That was Xander’s alloted ballot number. I assumed it would be a smaller number, seeing as we were one of the first registrants for the Primary 1 registration under Phase 2B for this school. But it was just as well, because we got to the school about 10 minutes late. I overslept; it’s one of the ways I handle anxiety.
And when we finally shuffled into the packed multi-purpose room full of anxious parents (all not enough sleep, I bet), the school’s vice-principal was already reciting the list of registrants into the 30s. Midway through, another school staffer would interject, saying that the balloting equipment (the spinning dome, balloting balls, and procedures are supplied by MOE, and the entire process is strictly governed “to ensure fairness for all”.
One set of parents in the room were particularly anxious; they were parents to a pair of twins, both of whom were sharing one ballot number. The vice-principal made sure to explain the technicalities behind this arrangement (siblings go together as per MOE policy, so if their ballot wasn’t drawn, they’d draw another ballot ball at the end for the extra seat. They were allotted Ballot Ball 1.
When the vice-principal got to the last name, a call for questions is thrown to the floor. Everyone keeps quiet. After a 5-second pause, the spin begins.
They announce every single step,from the shuffling of the balls in the spinning dome, to the drawing of the balls announcing of the numbers and reciting the name of the child attached to the number.
Nerve-wracking is an understatement. Each spin of the ballot dome, every crackling of balls hitting each other sends reverberations of tense hope, and every time the dome stops, so does the heart of every single one of the 100-odd parents sitting nervously in the room.
At the announcement of the 3rd or 4th ballot ball, one mother couldn’t contain her yelp of joy and relief. The slight commotion was met with awkward stares all around the packed room, and the excitable mother couldn’t compose herself quickly enough. No one else dared yelp after that.
15 balls in, the school bell rings. Children are cheering for the end of one period and the beginning of another, oblivious to what’s happening in the room packed full of parents. I couldn’t take much more of this. I turn to look at the Wife with a slight pained expression, and say to her in a hushed, serious tone, “I need to go toilet.”
That’s another way I handle anxiety.
I return, relieved somewhat, and Xander’s ball still hasn’t been called. Towards the end of the balloting, Ballot Ball 1 is called. The announcement is followed by a loud murmur throughout the room; the twins have their places. The vice-principal then addresses the murmur by saying there are now 11 vacancies left. The tense reminder silences the room again. The dome spins again, then stops. A ball is drawn, and the vice-principal raises his microphone.
What of the unsuccessful registrants? The vice-principal was mindful enough to let them know after the balloting was done that their registration documents will be sent back to them, and the parents will be required to re-register again for the Phase 2C.
Postscript Update: It must be said, this post was meant to be a first-person documentation of at least this part of the P1 registration process (as detailed as MOE’s explanation is on their website, one can barely find any commentary on what goes on at any given part of it – now we all know the primary school balloting process is really like an official drawing of winning Toto numbers).
The Blogfather feels just as iffy about the entire phasing mechanism as anyone who has an opinion about it does (and it looks like there’s a lot of people who have an opinion about it). But whatever can, should and will be said about the Primary One registration process in all its wonderful segregatory glory, it’s the only process we have at present, and it’s a national process. So we’re all going to have to get with the programme.