ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15

To school, at last

The Grade 1 admission saga has finally ended. Will the new guidelines work?

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi, Isuri Kaviratne and Madhushala Senaratne

Confusion, concern, apprehension and only just last week, relief. The saga where the Grade 1 admission issue not only went to the highest court in the land but also to Parliament and Cabinet, has been keeping thousands of mothers and fathers up at night, wondering and worrying whether their little boy or girl, will take the first step into formal education at the right time and the right school.

Since March 2007, when the authorities deemed it necessary to change the 2006 circular on Grade 1 admissions, many were the twists and turns, which some claim were a precedent, before a final resolution saw the light of day last Wednesday.The players were also wide and varied, ranging from Principals to Parliamentarians to Past Pupils and from the Legislature to the Judiciary.

However late the process, we will ensure that all children who need admission to Grade 1 in government schools will be in their seats on the right day in January 2008, assured Education Ministry Secretary Ariyaratne Hewage.

The guidelines to parents who have to seek admission to Grade 1 for their children, are being sent to the newspapers right now, Mr. Hewage told The Sunday Times from his office on Thursday which was a hub of activity with senior staffers around computers fine-tuning the paperwork.

The Supreme Court has approved the guidelines and so has the Cabinet, he explained, allaying the fears and uncertainty of parents.

The Sunday Times learns that around 320,000, boys and girls will seek admission to 9,714 government schools, both National Schools (326 in all) and Provincial Schools spread across the country. The National Schools are administered directly by the Central Government’s Ministry of Education, while all other schools come under the Provincial Ministries of Education.

Parents will have time till September 21 to apply for admission, said Mr. Hewage, adding that if any school had a large number of applications there would be a short-listing process by which the number would be cut to five times the number of seats in Grade 1 in that particular school. When the number of applications is high, special arrangements will be made to set up several Selection Committees within that school.

When The Sunday Times asked what would happen if many Grade 1 applicants score the same marks, Mr. Hewage stressed that the Selection Committees will once again resort to an elimination process. Parents are expected to apply to six schools and the ministry is certain that the child will get into one of them.

“Before this was resolved, we were very worried about whether our daughter will go into school in January,” said Kamala* who has sent applications to four schools in Kandy. Whereas earlier she was doubtful whether her daughter would get into a very popular school there, she is more confident of the little one’s prospects now.

Stressed out Amal* who has sent an application for the most popular boys’ school in Colombo, was heaving a sigh of relief after what he called the “good news” with regard to admissions. Opening up the chances of his son, was the guideline that he would get only one mark cut off from the 20 given under the “residence” category.

Under the new guidelines, a mark each would get cut if there is a school of similar status (either National or Provincial) between where Amal is living and the school he has applied for. There was, however, some cause for concern among parents about the category “suitability and the need of the child” which would get a maximum of 20 marks.

“What will this entail? Is it a written test or an aptitude test? Is it to check the child’s IQ?” queried an anxious mother. “Any parent knows how small children could react in the most unpredictable manner, depending on their mood. The best of children will just purse their lips and decide they will not answer a single question. Some will weep when questioned by strangers,” she explained, pointing out scenarios that most parents are familiar with.

Will we have to start tuition for our babies from the time they are born to face this Grade 1 admission barrier, asked Ranil* while his wife queried what would happen if they had not sent their child to a good pre-school and the child would not be able to answer the questions

“No IQ test. No aptitude test.” This is the answer ministry secretary Hewage hastens to give. “A three-teacher panel of the primary section will ask the child to name a few colours, ask a few questions and through observation of the child in a friendly environment give the marks,” he says. “It is not an intelligence or aptitude test. Those are tests which attempt to test the problem solving and analytical ability of a child which invariably have to be written tests. We will certainly not impose such tests on these children.”

If the child is having a “bad day” the teachers will tell the parents to bring their son or daughter on another day. According to him private schools and numerous foreign countries have been using this simple method to gauge the child. “It would be a friendly environment and there would be some candy too for the child,” he says. Around 90% of children have also attended pre-schools and these are not only the fee-levying ones but also those set up by Provincial Councils which are free.

“The new guidelines will be an objective system completely different to the one in which the parents had to forge documents and resort to corruption,” he said. Have no fear. No child who has applied for Grade 1 in 2008 will be left out, was Mr. Hewage’s firm assurance.

