Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Those Entrance Exam Years - Part 3

As the students started preparing intensely for their school exams as well as entrance exams for professional colleges, we parents also had our tasks cut out. Our job was to research and do some background checks on the professional colleges, the courses they offered, the fee structure, their infrastructure and so on and so forth. Initially it seemed to be very confusing. Colleges that came under Government purview had a different system, whereas  private colleges had their own set of rules.

Since all the parents were in the same boat, we decided to set up a parents' group. On this group, we shared information about colleges, the dates when application forms were to be issued, the payment details, the last date for their submissions etc., This way we ensured that none of us would miss out on important deadlines. For the first time, I started maintaining a diary where I would note down all these details. By the way, the private universities/colleges start their admission process as early as November. The Government colleges as usual take their own time.

The private colleges conduct their own Entrance Exams. Generally, most of the children give about six to seven Entrance Exams! Be prepared for rising expenses at this time. You will not only be paying hefty school fee but coaching classes also come at a cost. Add to this travel expenses, books and stationary items, and the fee for all these application forms. Good education does come with costs attached.

It is a flurry of activity from November onwards. Filling online application forms, making payments online, and finally submitting the forms. The school as well as coaching institutes finish their syllabus by December and from then on, it is a series of preparatory tests and exams for the children. Our juggling still continued, that of driving my son to coaching class and from there to school everyday for two years!

Dates and centres for the twelfth grade final exam were announced. Time became a precious commodity. Before we knew it, the exams had started and also came to an end. The nerve wracking period doesn't end here. Immediately after his school exams, my son had to appear for the various entrance exams that he had applied for. I got to know areas in Bangalore which I had never ever heard of, as each exam centre was in different corners of Bangalore. While Google Maps was there, we would recce some of the areas that we were unfamiliar with, a day or two before the exams to ensure that it was actually 'the exam centre'.

Finally, the months of April and May arrived. This was marked by a frenzied activity of going from one centre to another to give entrance exams. The entire preparation of coaching classes was not only to make the students proficient in the subjects but it was also about training them to answer each question within two to three minutes. It was basically a race against time. To solve complicated and confusing questions using different logical steps within a given framework of time. To make it more challenging there was negative marking too!

After writing two or three exams my son started chilling. The two years of struggle was taking its toll and needed that chilling period. Most of his exams were over by May. Did I tell you that more than writing the exams it was waiting for the results which was nerve wracking? Some of the private institutes had already announced the results and had started with admission process. This was basically to get students to enroll into their institutes. I felt this was not fair on students and the parents. If all the results are announced around the same time, parents would have the leverage to take informed decisions (pick the best amongst the available)

I reiterate that one should let one's child decide what they are interested in. Most of the professional colleges announce a second and a third list of admissions. In such scenarios, your child might get into a reputed institute but the stream of their choice may not be available. The parents then try and convince the child that the name of the institute matters more than the stream of his/her interest. But, I would say that it is your child who will be going through the course and not you. Please let your child decide.

Well, by mid July my son was clear which University he wanted to get into and also got the stream of his choice. He was now all set for a new journey in the course of his life. For the first time, he was going to be living away from home.


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Those Entrance Exam Years - Part 2

I started off this 4-part series by talking about how nostalgic I become when I see news items of entrance exams for professional colleges.  Please read on for Part 2.


My son was now all set to start at the coaching institute. It was time for some logistics. They had two slots: one was at 6.00 in the morning and the other was 6.00 in the evening. Choosing the first option would mean he could reach the destination in half an hour to forty-five minutes - courtesy no traffic. The question then was he had to get up by 4.45 - 5.00 in the morning. Could he? He would have to go through this process for the next two years! From the institute, he would then have to directly go to school. The school starts at 8.10 am. Even if he gets delayed by 5 minutes the school would penalize him. This also meant my husband had to take him to the coaching class every day.

Choosing the evening session would mean commuting in heavy traffic. He would have to start directly from school and while coming back it would almost be 9.00 pm. He then had to finish his homework, study, prepare for tests, complete school projects and so on and so forth. Whew!!

After weighing all the pros and cons, we decided on taking the morning session.  However, as a mother, I was worried about him eating on time and eating healthy. Since he would start at 5.00 in the morning, he would not be able to have his breakfast. We decided to send his breakfast and lunch box courtesy, my younger son who was also studying in the same school.

Finally, things sort of fell into place. It now became a routine for my son and husband to go early in the morning. While my son attended his classes, my husband would take his early morning walk in the park nearby, amidst lush greenery with birds chirping and temple bells ringing all round. This did have some positive aspect after all!

Every day would be an adventure, which we would all wait to listen to. My husband who is a safe driver otherwise had now become a la James Bond and Michael Schumacher rolled into one. Maneuvering the car through small gaps, whizzing past just as the signal would turn red, and a couple of times even jumped the signal so that they could make it to school on time. This routine would continue from Monday to Saturday. Even Sundays were not spared. The only grace was, the classes started a little late and my son would go on his own.

Many a time I would wonder if this high action drama was necessary at all. The solace was that my son found some of the Professors at the coaching institute to be really good. He really enjoyed the way math and physics were taught there. Anything that required logic, reasoning and analytical skills interested him. Here was a designed course material that was challenging and required him to really rack his brains instead of the usual rote method which generally the schools here in India follow. In fact, he would say that he had a better conceptualisation of problems and also would try different ways of solving the same.

The next two years just whizzed past. The days seemed to be blending one into another without a break. His life revolved around studies, exams, tests, and homework. While we were providing the support systems for the preparation, we also realized that bulk of the effort could happen only through self-motivation and not through daily persuasion. Hats off to the boy (and tens of thousands others like him) for being focused for 2 long years managing 2 schools with 2 different curricula simultaneously.

This of course, did not mean that it was academics all the time. Yes, birthday parties were still on, sleepovers did happen but a little less frequently. Once in a while when we felt he was becoming a little lax, there would be pep talks too!

Yes, as parents we did go through moments when we would feel he could have studied a little more than he did or he could have utilized time in a better way and so on. He would get cranky at us sometimes. But, well that seemed to be a part and parcel of life at that given point of time. There were some very anxious moments for us when just before the pre-final exam he fractured his right hand!! Thanks to Abacus classes that he had attended for two years when he was in his 4th and 5th grade, he managed those days by writing his notes with his left hand! And finally, the 12th grade exams were just around the corner. It was Exam time!