in section ‘A’ of U.K.G last year, is now in Class I-B, while her friends are scattered sections ‘A’ and ‘C’. With her daughter’s school following the practice of swapping sections each year, Ms. Anuradha is worried about how her barely six-year-old daughter will negotiate with a new environment and build a ‘new normal’ at the beginning of every academic year.

Even amidst the steady rumble of dissent from many parents and students, schools are making it a common practice to shuffle students from one section to another regularly, with the belief that in the long run, the student will benefit.

Though schools who practice shuffling believe that it is for the student to make new friends, develop social skills, do better academically, and not get too comfortable with a particular peer group, each school adopts different parameters while allocating sections. While some schools shuffle sections when the child goes from primary to secondary, there are others who shuffle students from they go from class IX to class X, while others do it almost every academic year.

Ms. Anuradha says that her daughter had to deal not just with a new set of students despite being in the same school, but also longer school hours and much more to study. “I am not sure if such young children have the maturity to handle such big changes,” she says. However, heads of schools say that teachers are sensitive to the needs of the students and give them ample time to get familiar with each other. They also say that requests for shuffling often come from parents too.

“We do not want children to settle into groups since class X is a crucial class and we want students of different capabilities to be spread homogenously across sections. Though many parents and students come with letters and complaints, we explain to them that it is for the benefit of the student. But we are mindful of the challenges it poses and make exceptions when there is a genuine reason. For instance, we do not separate identical twins,” says Revathy Bonns, Principal and Correspondent, Madras Christian College Matriculation Higher Secondary School.

Jeba J., class teacher for class X at the school, notes that weaker students, who may have been reliant on their peer group to cope academically, are given special attention by teachers.

Though there may be concerns such as the students’ attachment to their respective sections, students of the new section forming their own groups and weaker students having to negotiate with one more challenge, schools say that it is only a matter of time before students get accustomed to the new environment.

“Since shuffling is done regularly, most of us are mentally prepared. We can meet our friends during the breaks and after school. But when you have been studying with someone from pre-kg together, it is a little difficult,” observes Dhruv Shah, a class X student who is in two minds about the practice. While many children are initially ironically hostile to the idea of making new friends, they eventually come to terms with the fact that adaptability is the key.

“In the age of nuclear families where most people live in apartments, shuffling helps children interact with others of their age group,” says S. Venkatramani, child and parenting consultant. Why should they be with the same set of children all through school? he asks. “Shuffling once every few years as it enables a cross-section of learning patterns and helps children develop better social skills,” he adds.

Ajit Prasad Jain, senior principal, Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram says, “As a general practice we do not shuffle students between classes I and V.” They are shuffled when they go from classes V to VI, VI to VIII, and from class X to XI.” As it is a co-educational school, he adds that every class has an equal distribution of girls and boys.

Ragini Srinivasan, who is a counsellor at Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram, observes that the challenges differ with the age group and the success of shuffling depends on how it is put across to students.

“While students going to class I have to deal with longer working hours and a heavier syllabus, parents of students going to class IX notice a shift in the relationship with their child. Students get closer to their peer group and communicate less with their parents,” she says. And, there is also pressure from all sides at this stage, be it peer pressure or the pressure to perform well at school,” she says. For the system to work well, she feels that parents too, should condition the mind of their child make their children understand that it is good for them. “The idea is not to traumatise them,” she says.

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