Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My experience with putting a child into the local school today

The harrowing tales of parents desperate to put kids into reputable schools is legendary. I experienced just a teens y weensy bit today, when I accompanied my housekeeper who wanted to put her 6 year old into the first grade at the school near my farm, as a transfer student from the school he previously attended in Minneriya.

I simply wanted to put this kid into the nearest school to where I live, so the child can walk to the school, and cause less disruption on the home front, a very reasonable motive, one that is considered normal in a state school in the USA . So off I went to ‘Basnahira Palatha, Homagama, Subarathi Mahamathya Vidyala’ (name of the school) to meet the Principal. We took with us the birth certificate, the leaving certificate from the previous school and the standard application form for entrance. The principal had asked the mother to come today, and I was asked to come as someone who may without knowing it be able to sway!

There was no question of money being involved, knowing full well these poor! Principals are offered obscene amounts by obsessed parents and brokers who specialize in this trade! I was told by the Principal that in the school he had received 300 petitions for reconsideration of entry into first grade, challenging refusals. These petitions are individually considered by an independent committee in case of unfair assessment. The newspapers have stories of mothers who have nothing else but themselves to offer to principals to enter their kids! The variety of inducements are worthy of a book. For Principals who are generally on a monthly Salary of Rs50K similar to an MP in Parliament, must find it hard to refuse.

It must take a very altruistic and person of strong character to refuse these inducements, as the principal is the main person who can determine whether to accept or reject if he is able to make a case. I am now firmly convinced there must be two grades of principal, and for such hard to enter schools their remuneration must be increased to somewhere like Rs150,000 as they are usually chosen from a very competitive interviewing process, as applications are also very high. We cannot help that fact that some schools are in high demand. We must know which ones they are and hold the heads of those schools to a much high standard, and also which attracts the best person, including the moral and ethical character.

Usually, owners of property close to the school who have been resident for long periods get first preference in a system of marks out of 100 when it comes to entering their kids into first grade. Whilst that is the determinant, the Principal told me that there are many people who do not have the title deeds in their names, though they were born and raised there, and some property is in dispute due to wills left by parents that are unclear. These people who may have even gone to the school cannot put their kids into the school. Then there are many kids today with parents living overseas as economic migrants, and the children are with the grandparents who face the same problem, as it is in the grandparent’s home that the child resides. There are a long list of similar cases too numerous to mention.

This school in question was small not too long ago, but in the tenure of the last principal of 17 years, (just retired) grew into a hugely successful one with 1600 students from grades 1 to 11 that is up to O levels. It is now very prestigious due to good academic results where even people from Colombo wish to enter their kids into this school. The Principal, appointed from the first of this month after a stringent series of interviews, has recently had to change his abode temporarily and live in a secret location to get away from parents and others attempting to enter children into the school, calling him incessantly to twist his arm.

I took my turn at 8 this morning to meet the Principal, Manjula and stood in line for a couple of hours first before getting into his office to see him. He knew me after I walked in as he is the son of a local couple we have known forever, and is like family. I went for the opening of his book shop many years ago in Meegoda. I knew before I went that he was the new principal, though I had not contacted him earlier about this particular issue. He was chosen from an extremely competitive selection, and is a very young looking 44yr old, who I am sure will take the school to greater heights and I really wish him well.

The classes are full, 42 for each class, and it is maxed out. There was nothing he could do today, but he took me over to the local education executive whose office was also in the school grounds and spoke to her about the next adjacent school to my property, Dharmaraj on the Meegoda side. She called the Principal of Dharmaraj who said that his classes were full that is the 42 pupil max, but will call back in 30mins in case there was a place. When the ed exec called again, there was a possibility due to one student not having come to school for 3 months, without giving reason, and that once that time is up they have the right to cancel and fill the place. The three months is up tomorrow and so the Ed Exec wrote a note to assist in entering this kid to the school.

I then went to this school, about 2km from the first, and personally met the principal with the note and seal of the education authority, making the request official. Having explained the issue, and also in view of his comment earlier, he told the mother to bring the boy and come to the school on Friday morning, to be entered. I was told it was my lucky day, no actually the child’s lucky day that this opening came up just today!!

For my luck I seemed to have misplaced my new bifocal reading glasses I had with me when I went to meet the Principal along with the dongle I use to get on line, which was in it. I guess that is the price one pays for these things, and let us hope the kid will benefit from this free education.

It has taken me three months to sort all this up, as the mother and child have to go back to their previous Grama Niladari division and get a letter saying they have left their previous place of abode. Then I have to write a letter to the local GN to inform him that this is now the abode of mother and child. Then she has to go with these two letters to the local GN and get a letter called a Certificate of Residence and Character which he completes and signs, and then has to be sealed at the local Divisional Secretariat to establish residence prior to entering the child locally.

If anyone thinks it is a doddle to enter a child into the nearest school especially if one changes residence, I can tell you one has to go through a minefield of hurdles.

I usually write on many topics on education in this blog, and now I have one more experience to add and make recommendations on improvement. Surely there MUST be a better way to guarantee entry of kids into schools!! Is it because there are so few schools that are good, that there is such a scramble for places? I do not know the answer to that, but if we can improve the overall standard of education in all our schools, we can I am sure reduce the incidence of this parents’ nightmare.

Despite all this the quality of education in these schools is lacking. The parents’ criteria are still not high enough, as these schools DO NOT have good English or Computer Literacy classes. It is left to a dedicated teaching staff, lead by a really quality Principal, who should not be bogged down in School Admission issues, to take the school and the kids under their charge to new heights.

I would further add, that pressure that the local politicians including the Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman and other Ministers, both central and local, to put kids in by way of letters to the Principals must also be unfair on the Principal’s ability to choose. I have myself drafted politicians’ letters to various schools, so I know the pressure on the politician by the constituents who believe that the local MP can work miracles. I know that he cannot work miracles, and I have to field calls asking the MP to make a call to the minister to push an application for entry through!! It was interesting to deal with this issue sans a politicians’ letter in my particular case. Many kids of the farm workers in the farm have got entry into this school, but as things stand, if I have a child and I wish to get him or her in (this is a mixed school) I may be out of luck!! such are the present vagaries of entry into this school.

I was told that 50% of the intake is for the local area kids and the other on different criteria. It is this latter criteria using fraudulent data, and letters of people of influence that cause the trouble, the former 50% being squeezed as the demand is far greater and local people generally of a lower economic level than those who try other means to enter. I believe the local entry must be raised to 75%. 

It is simple common sense that kids must go to the nearest school. If the nearest school happens to be of a very high quality, then so be it!! It is the way kids in the US go to school and I am sure in most countries that offer free education at Primary and Secondary levels.

This boy could be lucky enough to get into the first school if space permits in the future. Whether he will ever realize the process, is another matter, and whether he benefits from this process, as compared with other alternatives he may have had life are also completely out of our control to influence. So Ariyachakra Bandaranayake Thevanga Mudiyanselage Vihanga Nimsara Bandaranayake, born October 6th 2006 this is about your life. You misbehaved very badly on this day complaining incessantly to your mother of having to stand, being hungry!! Etc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very nice story. we, your readers, like these kinds of first hand accounts, but housekeeper? Really?