Thursday, March 11, 2010

The curious case of nursery admissions

when you're bored at work you do stories like this -- but just as well because its been over three months since i last wrote in print




By Omar R Quraishi

Admissions to the nursery section and class III of arguably the city’s most prestigious school, Karachi Grammar, commenced from this week, according to a notification posted on the school’s admissions website and interviews conducted with parents of applicants. Last year, the nursery section admitted around 120 students from a pool of 1,500 applicants, most of whom had already spent around two years at the pre-school level in various institutions scattered across Karachi.

A child is eligible only if he is between the age of four years two months and three years three months at the time of entry – which is August every year. The initial application process involves queuing outside the school on two separate days – for one hour each day – when slips for registration are given out to parents. The first day is for children who already have at least one sibling already in the school or whose parent (at least one) has been a former student. The next day slips are handed out to children with neither of these connections.

In the past the rush for the slips has been such that parents have lined up at least 12 hours prior to the scheduled opening time, with some coming fully prepared with chairs and food, or at times asking domestic servants and/or drivers to stand in line. That however has changed somewhat but the numbers – of applicants that is – hasn’t.

Standing in line on one of the days would give the indicate that perhaps this school is the only decent one in the whole city. Express Tribune briefly interviewed some of the parents – who spoke on the condition that that their names not be used given that they all were participating in the application process. Some of the parents bordered on the hysterical when asked what would happen in case their child was not admitted given that the admission rate – statistically comparable to admission at a top Ivy League university.

A couple said that they had placed their child in tuitions – as in other than what they were learning in their pre-school – and that this was to adequately “prepare” them for the test that is an integral part of the admission process for applicants to both nursery as well as class three. The latter stream has a test which is around three hours long and tests skills in English, Urdu and Mathematics. One parent, however, said that three hours was simply too long for a child so young but then in the same vein also admitted that this was something that she was willing to put her child through, for the sake of a chance at admission to the school. Clearly, in all of this it seems as if the parents are being tested and not their children because they, not their child, go through all the emotional upheaval associated with a rigorous selection/admission process.

As for the nursery section, the three-year olds first go to office of the school’s headmistress with their parents. Shortly thereafter, they are invited by the headmistress to come to her side of the table where they are shown a family photograph and asked to identify the people present (this, ‘legend’ has it, was introduced some years back after a particularly industrious family used a decoy couple as parents to sit in on the interview). After that, a teacher takes them to an adjoining room where they are tested. What they are tested on is not really known because parents stay in the headmistress’s room and are then ushered outside to wait on their child. It is believed however that the test involves ascertaining the child’s motor and other physical skills as well as analytical and related organizational abilities. They may be asked to colour an object or identify one and – this has never been confirmed but seems to be quite a favourite with many pre-schools since they all train their students to do it – write their names.

Interviews are scheduled to run through March and most of April and the result will not be due till the last few days of that month. As one mother of a nursery applicant put it: “My life is on hold till the list comes out – and after that, it may well end.”

Ends/

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