24 Feb, 2015 | Nick Somers

Social issues

Let the Queues Begin

‘Some parents have slept here since the first of January’, says Fidelia, who is queueing toward the end of a long line to enroll her youngest child, who is four and a half years old.

The schoolyard is crowded and hums like a beehive. Hundreds of voices rise over one another, making it impossible to single one out of the chaos. This is the kind of bedlam we are used to at a school, but today is different. It's not children who are filling up the yard, stairs, hallways and rooms, but parents. Once a year on enrolment day, it's their turn to populate this space—waiting in endless lines, and sometimes even camping out overnight—to assure their child a spot in the best school, or the school closest to their home.

‘The school is close by, the teaching is good, the teachers are gentle and engage themselves with our children’, Fidelia says.

Each school has its own system to enroll students, either one grade at a time or alphabetically by last name to limit chaos just the tiniest bit. Either way, tremendous lines are to be expected. All parents have one day, depending on the grade or name, when they can secure a place for their child. It is not hard to see why some may dread this day. Waiting hours in a crushed mass, packed like sardines on a staircase, not knowing how much longer it might take is hardly anybody’s perfect way to spend a day. Add warm temperatures to that unpleasant mix, with a little food and drink stand in some corner as the only defence against boredom and discomfort, and it’s a recipe for an awful experience. But it is necessary, and certainly a sacrifice parents are willing to make for their children’s future—even if it means waiting after sundown. Knowing that you’re securing a good future for your child is perhaps the only motivation needed to get through those days.

‘The truth is, I don’t mind that much’, says María as she waits to register her child for preschool. ‘Because if it's for my child, then I have to make the sacrifice. I’ve told myself that the education of my children is more important than having to wait in a line, rain or shine.’

On the other side of town, far away from the chaotic center of Sopocachi, at a private school rather than one of the many public schools, however, there is no chaos and there are no endless queues to be seen anywhere between the luxurious houses. Here the parents don’t have to get up before dawn just to be the first in line, let alone sleep in front of the school for many nights. Inside we find the same calmness. The clean hallways and rooms filled with trophies and pictures of graduated classes have only a few people in them. And the buzz of activity is limited to a couple of workers and parents having a chat with their coffee, talking about the approaching new school year. Those who can afford to send children to private school spend but a few hours, maybe even less, to register. Enter the building, choose from one of the empty seats, fill out the form, hand it over—and that’s pretty much it. Maybe stick around for a relaxing little chat with some of the other parents with a drink if you have some time left. It’s the luxury money can buy.

The new school year started on February 2nd and parents can now enjoy a well-deserved rest, knowing that it will be at least another year before the melee starts again.



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