Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Schools and admissions

First, some facts - My son will turn 3 in April, and no, I do not have an admission for him in a 'proper' school.

Since June last year, well-meaning people 'in the know' have been asking me, telling me, advising me and scolding me on admissions for my son. I have collected quite a bit of market information on schools, their admission process (the difficulty thereof), the USPs of each school, and the compromises involved.

Broadly speaking, two kinds of systems seem to be in vogue. One is a window-based system - the school has a time-window for admission process. This window typically lasts 15 days to 2 months and the process is nearly always the same - the date of handing out applications is announced, one needs to collect applications, fill that up, submit it, and wait for the results. The ratio of applications to seats varies depending on the popularity of the school, my estimate is 10:1 at the minimum. Where the demand far outstrips the supply, rent seeking behaviour kicks in. Add to it lack of transparency of decision criteria. Children should not be interviewed, so there is no objective (however subjective THAT may be) selection criteria. Criteria such as education levels of parents are discriminatory, therefore not stated to be applied. Other criteria, such as, maximum distance from school, etc., can at best serve as rejection criteria.

I suspect that schools face the problem of how to decide among applicants. What follows, therefore is, that schools resort to all kinds of arbitrary practices. They make parents stand in queues for long hours, sometimes overnight, before handing out applications (pretending to be on first come-first serve basis). Influence (knowing the right people) also works, however, from a parent's point of view, what makes this difficult is knowing who are the right people to know. It is rumoured that a certain school has a criteria that the mother of the child should be well-qualified, at least a post graduate and what's more, she ought to be a stay-at-home mom. A certain other school is rumoured to not accept applicants with names that do not sound Brahmin.

Money of course works, the exact mode varies. Interestingly, the 'fees' is affordable by a large section of the middle class. Schools typically do not resort to increasing fees (some do, and their situation is not much better). They charge what is known as donation or admission fees. Well, even this ought to be public, and many parents would go to great lengths to secure an admission. So, this is easy money, too. Schools try to extract more than that. The difficulty arises because one cannot be direct about the offer or acceptance of money that is not 'fees'. A certain school is rumoured to ask for a declaration, along with but separately from the application, of how much money the parent can shell out 'out of the books'.

The other system in vogue is an 'admission throughout the year' concept. On first look, this may sound like an easy way out for parents, however here are just a few problems. Students are admitted throughout the year, across academic years - meaning, a one year old kid can be admitted for an academic year commencing 2 years hence. This means that there are far fewer vacancies around the time when parents are in the decision making phase. Now these schools are in a fix. The demand-supply situation is far more in their favour than usual. So they go, let's have some fun. I can almost imagine the management of the schools rubbing their hands in glee saying, what can we get the parents to do, what can we, what can we?

So, there is this school in Chennai where you need to register for admission when you are pregnant - the earlier the better. Else, this is what the school does - it makes the parents come in every week and wait for only about 4 hours each time to just see the selection committee - no questions, no answers, no conversation. Just a darshan or dekko of the big men. Statistics put the average number of visits that a parent has to make before s/he secures an admission at twelve. 12 weeks - 3 months of regular, untiring, persistent face-showing just so your kid can get an admission. That, or endless wait until you hear of a decision. I am sure any of the methods proposed for the previous system should work here, but am not sure of the exact way to go about it.

Well, the point of this post was to document my understanding of the way the system works. Bottomline - if you have already have a kid, you are too late to get him/her educated. If you are in the process of having one, go register in a school NOW. If you are thinking about it, I don't care if your OB/GYN gives you a go-ahead - check with the school first.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why is the dollar appreciating?

My knowledge of economics tells me that if the government borrows money, either from taxpayers or from external funds, two things should happen:

1. The currency should depreciate.
2. The credit rating of the government securities should worsen.

Why is neither happening? I think Shyamal Roy was wrong.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Postmen to track inflation at grass-root level

Heard on radio today that postmen in India are entrusted with a new responsibility - to track prices of items at the consumer level across the country, to gather data to assess the real impact of inflation in the country.


Innovative, I say!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Getting the most from your hairdresser

To all my loyal readers, apologies for disappearing from the blog scene without a trace. Fret not, for I have been well, alive and kicking; and Fear not, for I'm back with a vengeance, and you can expect me to be prolific with my posts.

Well, this post is a fallout of yours truly being a victim of professional hairdressers in the recent past. Those of you who have seen me with my latest hairdo will immediately know my anguish.

You would empathize with me if you have had variability in your experiences with not only hairdressers, but beauty professionals in general - Head massages, pedicures or facials that fall somewhere in the continuum of absolutely awesome to oh please what did I do to you to deserve this. This set me thinking - is it true of all personal services, does variability exist only between individuals (service providers), or with the same individual at different points of time as well, if so, is there a way to manage this variability?

Questions that I have:
1. Does talking to the hairdresser enhance or mitigate effectiveness of service? That is, will the fact that I actively engage in a conversation with the beauty professional about life, the universe and everything make her warm up to me, and therefore she will do a better job? Or, by being chatty I make her uncomfortable and she ends up screwing up my hair?

