School Stories: Memories and an Alternate Reality


As you now I studied in JB Vachha High School. What you don’t know was that my paternal grandparents were strictly against me and then my sister attending this school. They wanted me to attend the nearby South Indian school which was my father, his siblings and all his cousins alma mater. But my mother stood strong and in the face of intense opposition, went ahead and got me enrolled into my school. Amma, my mother, used to see my neighbours and other girls in our neighbourhood wear the blue and white uniform on their way to school and insisted her daughters also should be in the same school.

The biggest objection my grandparents had was that my father’s alma mater offered Tamil as the mother tongue language and this was not offered in my school, which offered French as the second language. They worried, and probably rightly, that if we didn’t learn the language of our ancestors, we would no longer be good Tamil girls. But amma had her way and we started school in the school of her choice.

The other day, I was thinking what if amma did not get her way and me and my sister ended up in the school of my grandparents choice? Actually I don’t have to look too far to see this, as I did have friends in the building and in the neighbourhood who did go to the school. I would say, we would be fluent in Tamil, which today, we can only speak, but can’t read or write. And this in turn, would have made me get BB & GG to take Tamil as their mother tongue language instead of Hindi which they took.

It’s quite likely that we would be slightly more conservative and not have too many friends from other community groups. In our school, we developed a more liberal mindset and because our classmates came from not only different strata of society, but also from different communities, we learnt to be able to have a live and let live attitude.

And the most important thing, according to me is our school is a girls school while the other school is a co-ed school. And if I think back, with the exception of our physical education teacher, a music teacher and some peons in the school, all our teachers and staff were women. This means that while in school, we had no filter! We spoke what we wanted, especially when teachers were not around and because there were no boys, we spoke about things that may have been either taboo or spoken in a hush-hush way in a co-ed school. Remember, this was the eighties India where the country was still in the throes of socialism and liberalisation was still at least four-five years away. The con, atleast for me was that I was unconfortable with boys, until I entered graduate school because my degree programme also had a higer percentage of girls compared to boys and so I barely interacted with them. Being in a single sex school does allow the school to tailor the teaching style according to the students and my school also offered a whole suite of extra curricular activities which in that day and age, hardly any school offered. Of course, the bulk of these extra curricular activities were geared towards making us good moms and housewives, but still in that India, when we used to speak with our friends and family from other schools, they barely had anything more than a library and physical education period. We used to have music, dance, cookery, laundry, stiching, embroidery, girl guides, social service and typing. I am probably missing some, but in hindsight, all these are things that probably would have made more sense half a century back.

If my amma had not had her way, I would not be the person I am today and because we spent a good portion of our early lives in school, we spent 12 to 13 years in the same school, the school and its ethos and philosophy have moulded us. For this I am so very thankful that amma took a stand and ensured she gave us the opportunities going to this school offered us.

So how did your school mould you? I would love to hear in the comments below.

School Stories: Sports Day

A couple of weeks back, in our class WhatsApp chat, we started talking about our school days and the conversation veered towards our sports day. I enjoyed that conversation so much that I decided to take a trip down memory lane to reminisce about those days.

Our school sports day was the highlight of the second term, which happened after the Diwali holidays in the second term. The main sports day would happen sometime in December/early January before the class X students had their prelims.

Our school was divided into four houses and this was only for the secondary section. Unlike other schools, we didn’t have house named for flowers, national leaders or even landmarks. Since my school is a Parsi school, our houses were named for ancient Persian princesses. Selection of students to the different houses was completely random and we’ve tried to think of the various ways they may have done the choosing, but other than randomness, we have never been able to figure it out. In one family, you would have sisters in different houses, as it was in my house and also in my neighbour’s place where all the sisters were in different houses. I was in the green house while my sister was in the yellow house. As part of our school uniform, along with our school badge which was pinned on the top left of our uniform, above our hearts, we had to pin our house badge to the left of the school badge.

For a few months before the actual day, we would have what was known as indoor games as well as sports for which the school did not have the facilities to play and which needed to be played at a nearby gymkhana. These included sports like carrom, chess, badminton and table tennis. We also had some games like square ball and volley ball, which we played in our school grounds, competing with each other. The sports day was held in a small stadium not very close to the school, but in a centrally located area. A month or so before the actual sports day, we all trooped to the stadium for our heats. This was usually a half day and those of us who were not so inclined, used that half day to just chill and gossip with friends and cheer those who are competing. For children in the primary and kindergarten sections, they had their heats in a small garden behind the school.

