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In conversation with parents in the past few weeks has highlighted the fact that admissions into high schools, entry point – Nursery and Jnr Kg continue to be the stressful times for families. I would have thought the pandemic would have ushered in a new era of how high schools organize the admission process and the decisions families make about the ‘rat-race’. The fact is that we as a nation seem to forget the lessons learnt very quickly and continue to operate as if nothing has changed. But it has. And the world will continue to evolve, and I hope families recognize that in their quest for the ‘perfect’ school, they are inflicting trauma independently. I had a mother rattle of that she had enrolled her child into a coding class, ballet, football, art, music, drama and phonic class not to mention some Robotics club, a gym class and math enrichment sessions apart from her online schooling routine in the morning, and in her ‘free’ time, she was learning Spanish and Sanskrit, a bit of science experiments as a hobby class. Because the mother was concerned about her ‘diction’, the child was being mentored by a language therapist to ensure that the pronunciation was ‘as per
expectations’. She lost me at coding. Whose expectations are these for a 2-and-a-half-year-old? Have we in the education space created this pre-admission anxiety channel? Well, admittedly so before Corona but we continue with this even after all that we have experienced.

While I was busy calculating how little time the child gets to enjoy herself as a toddler, I was then asked, ‘what do managements look for when admitting children?’. The father pointedly asked, how in 10 minutes could the management decide if the parents were a ‘fit’. Let’s address what management’s look for. For me, it is about families that understand the vision of the school – its mission and vision (it concerns me when parents tell me that the narrative is the same when it comes to marketing for ALL schools, so they don’t really bother!!!). Does the family understand this, and are they able to communicate their vision for their child, their hopes, their aspirations, their desires and of course how they spend time with the child and what’s their family culture, principles etc. Can they contribute to the community of students by being supportive and volunteering their time and efforts, are the parents open-minded, and progressive? The last thing a panel wants are parents who readily agree to the focus on ‘critical thinking,’ and then because this takes time to materialize in the form of a tangible (often years later), parents start demanding ‘more worksheets’ because in their world, the more the child writes, the ‘smarter’ the child is. Managements want parents who will attend discussions, workshops and remain supportive of the school’s vision. Uncomplicated, straight forward? Yet, mommie chats are abuzz about ‘perfect’ answers, and for those applying to schools with a written test (yes, there are school who would like parents to share their thoughts about ‘scenarios’ prior to a face-to-face interview), often consult ‘guides’ to help fill up those forms!!! It baffles me when parents resort to such help, because the question is not a ‘test’ but an attempt to understand the vision the parents have for their child. For managements in cases of conflict, nobody in their right minds wants a morcha type attitude but one that will work at finding solutions! So the ‘perfect’
answers are not model answers, but basis of thoughts, feelings and reflections.
Now let’s take if from the perspective of the parents. What do they look for when they shortlist schools for their little ones? Proximity to home, the financial expectation, the track record, the facilities that stimulate learning (I do not care too much about ‘fancy’, state of art glamorous rooms but about how that infrastructure will be used to create thinking children, creative use of spaces), the range of cocurriculars that they offer during school hours (not before or after), the teacher training programs for their teachers, the tech component, the out-of-class experiences, personalization and customization, and the value additions. And yes, the kind of academic board that the school embraces does play a part, as it allows the school freedom and flexibility but it cannot work in isolation. For me it is about how that school receives an admission inquiry and responds within minutes to explain what the school is about and not leave the parents ‘guessing’ by researching websites. It’s about communication, and comfort, it is about the school ‘wanting’ to work with families and understanding what works for the child, and what does not by spending time with the child. It is about a journey, about passion and about experience and expertise.

Again, straight forward?
So where is the stress? And why the anxiety? At least in big metros, it becomes a case of many families applying to schools that have limited capacity. And yes, these ‘sought’ after schools have rightfully earned their reputation over the years as being quality learning environments, and we all know everyone only wants the ‘best. Does that mean option 5, 6 7 and 8 are a ‘stop gap’ arrangement? We need to accept certain facts. At least in Mumbai, the city is populated with all kinds of public and private unaided schools with price points from Rs 35,000k a year to Rs 25 lacs a year. With the range in existence, there are options. And I always believe that every family finds their own happiness in some or the other school, provided they let go of the comparisons and the emotions that are associated with ‘not getting into their preferred TOP school’. The fact that there is limited capacity in most schools creates the panic, and the self inflicted trauma of ‘prep’ as every family wants to represent themselves as the ‘perfect’ one. Dare to be different for the sake of your children, and for a moment drop off the rat-race. This will then help you analyze, rationalize and get excited about the school that wants to work with your family.

I remember as an early years educator (gosh it was ages ago, as this was the part time job I took on in college), Mikhail a student of mine went for an interview to a ‘top’ school in Mumbai. Both his parents were neurosurgeons and unable to take him, so enthusiastically (my first job), I offered to accompany him as he was always comfortable around me. I remember him walking out in 5 minutes, and telling me, ‘ they asked me small, medium and large 10 times …. I answered. Then they asked me which is my favourite part of the story ‘3 little pigs’ and I said it was a silly story and I didn’t like it. After that I got bored with their questions, so I came out. They did not make me feel comfortable and when I asked questions, they refused to answer. So I am done. Now can we go to our school and have some fun?’ Fun for Mikhail was dismantling toys and assembling them again because the child was super gifted, and amazing with his ability to work on cause and effect. Needless to say, he did not get into that school. But this little kid is currently in one of the most sought after Ivy League colleges in the US and his parents found a school that recognized Mikhail’s
innate gift.

I rest my case.
Parents respect your children, and respect that they cannot know everything before they begin their
schooling journey. That’s why you are selecting a school. And educators it is time to re-think some of the things that we ‘expect’ children to know and begin thinking about building relationships.

The new age educators are already on this path of admitting students in a way that is healthy, and this is an encouraging sign. But then some parents tell me – the interview was ‘too easy’ and therefore maybe it isn’t a good school?

Well, the sage continues ….


Fatema Agarkar

Founder, Agarkar Centre of Excellence Veteran of 3 educational start-ups – is now a Founder of Agarkar Centre of Excellence, Fatema’s passion for teaching-learning and children defines the different roles she has crafted – as an edupreneur, educator and mentor.

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