The Curious Case of Nursery Admissions

Posted on March 27, 2010
Filed Under >Omar R. Quraishi, Economy & Development, Education, Society
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Omar R. Quraishi

Admissions to the nursery section and class III of arguably the city’s most prestigious school, Karachi Grammar, commenced from this week, according to a notification posted on the school’s admissions website and interviews conducted with parents of applicants. Last year, the nursery section admitted around 120 students from a pool of 1,500 applicants, most of whom had already spent around two years at the pre-school level in various institutions scattered across Karachi.

A child is eligible only if he is between the age of four years two months and three years three months at the time of entry – which is August every year. The initial application process involves queuing outside the school on two separate days – for one hour each day – when slips for registration are given out to parents. The first day is for children who already have at least one sibling already in the school or whose parent (at least one) has been a former student. The next day slips are handed out to children with neither of these connections.

In the past the rush for the slips has been such that parents have lined up at least 12 hours prior to the scheduled opening time, with some coming fully prepared with chairs and food, or at times asking domestic servants and/or drivers to stand in line. That however has changed somewhat but the numbers – of applicants that is – hasn’t.

Standing in line on one of the days would give the indicate that perhaps this school is the only decent one in the whole city. We briefly interviewed some of the parents – who spoke on the condition that that their names not be used given that they all were participating in the application process. Some of the parents bordered on the hysterical when asked what would happen in case their child was not admitted given that the admission rate – statistically comparable to admission at a top Ivy League university.

A couple said that they had placed their child in tuitions – as in other than what they were learning in their pre-school – and that this was to adequately “prepare” them for the test that is an integral part of the admission process for applicants to both nursery as well as class three. The latter stream has a test which is around three hours long and tests skills in English, Urdu and Mathematics. One parent, however, said that three hours was simply too long for a child so young but then in the same vein also admitted that this was something that she was willing to put her child through, for the sake of a chance at admission to the school. Clearly, in all of this it seems as if the parents are being tested and not their children because they, not their child, go through all the emotional upheaval associated with a rigorous selection/admission process.

As for the nursery section, the three-year olds first go to office of the school’s headmistress with their parents. Shortly thereafter, they are invited by the headmistress to come to her side of the table where they are shown a family photograph and asked to identify the people present (this, ‘legend’ has it, was introduced some years back after a particularly industrious family used a decoy couple as parents to sit in on the interview). After that, a teacher takes them to an adjoining room where they are tested. What they are tested on is not really known because parents stay in the headmistress’s room and are then ushered outside to wait on their child. It is believed however that the test involves ascertaining the child’s motor and other physical skills as well as analytical and related organizational abilities. They may be asked to colour an object or identify one and – this has never been confirmed but seems to be quite a favourite with many pre-schools since they all train their students to do it – write their names.

Interviews are scheduled to run through March and most of April and the result will not be due till the last few days of that month. As one mother of a nursery applicant put it: “My life is on hold till the list comes out – and after that, it may well end.”

This was originally posted at Omar R. Quraishi’s blog.

21 Comments on “The Curious Case of Nursery Admissions”

  1. ZAFAR says:
    March 28th, 2010 2:08 am

    What we do at these nursery admissions here and also in other elite schools is disgraceful. You did not even mention the ridiculous fees that are charged. This is not education, this is disgusting.

  2. Schajee says:
    March 28th, 2010 4:19 am

    I believe in free education till at least the 12th grade (something we can easily afford even now) and I also believe that we should have many more public and/or private schools, colleges and universities than what we have now.

    I do not however, see any problem with the picture painted above. It seems perfectly reasonable for any ‘private’ educational institute to admit whoever they want and charge as much as they want. Since there is no mention of any wrongdoings, I am going to assume that the admissions are strictly merit based, which is perfectly acceptable. And judging by reputation alone, I’ll assume they even teach these kids a thing or two.

    So why is this disgusting?

  3. Ikramullah says:
    March 28th, 2010 6:32 am

    This is just the rich buying their way for this kids to make sure that they will not lose their power. This is not a school its an “old boys club”

  4. NARGIS says:
    March 28th, 2010 8:10 am

    Its all about supply and demand. If there is a demand then this will happen.

  5. adnan says:
    March 28th, 2010 9:37 am

    Such schools are disgrace to the society. I had a chance to personally meet a child two years back when he was refused admission. His dejected look spoke of utter unjustice he met at such a small age. I was surprised to note it too that children even at such an age take it very personal if they come to know that they were supposed to achieve something which they failed. That boy didn’t wish to speak and I met his parents also who were later trying to cheer him up. Is this a child’s life??

    It made me badly disappointed, and I thought at that point that I would never send my children to these horrible places.

  6. Expat says:
    March 28th, 2010 9:38 am

    No problem with picture painted above ………. they say

    a merit based admission for a 3-4 year old?????????

    Assessing skill of a 4 year old??????????

    I’m sure none of Nobel winners would have got admission in to this school.

    As is norm everywhere else in the world, only children of nearby residences, irrespective of their “motor, picture recognition and name writing skills” should be given preference.

