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Nursery admissions

This is the season of angst in Delhi for parents who begin the arduous process of applying for primary school admissions this month. The competition for the miniscule number of seats is so stiff, and for parents the anxiety so overwhelming, that I’m surprised a TV network hasn’t come up with a reality show on it yet. It’s bound to generate fantastic TRPs considering the ready audience of frustrated parents. Simply, the slots available at nursery level have not kept pace with our numbers, giving schools across India too much power. The Delhi government may prohibit profiling of children on the basis of their parents professions and education, but schools pretty much choose who they please. Have you ever heard of a politician or a senior bureaucrat’s kid not making it to the right school?

However flawed the points system may be (a few years ago, it was broadly divided into points for girl child, distance from school, preference for single parents, adopted children), it is still the fairest way to go. Post India’s great showing at the Asian Games and after hosting the CWG, this year sportspeople are being feted, with some schools awarding 10 points for children of athletes who have won medals at international events. A small but important token acknowledgement that sports, besides cricket, must be nurtured at the school level.

But where does this leave the majority of us, in regular jobs, but not doing anything seemingly spectacular? Almost nowhere. This is why admissions have spawned a new industry: of counsellors to get you through this ordeal and teachers who moonlight as consultants to help you apply.

Most of us can tell you what’s wrong with the system, but nobody has been able to come up with a suitable alternative for selecting children with more or less the same intellect at age four.

Believe it or not, the admission climate is much more cutthroat in other cities of the world. In New York, it’s not uncommon for kindergarteners to sit for standardised exams and some schools won’t even consider applicants who score below the top three percent. In London, a friend has registered her daughter at a top private school at birth itself. “It shows seriousness,” she tells me. Since then, she’s bought a house close to the school and is already an encyclopedia on admissions in the UK. In Mumbai too, kids have to go through an interview, for which the politically correct term I believe is “interaction”.

Kids, even the best behaved ones, are entirely unpredictable at the age of four, and one short interview is too little to reach any conclusions about a child’s mind. Or future abilities. In Delhi, at least there are no kids interviews anymore. But it’s always been about judging the parents and subtly choosing ones who could potentially give back. Brace up. You don’t want to fail this test.

Indian Express, January 10, 2011

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