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Don?t make a faulty start

There are far too few private schools to satisfy the aspirations of all parents. Interaction then becomes a necessary and stress-free format for admitting children into nursery.

india Updated: May 25, 2006 02:19 IST

There are far too few private schools to satisfy the aspirations of all parents. Interaction then becomes a necessary and stress-free format for admitting children into nursery

The first thing that strikes one about the recent Delhi High Court judgment that banned interviews of children and parents for nursery admissions is that such an issue is being referred to the judiciary for a solution. Surely, educationists and specialists in the field would be better equipped to address the concerns and the stress and strain that all stakeholders feel during admission to nursery.

There’s a complete mismatch between supply and demand. The more popular private fee-paying schools receive as many as 1000-2000 applications for as few as 100 seats. Obviously this leads to great frustration among those parents whose aspirations for their children remain unfulfilled.

In such a situation, where all children cannot be granted admission, there has to be a selection process. The question that has been discussed for years is what should this be.

In the early Nineties, a nation-wide campaign was launched by the Academy of Paediatricians, the Pre-School Department of NCERT and concerned educationists. The aim was to draw attention to the traumas that nursery children were experiencing. Too-early schooling, formal learning in pre-schools and the obnoxious admission tests all had an adverse impact on children.

As a result of the campaign the admission test was abolished and various guidelines were suggested to schools as alternative selection methods they could adopt.

One was the ‘First come-first served’ method. But this resulted in pandemonium with aspiring parents queueing up all night and jumping over walls to get further up in the queue. Another was the lottery system giving everyone an equal chance. But the whole concept of a ‘lucky draw’ for admission to an academic institution was found, on principle, to be quite unacceptable apart from the lopsided distribution of seats that could result from it. In one Delhi school that tried it, a near-riot broke out with unsuccessful parents challenging the principal to prove that all the forms had been put in the box.

Random selection devoid of assessment and thought process will not suit our schools which are very diverse in nature. The method which has been found most suitable to the private fee-paying schools is selection by short-listing parents on the basis of a comprehensive registration form. In this, applicants have to provide information about their child and themselves. It also includes their observations of their child’s development and personality, their aspirations for him/her and why they are keen to educate their child in a particular school.

The forms should be designed to elicit pertinent answers from parents. They should not raise any issue relating to income, caste, or any other divisive or irrelevant factors. It is the inclusion of some objectionable questions in the forms of some schools that have embarrassed and hurt the sentiments of parents. Directions can be issued to those schools to amend their forms appropriately.

Parents are then called for an interaction, with or without their children. Here a distinction must be made between interviewing and interacting. Interviewing presupposes an element of inequality when the interviewer is subjecting the interviewee to questioning on the basis of which his/her child is selected or rejected. This can be stressful.  Irrelevant questions are sometimes asked, which can be hurtful to the parent. Children are often up against a battery of questions at an interview that simply test their memory as if they were  Tagore’s little stuffed parrots.

Interaction, on the other hand, is more of a verification and socialisation process where the principal and members of the selection panel interact with the parents on a basis of mutual understanding and equality.

Often parents in their anxiety to secure admission give incorrect facts in the form especially relating to place of residence and these are verified during the interaction.  Parents who have children with some special problem or disability can also bring this to notice so that it can be attended to. Formal interviews must certainly be banned. This will also help pre-schools and play centres to concentrate solely on real learning activities and play way methods.

However, the right of choice must remain with the schools. Parents apply to only to private unaided schools of their choice. Schools must also be given a similar choice to select their parents and through them, their students. This right of choice is given to private schools all over the world and is also provided for in the Delhi Schools Education Act.

The writer is Chairperson, Springdales Education Society