Indian Decade

From Delhi to Harvard

Getting into the best schools is something of an obsession for Delhi’s parents.

All over the world, Indians are considered intelligent, studious and hardworking. Our children really have little choice considering how quickly the rat race starts for them here. And the first hoop of fire you need to jump through is when you’re barely three years-old! Ask any parent of a three year-old in Delhi about nursery school admissions, and you’re bound to encounter every human emotion possible–exhilaration, rage, disappointment, envy and ambition.

Delhi has about 2,600 recognised primary schools but only just over about twenty are coveted by the upper crust, educated, professional parent. And strategising for admissions in these schools begins months before application forms are probably even printed!

Delhi schools follow the guidelines of the Ganguly Committee whose recommendations came into effect in 2006. The committee was formed to bring out a standardised admission process for the capital’s schools ostensibly to put an end to the rampant ‘buying’ of seats–even for toddler classes–and for the very Indian of tricks, using ‘bandobast’ to get in. Ganguly mandated that schools use a 100-point system to rank each child. Points are given on proximity to school, on being an alumni’s child, children with special needs, sibling of students already enrolled. Schools can choose from a list of these parameters to rustle up their own winning cocktail. This academic session’s process began December 15 and final results for schools after short listing students on the basis of forms and ‘informal interactions’ with parents came out on February 1.

This was top news for TV news networks, magazines and newspapers in Delhi. There are websites now devoted to helping parents get the school of their choice. A friend spent weeks reading up on current affair issues to sound informed and knowledgeable during her interactions with school authorities. Others I know have given fake addresses to win points for nearness to the schools. Still, others have moved homes (at higher rents) to get their children into the ‘it’ schools of Delhi. Many have debated paying huge sums of money to weasel in.

‘With everyone applying to the same few schools, the chances of getting into a top choice are, to put it mildly, slim. Last year, the Hindustan Times (a top-selling Indian daily) ranked Shri Ram the number one school in South Delhi. With just 72 seats, that leaves each regular candidate a 4.7 percent chance of getting in. Last year’s acceptance rate at Harvard College was 7.1 percent,’ wrote Kate Darnton, a Delhi-based writer-editor, and the mother of two young girls in a recent editorial.

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Her findings are a source of great joy for me! My three-and-a-half-year-old son, Agastya, has made it to the coveted Shri Ram school’s new branch in Noida, the Delhi suburb where I live. After, I might add, an absolutely harrowing couple of months applying to several schools in our neighbourhood, and living through the long forms and longer waits for the results to come out. We’ve even foregone a considerable amount of money we had already paid up in a ‘lesser’ school after Agastya made it to Shri Ram Millennium, Noida. Should I now be packing my bags for his convocation in Boston?