2. What works better - expressing expectations clearly (I want my hair an inch longer than the shoulder line, 50 strands, no more, coloured auburn) or giving her a free hand (saying coyly do what you think suits me best)?

3. Does it pay to express dissatisfaction then and there? When asked Ma'am, is the pressure ok?, do I say no idiot you are doing a lousy job, you are hurting me and yell I demand that someone else does my pedicure. I have never tried it, will I get a better person if I do that, this time or the next?

4. Do you tip beforehand to ensure s/he does a good job, or by leaving it for the last, you are dangling the carrot that motivates her to do a good job?

5. Does leaving a large tip during a visit ensure better service during your next?

I have asked the questions, does anyone have the answers?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Diapers, detergents and deodorants

Sigappu lolakku kulungudhu kulungudhu.....
He: Wow! These earrings are nice.
She: Why shouldn't they be? They are a gift
He: A gift? But I didn't get you any earrings?
She: When did I say you got them?
He: Then who?
She: As if there can't be anyone else is my life except you!
He: Tell me, who? (pleads)
She: Your son! (ha ha ha, fades into the background)
Narrator: Now, you can buy whatever you want with the savings that your infant baby can make for you. For, a set of two diapers costs just Rs.15.
This is a radio ad made by the largest consumer product company that claims to have fully understood the consumer, and can strike an emotional cord with the audience. The same guys who (i) made the little boy feel inadequate because his toothpaste had 2 less so-called-good-properties than their product,
(ii) made all the girls in India feel that brown is unattractive, and being fair is the only way to self-confidence, a great career, and obviously a handsome boyfriend,
(iii) made two cute little kids go ga-ga over one inane brand being re-branded as another (Mom, I have good news and bad news for you - The bad news: Brand 1 is no longer available (shudder, shudder - the world comes to a standstill), and the good news - the same product is now available as Brand 2 (and the world is happy again) Duh!
(iv) let the world know that body odour is the greatest turn-off, less-than-perfect white clothes cost you a promotion, dandruff is the next greatest turn-off, the list goes on!

Can someone please tell them that they need not sell their products by making people feel inadequate?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Of newspapers

Got into a lunch discussion about newspapers, more specifically about how we end up paying for newspapers that ultimately land up at the old-newspaper-shop (pazhaya paper kadai). I have been brought up on the ‘reading newspaper is a good habit’ thing in school, moving to the ‘reading newspapers is desirable/essential/paramount to success in CA exams/ MBA interviews/ placement interviews’, later in life.

I have always been a supplement reader; be it Young World on Saturdays or The Sunday Magazine on Sundays (both from The Hindu stable), Siruvar Malar on Fridays and Varamalar on Sundays (from the Dinamalar stable), or The Metro Plus or more recently, Chennai Chronicle and Chennai Times. I am also a big fan of tabloids – I used to look forward to the free tabloid that you could pick out at the London tube stations (can someone remind me the name); I still look forward to flying out of Mumbai in the evening, I love the Mid-day. Ergo accounts for my 15 minutes tea-breaks in early afternoons.

So what do I like to read?

1. Cartoons (I love them, Calvin and Hobbes, Heathcliff, Wizard of Id, Archies, Asterix, Garfield, Dilbert, Simpsons)
2. Simple brain exercises (Spot the differences, word jumbles, mazes, sudokus (to an extent), cross-words (very rarely))
3. Gossip
4. Agony Aunt columns of whatever kind (especially relationship columns, I get almost voyeuristic pleasure reading them)
5. Regular Columnists (not a regular reader of any of them in the paper version, used to enjoy V. Gangadhar’s Slice of Life)
6. Editorials and Opinions
7. Local news (the chain snatching, broken roads beware, woman elopes with neighbour kinds)

It is fairly obvious from the above that I do not enjoy reading political news and business news, possibly the real ‘news’ portions. To me at least, reading news is like following a TV soap; you need to know what has happened earlier to appreciate/understand what has happened yesterday. Just make it several hundred soaps and you know how difficult it is to completely comprehend all news. If you take a New Year resolution to start reading newspapers regularly (like I have done on several New Years), you are starting a movie from just before the interval. Too much has happened that you are not aware of, and there is no way you can immediately find them. You only to need to wait and watch more of it, and try to figure it out. Which requires too much patience, which is always in short supply. When forced to read with an end-objective in mind (like CA exams, interviews, etc.) it only gets worse. The outcome is the same (you don’t read them), but add to it a feeling of guilt.

That is why I enjoy reading newspapers online. Read something that catches your fancy, and there are always related articles that you can read, an opinion column that provides a beginning and some context, and if you read on rediff it will inevitably lead you to a slideshow of scantily-clad models :-).

A separate post on The Hindu vs lesser mortals will follow.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

California consumes more fuel than India

Came across this page, courtesy Dhanno.

A follow-up article by Rediff:

Wanted to post some analysis - blogger aint cooperative. I cannot paste tables. So retaining my original post