It's nothing short of a war campaign to get children admitted in a ‘good' school. And there is a bewildering array of obstacles, strategies and fall-back options…

Even as early as February, it is time for the first of the education battles in the calendar year. Admissions to primary classes are open, starting a season of scramble for information, forms, tests, interviews, hurrahs and disappointments.

In just a few years, the fear of plus-two students' parents has percolated to those trying to get toddlers into their very first schoolroom. Families spend quaking hours listing schools, scrolling message boards, “friending” on Facebook. Moms say no to weddings/travel till the admit card arrives. Two-year-olds are coached, cleaned up, asked to “behave” before being whisked to interviews. If they get “rejected” by a “reputed” school, the hunt begins all over.

Anxious times

Anxiety colours every action. “I've applied to one school for pre-KG, not going elsewhere,” says Parent 1. She rattles off reasons. “Form says ‘no influence', asks for sibling/alumni status. My husband's cousin studied here. Once there, I needn't worry till she finishes school.” She's confident. In Chennai, a mom, whose kid will be two-and-a-half, in June has drawn “sorry” from a Velachery school and is waiting to hear from Adambakkam. “I hear the Adambakkam school is considering only siblings this year,” she moaned. “I'll go back for LKG.”

Most kids are in play school at one-and-a-half. The pressure is in putting them in LKG. A preferred school is one that teaches spoken English, has an established name, 100 per cent pass results and will put the kid on the road to an engineering or medical degree.

There lies the wellspring of trauma. “Dearth of so-called good schools,” says a lawyer mom (LM). “There's unbelievable rush for them. Parents park themselves outside school gates at midnight for forms. And schools issue more than a 1,000 for a mere 175 seats.” Parents are profiled, kids are tested or “observed”. To make sure of selection, enterprising parents get letters of recommendation. Some fudge information. LM knows of IT parents who begged and begged. Parent 1 believes schools have quotas for the education department, corporates and IT. “I'm praying,” she said. There is no level-playing ground in admissions, is LM's verdict. “He who pulls strings, wins,” she says.

Articulate parents stand a better chance. Weightage is given to girls, kids of athletes who participated in the CWG, Asian Games and Olympics. Parents with degrees from IIT/IIM, medicos, scientists and award winners can smile since they score bonus points. Do guidelines allow all these? Go figure. “Drawing lots is fairer,” says LM.

Schools have their arguments. How about parent behaviour, asks Gayathri, a Eurokids partner. “Admissions are easy here, kids with special needs are welcome,” she says. Parents buy forms only if the kid feels comfortable. “If you have ethics, you can run a school without issues. It all depends on your objective.”

At a price

Many primary schools are managed well. Harishri Vidyashram, Chennai, runs a month-long parent programme of yoga, tai-chi, vedic chanting, music... Counsellors and paediatricians talk to them. LKG is at three-and-a-half. Kids do group activities, get extra material if they're gifted. It's 10 kids per “environment”. Quality education, but, pricey. A child who gets no help in English at home may not be able to cope.

“Relax,” says Charu Eswar, CentreHead, Kangaroo Kids. At the “interaction”, she observes the child for curiosity, motor skills and comprehension ability. Class strength is 15 max in Play School and 30 in Senior KG. Admission is an ongoing process. “Since we have space, we can start extra sections to accommodate all kids. We believe every child has a right to education,” she says. There's help for children with learning disabilities. Once admitted, the kid can complete high school. The green campus, AC-ed classrooms, world-class facilities come at a price. “It's an elite school, 25 per cent are from expat families. Parents who can't afford it can go to our Pallavaram CBSE school.”

Sr. Sriya of Rosary Matriculation, Chennai, is sympathetic. “Our reputation, modest fee structure and no-donation policy bring parents to the gate at midnight,” she nods. In the 60-year-old institution proximity is a criterion, poor economic background is not. Some seats go to Catholics. She interacts with parents, not the kids, but class strength is high. “We can't say no, we have all kinds of pressure,” she admits. “The school is run as a service, we have no space to expand.”

It's plain supply and demand. Restrict the number of forms, you'll see parents standing outside for 10 nights. Touts will make money. Put it online, there'll be a deluge. Same locality? We get 10-17 kids from a building where there were two in a bungalow. When we take in kids with disabilities, the cry goes: what about normal ones? The alumni quota is overshot, then “the school doesn't care about its old boys.” There are single moms now. Parents want a particular school in a particular area. Start more sections, they say, give my kid a chance. To a parent with a reject slip, nothing is fair.

Outside the box

“Think beyond traditional favourites,” says Naveen Mahesh, Director, Headstart School, a reasoning endorsed by most besieged schools. His trauma-care: “Go to progressive new schools, they too will achieve the results of old ones. Check out the management, syllabus, philosophy and lay your faith in it. See if the school is open to fresher ideas for improving themselves. Take an active role, contribute effort and money.”

Put your kid in the nearest school, says LM. Safety is a big issue now. Commute deprives the kid of sleep and breakfast. Check if the teachers look happy before admitting the kid, says Counsellor Mohana Narayanan. “Check the peer group. Can your kid fit into the iPod-carrying, croc-wearing pizza-partying crowd? Don't nag the kid to learn. No child suffers because he went to school late. Allow him to grow at his own pace. Enjoy parenting.”

Now, a handbook for parents

In 2008, http://www.nurseryadmission.net/, a portal that allows open space for parents to pour out their heart published a Parent's Handbook Authors Ashok Gupta and Sujata Gupta answer Q&A on what works in admissions, DoE rules/guidelines/recommendations, how to apply them during admissions. The more interesting part is the answer to the crucial question: How can I score maximum points? The promo on the blog goes, “We have covered real cases that will help you understand the problems that several parents went through last year.”

Changed rules

In a move to implement the Right to Education (RTE) Act, Patna administration has directed all CBSE/ICSE-affiliated schools in the district to reserve 25 per cent seats in Class I/nursery sections for children from disadvantaged sections. These kids will be from within one km radius. Half of this quota will be reserved for girls. The state HRD has said no child should be screened at the time of admission. Selection should be done randomly. The Act also forbids any kind of screening (written or oral test of the child) for admission up to Class VIII.

Keywords: CBSERTE Act

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