In the days leading to the sports day, while the other events were held, we would anxiously keep track of the wins of each house and at the same time start the practice for the march past. Usually the class five students will be super eager to take part in the march past and would audition for the same. By the time we reached class eight, it was the other way around – we had to be forced to go down and take part. The march past contingent was made up of one girl who would carry the placard with the name of the house followed by the house captain who carried the house flag who would be followed by the march past contingent made up of 30 girls in 10 rows of three girls each. Every one on the field will be in white shorts and the school shirt which was our PE uniform and anyone representing a house will have a length of silk ribbon in the colour of the house stitched down both sides of their shorts.

The primary, kindergarten sections and any guests and parents sit together, but the secondary girls sit in their houses. This means that we would get very noisy, especially when we are cheering for our team and booing the opposition. The day’s finale was the march past and the house which scored the highest number of points aka the winner for the year had the honour of leading the march past. During my school years, it had always been the green house which led the march past with usually the red house coming second, the blue house at third position and the yellow house bringing up the rear. And usually, it would be the yellow house which would win the march past trophy. I only remember one year when I was probably in class 6, when there was a three-way tie for first position. Green, red and blue houses all tied and there was a toss to determine who would lead the march past and who would walk in second. I remember red house winning the toss and the captain of the house, who later became famous, was screaming and jumping with joy, because under her captaincy, the red house led the march past.

Our sports day would always be on a Sunday afternoon and would usually start around 2 pm and end around 6ish in the evening. We would go home tired but happy that day, especially since the next day used to be school holiday to help us (and more likely the teachers) recuperate from a hectic day.

This blog post was a blast to write as memories all kept flooding in and I wrote this post with a huge smile on my face. For most of us, our school days are the golden days which we remember fondly, with all the bad parts edited out. Maybe it’s our way of keeping our innocent and young years in our heart?

Polytechnic Early Admission Exercise – Part 2

Please read Part 1 before reading this post as it is continuation of that post.

After you submit your choices, you start waiting and hope that your preferred course calls you back. Now different courses have different ways of sieving applicants. In some courses, you need to take online tests, while others call you down for a mass screening. Others don’t have any tests, online or offline and straight up call you for interviews.

In our case, for GG, she was asked to go for a mass screening for one of her choices and for her other two choices, she had to complete a couple of online tests and interviews. BB went to one mass screening and the other just called him straight for an interview. In his case, his first two choices were from the same poly and he didn’t get called even for the mass screening for his second choice. I suspect (I may be wrong though) that the particular poly only called those for the mass screening those who indicated the first choice course from that poly. Why I say is because his friend had indicated the reverse choices (BB’s first choice was his second and vice versa) and he was also called for his first choice course mass screening only. Both boys have a similar profile and are CCA mates. Both courses are similar, but not same.

After going through the first round, you have some more waiting and then if you are successful, you get another email from the poly asking you to go down for an interview. Now interview is a generic catch-all term they use. The interview can be literally anything from an interview with a panel of interviewers, a group discussion or even a presentation. We went through all these with BB & GG. BB went for a panel interview where it was him with two other candidates and then another where around 20-25 applicants were in a room where they were asked to present in front of the whole room, including some lecturers, why they are the best fit for this course and why they should be selected. This was an extempore presentation and they weren’t told about it in advance. For GG, she went for group discussions where they had to discuss a case study and then for another course, they had to do some pre-work and then after a group discussion, they had to present the pre-work as a group. The selection stage is the longest stage with the timeline being around a month and a half, sometime from early July to late August.

Once this is over, then it’s waiting time. This period is frankly speaking quite nerve wrecking. On the date of the results of the EAE, which was sometime towards the end of August. On the day of the results, if you are successful, you get an email from the poly. Or, if you are like me and impatient to know the results, you log into the EAE portal and check the results. BB was the first one to know that he had gotten his dream course and in his excitement, when he called me, he was so excited, that for 30 seconds he could not speak. I was devasted in those 30 seconds as I thought he could not speak because he was rejected, but it was the other way round. GG was still in school and as soon as I could get in touch with her, I asked her to check. She had some issues with her internet and so I checked for her because I could not wait till she came home. And we got both good news that day.

You then get three days excluding the results day to accept your offer which is conditional. If you don’t accept it within this time frame, you are deemed to have rejected the offer. After you accept the offer, you still have time till sometime in early October to do a final rejection of the offer, which gives you slightly over a month to mull over your choice and decide if you still want to go to poly or take your chances with the joint admission exercise.

After this, you are deemed to have been conditionally accepted into the course you have been offered. Why conditional? Because you still need to sit for your O level exams. The blanket score for a poly admission is 26 points at the O level exams and this is the first condition to the offer. Every course has a minimum entry requirement which is the second condition to the offer. Each course requirements vary with some courses requiring a B3 or better for some subjects and some courses requiring passes or C6 and above for all the relevant subjects and some courses only needing a D7, which is essentially a failing grade for certain subjects. You will need to check with the specific course for this information.