* Names changed to protect identities

The school admission issue should be straightforward with teachers, principals and other educationists playing the main role, said respected educationist Jezima Ismail.

There should be no stress or anxiety for parents on this crucial matter, she said, explaining that in recent times this issue has gone to the legislature and judiciary because over the years principals and teachers may have brought it upon themselves due to the lack of professionalism.

Sounding a word of caution, Mrs. Ismail stressed that all those at the top need to realize what their specific roles are, otherwise they would confuse the ordinary people.

With regard to the testing of the child, she said it should be an informal chat to check out whether the child is ready for school. The National Schools Principals’ Union will have to meet and decide what their stand will be on the new guidelines introduced for Grade 1 admissions, said its President Upali Gunasekara who is also Principal of Royal College, Colombo.

“We were confused and shocked when all principals were blanketed out simply because one principal was proved to have done something wrong. Principals look into documents when taking decisions on Grade 1 admissions and some of these documents could be wrong resulting in an incorrect decision,” he said, adding that they expected the authorities to find out the wrongdoer and punish him.We believe educationists and academics too should get involved in the whole process, he added.Meanwhile, Dr. Aruna Rabel, the spokesperson for the Joint Committee of Past Pupils’ Associations said they were happy with the guidelines.


  • General category – Location of the residence and convenience of parents and child: Maximum 20 marks. (Under the earlier guidelines householders – residents living closest to the school – would get 40% while non-householders – residents living near the school would get 7%)
    The School Committee may consider giving full marks if the school applied is the closest school to the applicant’s residence. It may consider reducing one mark for each school of the same category (National or Provincial) situated between the school applied for and the applicant’s residence. If an applicant seeks marks under this category, he or she cannot seek marks under the past pupils category.
  • Past Pupils: Maximum 20 marks. (Under the earlier guidelines past pupils would secure 25%)
    The School Committee may use discretion when deciding the marks for each applicant under this category and consider a breakdown such as: Membership of the Past Pupils’ Association – 2 marks; Period spent as a student – 2 marks per year, with a maximum of 10 marks; Academic performance or Co/Extra-curricular activities – 4 marks; and Service rendered to school – 4 marks
    If an applicant seeks marks under this category he or she cannot do so under the general category.
  • Siblings: Maximum 5 marks. (Under the earlier guidelines 15% would be given if the applicant had a sister or a brother in the same school).
    A brother or sister studying in the school applied for.
  • Public Sector/ Private Sector/ Self-employee: Maximum of 5 marks. (Under the earlier guidelines transferred parents who were government servants and MPs who were out of their residence on duty would get 06%; Parents working in institutes that are directly connected to school education 05%; and Parents who have come back from abroad 02%)
    Applicants employed in the public sector both within and outside the feeder area but residing within the feeder area of the school and applicants employed in the private sector and self-employed within the feeder area are entitled to these marks. If an applicant seeks marks under this category he or she will not be entitled to marks given under the category of Members of the Armed Forces/ Police Service.
  • Members of the Armed Forces/ Police Service: Maximum 10 marks. (Under the earlier guidelines five seats in every class were for this category)
    Applicants who are serving or have served in an operational area and who have lost their lives or have been permanently disabled or missing-in-action or have received bravery awards are entitled to 10 marks. If an applicant seeks marks under this category he or she will not be entitled to marks under the category of Public sector/ Private sector/ Self employee.
    Applications under this category should be first submitted to the Defence Ministry and the Secretary to the Defence Ministry who will select, certify and forward them to the respective schools. Any application certified by the Defence Secretary would get 10 marks. Special provisions will be made, in consultation with the Defence Secretary, for those under this category who are not able to send their applications within the given time-frame due to exigencies of service.

The Sunday Times understands the earlier “quota system” is now abolished and every applicant to a particular school would be on a common list, with marks being awarded on the categories stipulated. Those who top the list will be fitted into the vacancies of that particular school.

Whereas a Grade 1 applicant would have been marked out of 100% under the earlier guidelines, now he or she would be given up to 60 marks. Meanwhile, the feeder area of a school has been expanded to cover the whole district in which the school is located.


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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.