A small but growing number of private city schools are admitting toddlers to their pre-primary sections using methods other than child evaluations, a technique that many parents and psychologists find not only harrowing but also irrational.
At this time of year, when admissions to pre-primary sections are in full swing, parents are taking heart in the fact that some schools are using more rational and child-friendly methods such as a first-come first-serve system, detailed written applications for parents and parent interviews (see box for list of schools).
“We need to completely discard the system of interviewing children because it is illogical for that age and puts unnecessary pressure on the family,” said Rina Mehta, parent and author of a parenting book called Must for Mums, Mumbai. “If at all, schools might want to consider giving preference to students from the neighbourhood.”
Some educators say Mumbai needs a system like in Delhi, where in April 2007 the government had banned private nurseries from evaluating both children and their parents. Instead it standardised admissions by introducing a point system that took into account factors such as the child’s proximity to the school and gender ratios.
In 2008, the Supreme Court also banned pre-primary schools all over the country from conducting interviews.
Today, few schools in Mumbai will admit to conducting full-blown interviews with toddlers, but many continue to evaluate children’s abilities through other means, which some euphemistically call “child interactions,” and use those as a key input in admissions.
“It is unfair and unreasonable to judge the child’s aptitude in any form at this age,” said Kusum Kanwar, the head of school operations at Kangaroo Kids, a pre-primary chain with ten branches in the city that uses the first-come first-serve technique. “They begin learning only at that age, so what will evaluation prove to anyone?”
Yet not all the other techniques are problem-free. Parent interviews, for instance, are normally used by schools that have non-mainstream approaches to education and justifiably want to ensure that parents know what they are getting into.
But while educators acknowledge this and say it is a clear improvement over evaluating children, it can discriminate against parents of first-generation learners.
“Some parents actually attend formal classes to train for these interviews because some schools evaluate their IQ, general knowledge and abilities,” said Arundhati Chavan, chairperson of the Parents Teachers Association, a lobby group that has parent members from more than 160 schools in the city.
With inputs from Bhavya Dore)