Once you have accepted the offer, it does not mean that you rest on your laurels. You still have your O level exams to get through. I would say that study as hard as you would if you didn’t get the offer. This is because you would not want to be too far away from your course mates in terms of the score. This may also hamper your understanding of the course curriculum in case your basics are not strong.

Once the O level results are out, what you will receive are essentially three sheets of paper. The first one is the green O level Cambridge certificate with all your O level passes and the marks you attained for each passed subject. The second is a white sheet of paper with your marks in each subject. The third sheet is another white sheet which is given to you sealed. The sealed envelope contains your Form A which is given to every O level student. This sheet has the scores calculated by the system – L1R5, L1R4, L1R2B2 for all course types A, B & C for poly courses. For those who have a conditional offer, below these scores, you will have a line which confirms your poly EAE admission and also the fact that you will be unable to take part in the JAE exercise. This is assuming you have met the minimum criteria for your course. For the others, the bottom part of the page will have the list of poly and ITE courses you are eligible to enter based on your score.

If you do not meet the criteria, your conditional admission is revoked and you will join the JAE pool. But for those whose EAE has been revoked, I have heard that some of the polys get in touch and do offer the course back to you. You can also appeal to your course and sometimes the EAE is reinstated.

A day after the O level results, you also get a confirmation from your poly for the course either through SMS or via email. The admissions packet will then be mailed to you and you are all set for your course orientation which should take place a week or two before school starts in April.

I hope these posts helped you gain an understanding of how the Polytechnic Early Admission Exercise works, especially from the view of a parent. If you have a child who is interested in going to a polytechnic, I strongly encourage you to get your child to try for the EAE. It really takes quite a bit of the stress out of the O level exams and since the admission exercise looks at passion and aptitude for the subject and not your marks, an average student can get admission into a course which otherwise may be denied to them by virtue of marks when it comes to the JAE.

Check this website which is a common website maintained by all the polytechnics which give you more details and and there is an FAQ section too if you need clarifications

Do comment if you have more questions and I will be happy to answer to the best of my ability.

Polytechnic Early Admission Exercise – Part 1

As you are aware, both GG BB got early admission offers to their preferred course in local polytechnics. While we were working on this early admission exercise, I searched, but could not find resources, especially from a parent’s point of view about the steps, so I thought of doing a blog post on how we went about this to successfully get an offer. This is so it can help someone else who was in our position last year.

This and the next posts are very Singapore centric, so apologies in advance to readers who are live out of this country and for whom this post is completely irrelevant.

The best way to go about securing an Early Admission to the Polytechnic course of your choice, in my opinion, is to start as early as possible. All the five Singapore polytechnics have open houses twice a year – once in January, either just before or just after the O level results and once in June before the EAE exercise. When you or your child is in Secondary 3, drop in to the polytechnics at least once, either in January or June and see the various courses you are interested in and talk to current students and also the lecturers. You can also ask any burning questions you may have about the course, the whole EAE process and also future prospects.

What we did was go and visit our top two polytechnics first (just S and me) when both BB & GG were in sec 3. While BB had already decided on his course of choice even before he started primary school, when we visited the polytechnics in the January of the year they were in Sec 3, GG was interested in another course. S and I visited the schools and spoke to lecturers, especially about the EAE process and what they look for in successful candidates. I found the lecturers and current students very interested in speaking with us and they shared pertinent information that was very useful to us. Actually when parents and students who are in sec 3 go, I think both students and lecturers are more keen to share, because it shows how much interested they are. We missed the June parents forum for EAE that year because we were on holiday that year, but managed to make our way to another poly (that was not on our radar) to see what schools are looking for.

During the school holidays at the end of sec 3, start working on your statements of aptitude and interest and the statement of achievements. I can’t stress this enough, but do not wait till the last minute to work on these.

The statement of aptitude and interest is a 600 character write up which is course-specific. You need to craft a separate statement for each of the courses you are applying for. This statement needs to showcase your interest and passion for the course and why you are the best person they should admit to this course.

In this statement, do list what you have done and your accomplishments, especially those that are relevant to the course you are interested in. If your CCA is something that is relevant to the course, mention that and if you hold a leadership position in the CCA and have taken part in competitions, this is the place to mention it. Anything that you have done, either in school or outside, which can showcase your passion and interest for the course needs to put here.

The statement of achievements is a 1000 character write-up which is generic in nature. This is a common statement which goes to all the courses you will apply to. In this write-up you need to highlights your achievements like CCA leadership (this need not be relevant to the course, but just to showcase your leadership skills and abilities), awards you may have received in school and elsewhere, any entrepreneurial skillset you may have, community service and others. This statement is to show who you are as a person. This is where you can be honest, open and original.