  7. Grammarian says:
    March 28th, 2010 10:02 am

    I am a Grammaraian (though I now usually try not to tell people that!), but let me confess today that these tests are not for the kids, they are for the parents. The school is trying to figure out if the parents are rich enough and important enough to benefit the school later. This is not education, this is Aparthied.

  8. Pasha says:
    March 28th, 2010 10:50 am

    I think the comments are going overboard.
    Yes, ideally we should have good education for everyone. But let us not insist on taking away good education from the few people who are getting it.
    Grammar is one of the great institutions of Pakistan, so let us at least acknowledge that.

  9. Eidee Man says:
    March 28th, 2010 12:30 pm

    As ridiculous as this situation seems, it happens all over the world, at each stage. I never cease to be amazed at the lengths parents in the U.S. are willing to go to just to secure admission for their children in an Ivy-league or university of similar stature.

    While in some cases this puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on children, one cannot really blame the parents. The fact is, that being an alum of a top-ranked school does make a very significant difference; why do you think the Ivies have a virtual lock on jobs in the finance industry? No for-profit company will keep a completely incompetent person just because he is an alum; however, if there are many comparable candidates, the alum will definitely have an upper hand. All Ivy-league universities in the U.S. admit to using factors other than merit (legacy, etc) to decide who gets in; MIT/Caltech are the only top-tier institutions I know of that don’t.

    That being said, I think it’s important to differentiate between parents who want their children to have a genuinely better education, and those who simply seek entry into “higher” society; I suspect that most of those lined outside KGS belong to the latter category.

  10. Laeeq says:
    March 28th, 2010 11:20 pm

    Don’t blame parents for wanting a good future for their children. The problem is that there are so few good schools

  11. utopian says:
    March 29th, 2010 6:11 am

    While reading the article and then the comments, I was wondering, who is to be blamed? The school or the society?

  12. Sajjad says:
    March 29th, 2010 6:41 am

    I know a lot of people who got their basic education for Govt. Schools and that also starting from Class 1 and now I find them Phd from Cambridge and MSU. My Nephew has appeared for tests at three prestigious schools of Karachi and he has been turned down by all three. his parents now think, is there something wrong with our child. thats the result we get from these schools.

  13. snotty says:
    March 29th, 2010 6:39 pm

    Its just a status symbol….

    “oh my son/daughter goes to this school”

  14. sidhas says:
    March 29th, 2010 7:42 pm

    Dear all,

    We will be going through the admission process pretty soon for my kids ( 3rd & 4th grade ) when we move out to Pakistan.

    Wondering if anyone can shed light on City School ( Gulshan Iqbal campus ).

    We are still in trying to see which school provides good education in Karachi. I have heard of Generation and Foundation as well.

    Appreciate your advice.

  15. Haroon says:
    March 30th, 2010 12:58 am

    Well, why should parents not want to get whatever best education they can for their children!

  16. Watan Aziz says:
    March 30th, 2010 4:49 am




    “A most curious case has come to my notice, my dear Watson.”

    Ohhhh, the wretched lives of the rich and the powerful (and now the wannabes, too) people of Pakistan.

    I think every poor person in Pakistan should be obliged to read this article so that they can develop empathy for the rich and the powerful.

    Imagine, standing in line for an hour just to get a slip of paper. Mai Jori Jamali has to “travel” one hour each way just to get water. Water, these rich folks would not even use in their toilets.

    Imagine, the chutzpah of the poor, the weak and the helpless to complain about the trifles in their own lives in face of the real hardships of these deprived rich and the powerful.

    Imagine, to think that something is wrong with their child and it has nothing to do with a snake bite.

    Imagine, the driver standing in line who cannot afford uniform for his own children.

    At a public school!

    What will be next that we will hear? Waiting in an air-conditioned room on couches plush?

    BTW, lets not add to the hardship of these parents. They do not stand in line on two separate days. Just one day only. Depending on their “connections”.

  17. MQ says:
    March 30th, 2010 10:55 am

    I think, the situation is not much different here in New York city. Prestigious private schools are difficult to get in. Fees are very high, varying from $25,000 to 30,000 a year. And, still, there are so many parents willing to pay that kind of money to get their children in such schools. It’s simply a question of supply and demand. Criteria for admission, although not advertised, include not only the child’s ability but also the parents’ educational and social background.

    Karachi Grammar is the oldest private school in Pakistan (established 1847) — and one of the few most prestigious. It sends the highest number of students to the top universities and colleges in the US and elsewhere. Therefore, the rush to get into the school is understandable. To the credit of the school, one doesn’t often hear of money or “connections” being used as criterion for admissions.

  18. Shujaat says:
    March 30th, 2010 2:51 pm

    This is what George Carlin termed as child worship. Just search it on you tube.

  19. Umar says:
    March 31st, 2010 10:53 pm

    I do not blame the parents.
    I blame a system that does not give them enough choices.

  20. curious says:
    May 3rd, 2010 12:59 am

    im plannin to seek a teachin job in khi grammar junior section n would like to know the salary they offer and any other details i cn get hands on to help m get in plz

  21. obby says:
    November 29th, 2011 4:28 pm

    could any one kindly tell me what kind of questions parents are asked for kindergarten level and what should there answers be to be precise.

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