We have been school hunting for the last few months. Well actually, we looked around for schools in September, made up our mind for a particular one and then applied to it when "bookings" opened in November.
It's been an interesting experience and stressful too.
It appears there is a huge demand for schooling and most people keep telling me that Education is the best business to be in. In fact, few of my friends have started a play-school on a franchise from a national brand!
Initially, we thought it's too early to look for a school since he is just ready for play-school... but then realized that most schools are "admitting" students earlier and earlier... the 2 schools we shortlisted both belonged to the same group and had a play/kindergarten school that was a feeder school to the 2 primary schools. So it made sense if he got into their play school since he would automatically then go on to their regular primary school as well...
We kept a look out for when the school would start issuing application forms and on the appointed day in November, my wife to the school early at 6:30 am to stand in a queue to accept the forms which would be sold from 9:00 am.
The form had strict guidelines on when it has to be submitted - approximately four days from when it had been issued. The trickiest portion was that we had to decide which of the 2 primary schools we wanted to opt for him to finally go to after four years of play/kindergarten school. This decision cannot be changed once the form is submitted and so entailed a fair amount of debate, discussion on the schools, their methods, facilities, fees and so on. Plus discussions with friends whose children went to these schools about which is better. One school is better established, older but also follows the older system of education. It also has smaller school grounds and lower fees. The other one is newer, bigger grounds and follows a more contemporary education system but also has much higher fees. It also seems to have more "rich-kids" and hence the worry that our child may not fit-in or even worse, get spoiled!
To further complicate matters, the demand for the two schools differ - the older school has far higher demand from parents and therefore the chances of your child getting admitted in the playschool are much lesser if you selected the older school!
Working out all the permutations and combinations, ifs-and-buts, positives and negatives - didn't really take us forward towards a clear decision.
Finally, we decided at the time the form was being submitted, when my wife was at the school office to submit the form - over the phone and she filled it in and submitted the form. We opted for the new school. Positives were the education system that we liked - negatives were the high cost of fees and the possibility of the child getting spoiled... and of course a positive - potentially better chance at admission into the play school.
Then started the wait for the interview call which we received only in January. Meanwhile, came the distressing news of a common friends' child having been refused on an earlier day when their interview call had come. Apparently, the child did everything well but other kids did better than him. Stress levels were rising for me now!
My son isn't even two years old and we haven't really pressured him to "learn" per se - things like numbers, alphabets, nursery rhymes, etc. And then came various reports of how other kids his age could do many of these things - talk about pressure!
Anyhow, our interview call came. That morning, we made sure he was dressed nicely and looked like a nice little boy :-) and then we made sure we were well turned out and dressed well to! Then a quick prayer and off we went to the school!
The entire "interaction" was fairly well organized and stress-free as far as the child was concerned. There were quite a few other parents as well and you could tell from the forced care-free expressions that all the parents were worried - their child shouldn't suddenly get into a bad mood, should suddenly decide to behave badly, etc... and so were we!
Soon we were called inside - they told us only one parent can accompany the child inside - which we did know earlier . The plan was for my wife to take him in - but the previous night she suggested I should take him in - so along with him, I went in.
We were ushered to a table with toys and they asked that the child be seated and allowed to interact with the items available. Luckily my son played with the various toys - and seemed to know what to do with them. There were a few scary moments - when I didn't know what one toy was and when he suddenly refused to leave once we were done - he wanted to continue playing! Anyway, we made our way out - said Thank you and left.
We were under the impression that we would need to wait a week before the results would be announced and I was working at calming myself to not get stressed till we heard the results. Thoughts like the fact we had not applied to any other schools, or that they may suggest other kids did better than him, etc. played on my mind all that morning.
I was relieved of my misery later that afternoon though - my wife called and said she had received a call that our son was selected! Thank god for that!
It's been an interesting and learning experience... two things that I got out of it are:
1. The first debate was about the kind of school and the type of children that went to that school. Based on all the discussions and introspection, I have come to the conclusion that basic grounding of a child such as humility, care for others, ability to cope with different situations, rounded-ness, etc will come from the home... the school will have an impact - but a large part of this is not really dependent on the school but on the parents.
2. There was a lot of debate about the fees and whether you should opt for an expensive school which will pinch far more on the pocket and require you to stretch more. It seems to me that if we want our next generation to do better than us - we must send them to better school - which might invariably be a little more expensive that what you can comfortably afford. It's not just the quality of education - many schools may have equal or better and may be less expensive - I think it's the whole package - the kind of teachers, the kind of students who attend, the infrastructure, the culture, etc - everything put together will create an eco-system that moulds the child in certain way .
3. There was also a lot of debate about the whole system per se - and how the schools are making money, have unreasonable demands, etc. My view on the subject is that if a school is better, it will have more demand - the more the demand for the school, the more it can choose to dictate the rules and choose its pupils. Hence to be fair to the demands of a free market - we must recognize that they have a right to frame their rules - and play by them if we want to send our children to these schools.