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     Volume 7 Issue 15 | April 11, 2008 |

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straight Talk

The Educational Battlefield

Nadia Kabir Barb

“Wake up”, I whispered to my husband, unceremoniously shaking him and ending his peaceful slumber. “What is it?” came the sleepy response. “I think we may have missed the deadline for the school registration,” I said in a louder and more panicked voice. This seemed to bring my husband back to reality. “You mean to tell me, you woke me up in the middle of the night to give me this piece of information?" I nodded vigorously. “Well”, said my other half, “considering it is two in the morning, I don't think the school registrar will be available right now for a chat about late registration!” With this sarcastic rejoinder, he put his head back on the pillow and promptly fell asleep. “But...,” I persisted, however the resolutely closed eyes told me that I was not going to get anywhere by pursuing the topic. Needless to say I stayed up a while longer contemplating the horrible fate that would befall our son if we did not sort out registering him for schools within the next few days.

The source of my anxiety stemmed from the fact that my son has to sit for exams called Common Entrance next year when he is thirteen to be able to move from his prep school to a senior school. But for this you need to register your child at least a year or more in advance at the schools you are interested in. It sounds very straight forward but as my husband and I have found out through the process of trial and error, schools and the education system in the U.K are far from straight forward! For example, our son does the Common Entrance but my eldest daughter sat for the 11+ exam to get into senior school when she was eleven and not thirteen, as will my younger daughter. I almost feel as if the education system is structured in such a way as to intentionally stress parents out and confuse them.

My mother always says that the best gift you can give your child is that of a stable family life and a good education. Wealth can be wasted and squandered but the gift of knowledge is infinite. As a parent, I can now understand and appreciate the sentiments behind the statement. I am sure most parents would agree that getting one's child into a good school is somewhat of a priority. But from what I hear, it really does not matter where you live whether it is in the UK or Bangladesh, as places for good schools are highly competitive. To give you an example, one of the schools we are applying to has approximately forty places but the number of students competing for those limited number of seats is over five hundred. What is even more worrying is that many of the boy's schools are now admitting girls therefore cutting the number of places by half! The process of admission is also quite convoluted. In some of the schools after the initial registration (in some cases you have to enrol over two years in advance), there is the school's entrance examination and if you get through round one then you have the interview round. Assuming you get through the second round, you will be given a place conditional on your child getting respectable grades in his Common Entrance exams. So up until you have confirmation of decent results, parents spend their time agonising as to whether or not their child will end up in the school of their choice. So can you blame me for my nocturnal angst? Having spoken to parents of my son's friends, it seems that we are not the only ones in this state of alarm. In fact it seems that between the parents in my son's class and anyone who has children in the same predicament, we are collectively on the verge of mass hysteria.

I still recall a few days after our youngest daughter was born; my husband informed me that he was going to put her name down for the Montessori school my son had gone to. Thinking he was joking, I laughingly commented that I was aware that the early bird gets the worm but this was maybe a little too premature. Nonetheless his concern was justified as we realised that to even get a foot in the door meant registering at the earliest possible time. So before my baby had even spoken her first words or taken her first steps, her academic future had been plotted out by her overprotective yet well-intentioned parents. In our minds it was either taking the pre-emptive strike or ending up with home schooling!

It appears that the situation in Bangladesh, Dhaka in particular is no better. From the stories I hear from my friends or relatives with school going children, getting places in good schools is just as difficult. A friend told me that her three-year-old niece had to go for an interview at a school and then wanted to play instead of answer the questions she was asked. The consequences were that she was rejected from this particular school. To be perfectly honest what can you expect from a toddler at the tender age of three? The sad thing is there are parents who do coach their kids even at that early age just to make sure they have a chance of getting into a good school or even making it onto their waiting list. The concern here is the undue amount of pressure it puts not only on the parents but on the children themselves. Sending their children to a school which is not up to the mark is a compromise very few parents would be willing to make. But with the current state of affairs as far as schools are concerned, there is sometimes no other option.

Luckily the following morning after my panic attack when I finally spoke to the registrar, she was very amenable and told me that I should just come in person and fill in the forms which I did almost immediately. At least that was one minor worry off my mind --- well almost. “Wake up”, I whispered. “What is it now?” groaned my poor husband. “Do you think we should apply to a few more schools?” I queried. I do believe my perfectly reasonable question albeit at one o'clock in the morning was not even dignified with an answer...!

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