BENGALURU: Imagine a five-year-old, who’s just out of kindergarten or a playschool, being sent for ‘entrance coaching’. Children as young as that are being sent to ‘preschool experts’ who train them to clear school-admission tests. While this can leave the child anxious and withdrawn, parents are willing to try anything to ensure that their toddler is enrolled into a good school.
Typically a pre-school expert spends about six months trying to teach three to four letter words to a child. The child is also taught how to read sentences and do math such as addition and subtraction. They claim to use innovative ideas such as the role of play to tutor children, but this is far from the truth. Counsellors and parents say that the emphasis is on getting them to memorise lessons and not understand them.
The pre-school expert’s fee can vary anywhere between `10,000 and `20,000 a month, a rate many times more than what the school charges.
Traumatic disorder in children
Dr. Lalit Desai, child psychologist, says that children suffer from traumatic disorder related to exams right from grade one or even before they join school. “Schools tell parents that their children are lagging behind and advise them to come back a month later after having tutored their child well. Sometimes parents complain of having had to switch three or more tutors or child experts but in vain.”
Parents know it is a futile exercise but pursue it out of necessity. Says one parent, “How can a child, who has just turned five, remember long sentences and write down three- to four-letter words? Even if we give him three to four months to brush up on the so-called curriculum, there won’t be much of a difference. Is this the right way to gauge a child’s intelligence?”
Counselling at school
Few schools have hired in-house experts to help these young children deal with the admission pressure. They often advise, and even warn, parents against putting kids under such kind of pressure. Sarla Mukherjee, a counsellor at one of the prominent schools in Bengaluru, says, “Children around the age of five may not be prepared to deal with the curriculum meant for a six or seven years old. It leaves the child and parents anxious, and this affects the home environment.”
Parents talk about guilt associated with putting their children under unreasonable pressure. Shazia Faridi, a principal consultant for TurtleBowl, has a five-year-old son who recently had to take his entrance exam. “I know that this is his age to be engaged with fun activities for little children. But I am forced to make him study a certain curriculum, to pass an exam not meant for a kid so small. I try to make him understand why he should get into this particular school, but he is too small to understand. How can one blame him? I am left feeling guilty,” says Shazia.
Stress takes a toll on health of parents and children
Parents say that the stress and uncertainty of the whole admission procedure has put them on medication. Children begin to ‘shut down’, when put under pressure.
Rosy Singh (name changed) says that even after month of tutoring, schools do not give any guarantee that seats will still be available. “How am I to continue teaching my child trusting the school to accommodate her? Even before she has taken the exam I am so tense. Sometimes I am not able to handle this sort of worry and have started taking sleeping pills. All this is taking a toll on me and I am seriously considering homeschooling my daughter.”
If parents have to resort to medical treatment, like Rosy did, what about the tiny tots? Babitha Kishore (name changed) says that her son had started to withdraw into a cocoon, during this admission madness. “I noticed various changes in his behaviour.
The minute I took out his books, he would go mum or keep silent for hours. He feared being put under pressure to do something he doesn’t enjoy. In fact, he had started to turn away from food as well…” says this primary school teacher. She adds, “I quickly caught on and decided to let him relax, enjoy his early years and begin school later.”
A few parents say that change can be brought about only if everyone thinks in the same way and works towards it. When a bunch of parents decide to protest and take things in their hands, there might be another set of parents who choose to remain silent and let things pass by, fearing the consequences and also the future of their children.
Schools find loophole to evade legal action
Right to Education Act 2009 prohibits schools from conducting these entrance tests and interviews for pre-primary students, under Section 13. But unaided private schools are allowed discretion in administrative matters and schools list this admission procedure as one of them, to help them choose from the many thousands who apply.
It goes against the spirit of the law but parents such as Shazia say that they have little leverage over the school. Her son’s school is near her residence and office, and shifting to another school would mean having deal with the distance, besides squaring off other factors such as fee, strength of the school, and quality of teachers. She adds that school authorities are hardly understanding of children’s and parent’s plight, and often give you the cold shoulder if you bring your worries up with them.