Interviews -- no laughing matter

School admission interviews here are unlike farcical power plays of India, writes Sunil Lala in Boston Diary.

india Updated: Sep 26, 2005 23:02 IST

It's a big day for him. The pressure is intense, the competition is fierce, and the stakes are extremely high. This is not a place for the weak. This is not a place for the faint of heart. This is what separates the men from the boys. If this is not war, then I do not know what is.

Today, he must prove what he is made of. Today he must show his mettle. Many others have gone before him, with hope in their hearts, and dreams in their gleaming eyes. They have imagined themselves ready for this ultimate test of calibre. They have prepared for this challenge for months at end. They have struggled against all odds. They have shed tears and sweat. And yet, many of them have gone back dejected, their dreams shattered, their spirit broken, their future unknown.

But today he will prove once and for all that he is up to the challenge. To all those who stand in judgment, I say bring it on. He will defeat you, he will weather this storm, and he will win this battle, no matter what it takes. Yes, the odds are stacked heavily against him. Yes, the system is rigged. But he is a man of intelligence, a man of strength, a man of character. His convictions will carry him through this tough phase. He recognises that life is hard. He realises that life is unfair. He understands that it can get very competitive out there.

Yes sir, my three-year-old nephew in India knows that school interviews for admission into Kindergarten are no laughing matter.

As I read about the ridiculous techniques that schools in India employ to "interview" three-year-old kids, I don't know whether to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all, or to cry at the plight of these poor little children who have to bear the brunt of this insane treatment, because incompetent and self-absorbed adults cannot figure out a better way.

The new school session has also just begun in Massachusetts. And what a difference! Public schools in any town here are required to admit kids who live in that town of course, so there is no admissions problem there. Schooling is free in these public schools, and they are funded by taxes that the town residents pay. In the morning, a school bus picks up the kids from right in front of their houses, and in the afternoon it drops them back. Again, all paid for by our taxes – the parents do not have to pay a dime.

Private schools, of course, are expensive. And yes, most of them do interview students and their parents. But these interviews are quite unlike the farcical power plays that those in India have become. They are more of a give and take nature. The parents are given a tour of the facilities so that they can learn more about the school and the teachers, and parent interviews allow the school to learn more about the applicants. There is no discussion of how much the parents earn, and no questions about the number of cars or houses they own. That would be illegal. But more importantly, it is irrelevant.

Now don't get me wrong. I understand that there is a vast difference in the resources available to schools in India and the US. I also understand that because of the huge population, Indian schools do have to come up with some method of admitting students. But frankly, should we not expect some sort of logic to drive this whole process?

You are asking a three year old who can barely speak, what the difference between a vertical and a horizontal stripe is? You are asking a child what the color of her shirt is, and when she gives the correct answer, trying to "test her resolve" by telling her that she is wrong? Is there anything more bizarre than that?

And when did our own language become such a disgrace? While knowledge of English is indeed quite important for succeeding in today's world, do we really have to force these tiny tots to forget the language that comes naturally to them and speak in English all the time? Does a three-year-old child who has just about started to talk coherently, really need that kind of pressure in his life? If we teach them at this young age that their own language is something to be ashamed of, what kind of future citizens are we producing? Is this the best that our education "experts" can come up with?

And is it really necessary for schools to know whether the parents of a child own a house and a car? Is it truly that important to know whether his parents can play basketball? How is that relevant to anything at all?

You ask a three year old to talk to you about his hopes and ambitions in life – you got to be kidding me! Let me tell you what they are, and they're the same for every three year old, whether they live in Delhi or in Boston – to munch on as much candy as they possibly can, to collect as many colorful toys as they possibly can, and to expect without reservation, that the adults in their lives will take care of them and not ask them stupid questions.

So here's an appeal to all school principals and teachers in India. For God's sake, pause for a moment and think about what you are doing. Really think. If we are to produce true global leaders, and men and women of character, we must begin in right earnest. Put an end to this madness. Let our kids be kids. Let them laugh and let them play, as kids must. Let them enrich your school with their individuality. Give them the opportunity to learn by allowing them to make mistakes. Don't turn them into clones. Don't smother their imagination. Don't break their spirit with this outrageous admission process. Don't burden them with pressures of competition at such an early age.

The parents are counting on you. The nation is counting on you. My nephew is counting on you.

First Published: Sep 26, 2005 20:13 IST