There is a lot that India is known for - rich culture, poor people, tall tales, short uncles, regard for traditions, disregard for hygiene, joint families, broken English, the list could go on and on. I would first like to point out that not all South Indians are Madrasis. Now that that’s out of the way, South India is stereotyped as the land of nerds where education is our one true love and having a 99% on your report card might just be reason enough to weep for that 1% that was lost in the examination war. All of that is true and like most stereotypes have good reason to exist.
We’ve watched our friends and family apply to schools, write a bazillion entrance exams - JEE, BITSAT, XAT, CAT, MAT, take pretty much any other letter followed by an ‘AT’ and there will be an exam for it. They don’t get into the school of their choice, then faces crumple, eyes tear up, they look like puppies who have been kicked and your heart goes out to them. You go out and buy them a large tub of ice-cream to soothe the pain and anguish that comes with rejection.
Schools have however decided to turn the whole thing up a notch. Off late, even LKG (Lower Kindergarten) has admission criteria - application forms, tests that even the parents need to take, money that needs to change hands both above and under the tiny tables in a Kindergarten classroom. The best part is, you need “influence” to get admission in schools. So much for transparency and letting all children have an equal right to education.
Parents wait in line for 9 hours when applications for admissions start...for Kindergarten and Middle School. Gone are the days when school was just this place we went to eat lunch and shove our friends around just enough that our uniforms would need dry cleaning when we got back. Now children, they’re strong they know that, come what may school can’t help/stop them from doing what they want to in life. They remain happy, ignorant in their blissful bubble. The parents, on the other hand, have their sights set on their 3 year-olds being the next Kalpana Chawla/Aryabhatta. At least that’s what my parents used to say to me and my brother. They seem to have given up hope off late and I can’t say that I blame them. I am space-sick and numbers are not my friends. it is heart wrenching to see mothers crying like their dogs just died, for what in my opinion are trivial reasons.
School matters, sure. Good schools are important, definitely. But it isn’t the end of the world if your kid didn’t get a seat in LKG in the muggle equivalent of Hogwarts. Schools need to get off their high horses and parents need some perspective. Everyone gets that you want the best for your child, but at age 3 the line between ‘ordinary’ and ‘superb’ is very hazy.
It’s been known for centuries (I’m fairly certain that my school textbooks were printed around 600 B.C, and schools are currently using the same books), that our education system needs an overhaul. On the flip-side, you have to notice that a ton of the famous and really smart people from all around the world are Indians, so as my dad likes to say - we must be doing something right. I am yet to figure out what it is that we are doing right, but when I do you’ll be the first to know.
Photo credit: wierook.nl