You have to note that the write-ups for the 600 characters and 1000 characters write-ups include spaces and punctuation marks and when you start writing, it does not seem a lot. In the beginning you feel that you have a lot of leeway to write, but when you start writing and including the spaces and punctuation, it’s not a lot to go with. So you need to edit both statements multiple times to tighten it up and to ensure that you have everything you want to showcase.

I would suggest that you write the first draft of both write-ups and get someone else to have a look at it and help edit it. One idea is to show it to the English teacher as most schools encourage students to apply to the polys via the EAE. In our case, I got both of them to do the first draft and then helped them edit and tighten the statements. They also showed their drafts to their school English teachers who also helped with the statements. We took three to four drafts before we finalised the statements.

The statements should be ready by the end of the June holidays the year you plan to apply through the Early Admission Exercise. When you start the application process, you only get some 10-15 minutes to submit, so don’t and I say this again and again, don’t start writing the statements then. You may time out of the submission by the time you think what you want to put in your statements.

The EAE submission portal opens up sometime in end June and will be open for about a week (seven calendar days). You can submit up to three choices of courses spread across the five polytechnics in Singapore. I do know of people who only submitted one choice since they were only interested in a single course, but I would say to use all your choices and wisely. It may also be be prudent to spread your choices across polytechnics as sometimes you may not get a call-back from the same poly for multiple courses.

Part two where I write about what happens after you submit your choices will be posted on Friday.

School Stories: Sports Day

One more story from my school days. Last week I was speaking with GG and BB and we started talking about sports days in school. BB’s school usually alternates between sports day and cross country running every other year and so I shared some stories about sports days in my school.

In my school, sports day usually happened in the second term, which would be after the winter holidays (you could not schedule anything before that because of the Mumbai monsoon) so it would be sometime in December/January.

Our primary school races are the standard ones and happen without much fanfare. It’s the Secondary school that has all the fun in my opinion. I’ve mentioned before how our houses are allocated and during the main sports day, one half of the stadium is split into four parts – each section for a house. So we generally sit in our house section and not with friends, because that day it’s house loyalty before family and friends.

The sports day would usually be on a Sunday and would start around noon. Once we reached secondary school, we would go on our own and my parents would come by later to pick us up. It’s usually a festive air there with hundreds of school girls screaming and shouting.

There’s fierce competition to see which house comes first and a blackboard in the centre of the field will usually have the current point tally going on. The prize for the best house, in addition to the champions trophy is the honour to lead the march past at the end of the sports day and this would be fought relentlessly.

The house I was allocated to, Shenaz or the Green House used to always win the championship and we used to lead the March past each year. I can only remember one year we did not. I must have been in grade 5 then and was the first time in the Secondary bleacher when this happened. What happened was unprecedented in the history of the school. Three houses were joint first and since three houses can’t march together, they had to toss and Godafried or the Red House won the toss! I can still see the red house captain coming excitedly to the stands to the house teacher and shouting that they were going to lead the march past while our captain walked by crying. We were second in the march past that year.

In the last few years in school, I used to get pulled into the march past contingent. We used to march wrongly while practicing thinking we will be kicked out, but no such luck for us! Being in the march past meant that we had to wait all the way till the sports day ended and could not sneak out earlier.

But it also meant a month or so of missing the last few periods in school going for march past practise in the garden behind the school. As I type this, I can hear the commands in head and the one arm length we had to stand behind each other. We used to wear a strip of ribbon in the house colour on the sides of our white shorts (we were one of those rare schools at that time who had to wear white shorts for PE and sports) and a cap in the house colour.

I just checked my school website and Shernaz is still continuing to rule, they are still overall champions, though some of the uniforms we used to play in has changed over the years. The march past is no longer in shorts, but in black long pants and they wear a house tee shirt over it, while we used to wear our school uniform shirt. The cap still remains and the school head girls and captains and vice captains all wear black long pants and a blazer (with the captains and vice captains also wearing the house cap). During the the I was in school, they all used to only wear their usual school uniform. And we also have a school band now! That looks so much fun, wish that was there when we were studying too.

The march past would be like in major sporting events. The head would be the school head girl carrying the school flag with her deputies behind her followed by the junior head girl and her deputies. Then we would have the first contingent which would have one girl (usually a small grade 5 girl) carrying the house name, followed by the house captain with the house flag and her deputies behind her. Behind them would be 30 girls marching in three columns. This would be followed by the house which came second and then the third house and the last house bringing up the rear. We would make one circuit of the stadium and the guest of honour would get the salute after which would be the prize distribution ceremony including that for the best march past contingent (which I can’t remember us ever winning). We would go home late evening, tired but happy with the day. The next day would be a holiday from school which was very warmly welcomed by all.

As with other school memories, this post brought many smiles to me as I went back decades to relive my school days. For more stories about my school, click here and here