“There is zero transparency on admission criteria”

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If you overhear a group of middle class parents talking, you are likely to hear the topic of schools – especially so around the time of admissions. The emotions vary from excitement to speculation to worry to concern to resignation. Many parents consider choosing a school among well established private schools as one of the big decisions they will be taking for their child.

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Parents talk about the criteria for selecting schools and discuss schools’ approach to teaching, wondering if a certain methodology will work best for their child.

Parents queueing up at National Public School, Koramangala for their childrens' admission forms.

Parents queueing up at at National Public School, Koramangala for admission forms for their children. Pic: Chitra Aiyer.

More often than not, after applying to schools, you can find parents speculating the criteria for admission to schools. A common cribbing is that that there is no transparency in the process and they just have to apply and wait it out. They ask around, on what criteria matters to the schools in considering the applications: Is it the educational background of the parents? Would their earning capacities make a difference? Some even wonder if a letter of recommendation from somebody influential would help.

While you can detect stress among parents, most of them have their options open and have already narrowed down more than one school. In most cases parents have their preparations and their research ready for three schools or more. Citizen Matters spoke to some parents looking for admissions for academic year starting June 2010.

Gaurav Kanaujia, a retail consultant is  trying to see if he can get his elder son admitted to upper kindergarten at a bigger school from his current montessori school , not too far away from home. Unlike Gaurav, most parents are looking for montessori/nursery, lower kindergarten, and first standard admissions; these are the typical entry points into schools. Admissions to first standard are usually sought by parents who are looking to shift their wards from kindergarten or montessori school.

Getting a seat into upper kindergarten is hard, since schools have already filled up their seats at either at nursery or at lower kindergarten level, says Gaurav. So what led to him seeking admissions now, when he could have sought admissions to lower kindergarten last year, I ask. Recession, he tells me. When the financial scene turned sour, he decided to not take up admission at an expensive Sarjapur road school as planned earlier. Now, things are better on the work front and he thinks he is ready to again look at bigger schools for his son.

Information or the lack of it.

Lack of information about when a certain school is going to give out application forms seems to be a common cause of despair amongst parents in the city. Some schools are giving out application forms now and some schools may only give out application forms next month, whereas some others have stopped accepting applications.

Monika Manchanda from Marthahalli is looking for montessori admissions for her son. She started looking out for a montessori school in September end and found that the admissions were closed in at least a couple of schools. She has applied in four montessori schools. About the process itself, she says, “It has actually been a lot easier than friends had warned me about. None of the schools even asked me to bring my son for an interview. One even told me that it was simply a ‘first come first serve’ policy. In spite of it, I am stressed. It’s probably the biggest decision a parent will take for a child.”

Sunita V says that she and her husband began scouting for information about schools since June 2009. Their four-year-old daughter will start kindergarten in June 2010. They spoke to various parents, children and after several internet searches they finally narrowed down a list of schools. Some schools were easy to eliminate since the fee was very high. Next, they visited those schools that they had only heard of over the internet but had never seen or visited.

For one such school for which she had seen rave reviews on internet, she says she was disapointed after visiting the school. Apparently, this school also asked her to fork out Rs 35,000 as “donation” for admission. And she adds, “they wanted that donation in ‘cash’ only. I assume I would not have received a receipt for it.” All of this helped them narrow down the list to six schools including their alma maters, of which three are mainstream, two are alternative schools, and one, a backup school, in case nothing else works out for them.

After all the effort, Sunita and her husband aren’t too stressed about admissions since they are ahead of the game. The challenges she faced was the narrowing of school choices. She and her husband had to overcome their individual biases and decide the child’s future without any clear information from the schools but information based on hearsay from other parents and sketchy and conflicting reports. This statement summarises the sentiment of a lot of parents in the city. There is a lot of frustration when it comes to picking the right school for a child with minimal available information.

Application forms online?

Downloading application forms from a school’s website on the internet is still a distant thing.  Most of the schools still only give out hard copy forms inside the school premises.

Nirmala is helping her friend whose family is moving to Bangalore next year from the US. She offered to pick up admission forms from three schools her friend had considered. First, she called up the three schools to know when the admission forms are to be collected. At school #1, nobody picked up the phone. “I guess the school is inundated with calls, so cannot blame the school really.” she says. So, she set out braving bad traffic and then got to the middle of nowhere where the school is located. After all this, she was simply dismissed by the receptionist in two seconds informing her that the forms are not being issued yet and they “have no idea” when they will do so.

This story repeats in school #2. At school #3, they have already finished issuing the forms. However,  just a week ago they had told her on phone that they’ll take at least two weeks to issue the forms. After a few days, at school #1 and #2, she stands in the queue for a couple of hours each, gets the forms and couriers it over to her friend for Rs 2010! Now, her friend must courier the filled up forms back to her in a week’s time. “There is something called the internet. Why can’t they just put up the info on their website? Better still, give an option of letting people download forms, fill it and either e-mail or post it!” she concludes.

