Fixing Kashmir’s prejudiced Kindergartens

People’s right to education is blatantly violated right under our nose and we – not just common man but members of civil society and law enforcement agencies as well –are, willy-nilly, acting like mute spectators, says Abrar ul Mustafa

school kid

I’m sure you must have stopped by the advertisements issued by valley’s top private schools on the front page of your daily newspaper pronouncing dates for the interview of kids seeking admission in Kindergarten. And Just like I did, you must have expressed shock over this inefficient, discriminatory and imperfect practice of conducting panel interviews of these kids and an evaluation of their parents’ educational, social and professional status by top private schools of the valley.

What’s wrong with this system?

A group of five to seven interviewers analyse two- and three-year olds in terms of their skills in reading, writing, speaking and so on. If, unfortunately, your kid fails to speak in front of the interviewers, your kid has failed in the test. Upon interviewing, kids are given grades, A, B, C and D. If a kid falls in Grade C or D, he’s declared inefficient and unfit for education!

How can a three-year-old kid be granted or denied admission on the basis of an interview! For God sake, this isn’t an interview for an administrative job. Testing the child for his reading and writing skills is not the suitable way to decide about his admission. Kids are quick learners. They learn from their experiences and observations. They’re curious and curiosity is the best teacher. They’re not required to possess any prior knowledge.

This is not the end of the story. Top private schools of the Valley carry out a session with the parents too. They’re analysed and evaluated in terms of their professional, social status. Children of parents with a lower status are out rightly denied the admission. This leads to a situation where such children are denied access to quality education. Their fault: they are born to illiterate or economically poor parents.

Their ingenuity and intelligence is ignored. They’re deprived of their right to quality education. Consequently, they’re compelled to seek admission in other schools where their creativity and worth is lost somewhere inside the walls.

This is a social nuisance that is getting piled up day by day. It’s comprehensible that a parent’s educational, professional or social characteristics in no way affect the mental capabilities of the child. Should he be given access to quality education and a conducive environment, he’s inferior to none.

History is witness that some men of mettle, who rose to the highest levels of development, education and achievement, came from poor and illiterate families. That is why a peasant’s daughter tops Chartered Accountants’ exam or a handicraft artisan’s son tops the CET. The point I want to bring to the knowledge of school managements is that you cannot decide the fitness of a child on the basis of the credentials of his parents.

A child who speaks a couple of words in the interview or the one who enjoys the privilege of being the child of the influential, rich and socially high-profile parents, gets the access and the one who doesn’t speak much or belongs to a poor father is denied the access. This leads to a situation where quality education becomes possible for only a small number of children and the majority are left to inferior schooling. The 100 point scale adopted by the majority of the private schools for evaluation of the kids comprises some parameters on the basis of which is determined their fitness for admission. These parameters include: profile of the parents, distance from the school, whether any one of the parents is an alumni of the school or not, whether any sibling of the child already studies in the school or not. Although some of these parameters are logical, such as the ‘distance from the school’, the most of the parameters are imperfect and illogical.

Punch line

Implement a system where there is one regulator, one maintainer and one decider. What I mean to say is that the government should take control away from the private schools by making them public sector schools. No differences, no biases and no superiority.

Let’s implement a system where all the schools are equal in terms of their quality, staff, infrastructure, admission procedure, everything. No school should be inferior or superior to any other school. A school in Gulmarg should be at par with a school in Srinagar city. After taking control over the private schools, equal distribution of qualified and competent staff and infrastructure should be implemented so that the daughter of a poor rural peasant gets the same education as received by the son of a wealthy city dweller. In short, there should be a uniform school education system where there is an equal access to quality education for all and the one which is being regulated by a single entity.

Such a system would be beneficial in more than one way. First of all, it will stop the nuisance of unequal access to quality education and secondly, it may pave ways for a system where categorisation of candidates for selection in jobs and courses can be done away with. In other words, the system of General, Backward, Scheduled Class, etc. kind of categorisation would be irrelevant. Performance in and results of entrance exams, job interviews, etc will be purely based on competence and merit and not on the mercy of the govt.

Postscript

I conclude by quoting a few lines from a detailed guiding text of The Hong Kong govt’s ‘Special Administrative Region’ under its ‘Education Bureau’: “Children start their learning in kindergarten which should not require them to possess any prior knowledge. Instead of drilling their young children for admission interviews and exerting pressure on them, parents are advised to give them more opportunities to play and communicate with others. Children will then be able to act and talk naturally in front of strangers.”

Kids are like dew drops, intricate and bright. Each has an intrinsic worth. Take care of them. I find the following Urdu couplet very relevant to the debate.

Kehta hai shor-e-dariya se samandar ka sokoot

Jis mein jitna zarf hai wo utna khamosh hai

[The calm of an ocean addresses the noise of a river: The more the worth, the more the silence.]

Abrar Ul Mustafa

Abrar Ul Mustafa is Assistant Manager at Canara Bank in Srinagar.

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