The other extreme

If some of my friends felt after reading my last blog that I am pro-privatization of schools, I wish to share some of my experiences “against the motion”. Back in 2011, I visited a very renowned private school in North West Delhi for a sales meeting. Since I am usually punctual, I reach places well ahead of time and this gives me an opportunity to observe things around me and form some preliminary opinion.  Here too, I reached ahead of my scheduled meeting time. Outside the school, I saw Mercs, BMWs, Skodas and countless such cars parked (and my driver felt quite embarrassed parking a Wagon R beside them); however there was only one school bus!

A well-dressed (with excessive unnecessary make-up) receptionist welcomed me with a plastic smile. The school premises instantly made me feel like I have entered a 5 star resort – centralized air-conditioning, automatic doors, CCTV, Fire Detection and Alarm system, Public Address (PA) system, motion sensors for lighting control- it just had everything. Being from an automation company I should have felt happy because this means the management is well-aware of the benefits and I need not use too many “FAB” statements for selling my product. However, I felt otherwise.

While I was waiting, a class got over – couldn’t hear the bell ring, instead there was an announcement on the PA system. The students rushed out of their classes, and I thought now it will feel like a school, but I was wrong. I overheard the conversation of two kids, might be of Grade 2 or 3. They were discussing a friend’s birthday party they attended at McDonald’s the night before and how bad it was compared to the party one of them had hosted at some well-known hotel. Not just that, some girl students had nail-polish and kajal applied, were wearing dangling earrings to school. I was completely shaken – this was also not the kind of school that I had been to!

A lot of my friends and colleagues of “my generation” will agree that for us birthday parties always meant cake, sweets and good home-made food cooked by mom. However, it has become a trend these days by parents to host lavish birthday parties in high-end restaurants and even if there are some who do not want to, they succumb to societal pressures and peer-pressure faced by kids.  There is nothing wrong with celebrations, but my concern is the mindset of the kids.  At such a young age, if they start deriving happiness only from materialistic pleasures, what will happen if they are deprived of something when they grow up? If they only travel in private high-end cars even to school since childhood, will they ever know how to board a bus or an auto? Will they ever appreciate or learn to value the comfort they get if they never face the realities of life?

The reason why students wear uniforms to schools is to create a feeling of equality and not promote discrimination based on socio-economic status. However, today, except for the uniforms, these elite private schools in all other ways create that sense of discrimination. The environment in the school is such that kids feel ashamed if they do not have a big car or do not travel abroad for vacations. They are ashamed to get their friends home if they do not have a great house. It’s a different competitive scenario in schools – it’s no more about me finishing 10 story books in vacations compared to your 8 or me painting 30 cards this New Year compared to 25 last year. It’s a whole new world and I sometimes feel I am probably a misfit because I would still want my kid to feel that way!

Another, new thing I learnt is that some schools even give a time table for the lunch that a child needs to carry to school and that’s quite elaborate and time consuming – aloo parantha, dosa, pulao , to name  a few. I pity the mothers and specially the working ones – if I have to prepare something like that every morning, I would have to quit my job. Hats off to all those mothers who diligently follow such a regime. Also, wouldn’t the parents know what’s best for their kid compared to that of the school teacher? However, there’s a reason too – it seems once a parent had forgotten to pack lunch for her kid and hence this rule! God !!

Should I mention the fee structure of these schools? I think it is better I leave it at that. Getting admission in a “good” school is tougher than clearing IIT and CAT these days and the parents are so stressed out. After all the pain and struggle if you have been lucky to get your child admitted in a good school, you still cannot rest in peace. The journey gets tougher thereafter, extra-curricular activities, summer camps, school outings, extra classes, school functions – everything comes for an extra price, not to forget the high tuition fees and admission fees that you have already paid. Even after you have done all these, you still can’t rest assured your child is learning well – you have to send them for private tuition to the same school teacher else they’ll not score well in exams.

Having a technology background, I am not against modernization of schools and the amenities they provide as long as the primary objective of “providing education” is achieved. There is a difference between literacy and education and a lot of schools have forgotten that. The values, perceptions, attitudes and norms that students are expected to learn during schooling form an important part of education which is missing these days. These so-called elite schools charge enormous fees to make your child literate by finishing the course curriculum but do little to educate them. As parents, our responsibility has increased even more today (compared to that of our parents) if we want our kids to first become good human beings before becoming doctors or engineers.

When I was starting my own business, someone advised me – “If you want to make good profit, you should start a school”. So true, private schools these days make unimaginable profits and hence a lot of business houses have started their own schools.

I am in favor of affordable quality education. It should not matter whether that’s offered by a government or a private school. I often wonder if there ever will be a solution…

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