 

However, there are some schools who do give online forms. Priya S, a Jayanagar resident working in an MNC is on the lookout for first standard admissions for her six-year-old daughter. They decided to go with Sri Kumaran’s Childrens Home which started issuing application forms online from this year; they didn’t have to call up the school to check about forms, or go wait in lines. They simply filled up the form online when it was available. Submission of the form and uploading other required documents were also done online. The entire process was very easy on them, says Priya.

GEAR Innovative International and Delhi Public School (DPS) are the other schools where admission forms are available online.

What’s the admission process?

Little transparency in schools’ admission processes is the other very common woe amongst parents.

A lot of parents rely on reviews and recommendations when it comes to narrowing down on schools for their wards. Pradeep S and his wife from HSR Layout have been looking out for their son’s admission to first standard since August this year.  They are looking at three schools, narrowed down by recommendations and parent reviews.

“The process is, at best, weird. There is zero transparency on what the criteria are. If that be let known, parents need not apply where they don’t fit. What are the criteria? I am clueless. It is stressful to both the parents. Our child’s future is decided in 30 minutes after “interviewing” us. Even for forms, there is tamasha. The competition for the few seats in the popular schools is nerve wracking. The supply just can’t meet the demand!” he signs off.

Some of the schools, however, do spell out the criteria for selection. For example, the notice board outside one of the popular schools in the city hosts a note on the guidelines the school will follow for selecting new students. The note also says that this is as per the policies and the directives of the CBSE board.

The criteria for selection are as follows:
• Siblings of children who are already in the school.
• Children of the teachers and staff who work in the school.
• Children of alumni.
• Children of the employees of the central government sector who are in transferrable jobs.
• Distance from school.
• Migratory group – People who are returning from abroad to settle in Bangalore and seeking admission to CBSE schools.
• General category.

Going by what parents say, such published criteria may not be exhaustive and additional criteria appear to be at play when admissions decisions are finally taken.

Getting ahead of the game

Staying ahead of the game seems to be what some parents are resorting to since the process is time consuming, tiring and since the end result is not in their hands.

Rajajinagar based Smitha Holehoddu and her husband, both IT professionals were apparently advised by parents whom they talked to, to keep a tab on schools of their interest from around last week of September. She is looking for an admission into Montessori-I at two schools for now. “If my kid does not make it into either of these, I have a list of five schools (including these two) that I will try next year for LKG.” says Smitha. She looked at commute time, school boards, and how well established the school is.“Having spent most of my life in this part of Bangalore, short listing schools was not tough.”

There is a lot of rigorous activity going on in the city because of the admission process. Many parents are going through meticulous planning and analysis for narrowing down on schools and are going from school to school to finish admission process. The challenges are huge at every step. The process itself calls for refinement to save everybody concerned of all the endless grunt work.

ASHOK GANGULY REPORT 2006
– Give priority to children who stay closest to schools
– Improve government schools by involving private companies
– Ensure schools display number of seats available, method of filling them and infrastructure
– Eliminate interview of children
– Set up admission monitoring committees including parents at school level
– Ensure that schools start admission process at same time
– Take up school mapping and make maps available to parents

So what do the schools say?

Citizen Matters spoke to a few schools, both last year and this year. It is true that many schools are not open about their admission criteria. Since these schools are also privately owned, they see any regulations on admission as interference.

Earlier this year, M Srinivasan, the principal at GEAR Innovative International spoke to Citizen Matters on lack of transparency, “Private schools will have their own dynamics”. He believes in mechanisms to ensure quality and encouragement to schools doing well, without interference in admissions. “It should be a free market for people to open schools, earn money and serve in an area where public effort is pathetically crippling a young child. The philosophy that ‘government schools do not do well and hence we should punish or restrict private efforts that do well’ is against all grains of innovation and development.”

Col John Ellis (Retd), Principal, Bishop Cottons Boys School, explained earlier this year that their school is transparent about the admission process. “We do not have any interview, either for the child or the parent. We even try to explain to parents as to why their child did not get admitted. But they are never happy”, explains Col Ellis. The school gives priority to students from the Church of South India (CSI), alumni and siblings of students of the school. Out of 400 seats, 60-70 are reserved for those from socially and economically weaker background.

However, some schools also explain it as impossible to satisfy all parents if they are upfront on their process.  They feel parents may artificially try to equip themselves as per the schools’ criteria. For example, some schools expect parents to be in sync with their philosophy. With demand for good schools exceeding supply, parents may go to any length to get their child admitted.   ⊕

References
Parents we spoke to were looking for wards’ admissions in the following schools – National Public School, Delhi Public School, Vidya Sagar, Vidya Niketan, Prakriya, Akshara Montessori, Sishu Griha Montessori, Head Start Montessori, National Academy for Learning (NAFL), Poorna, The Valley school, Cluny Convent, Bishop Cotton School, Baldwins, Bethany High, Freedom International School, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Army Public School, Frank Anthony Public School, Sophia High School, Vibgyor High, Sindhi High School, GEAR Innovative International.