Warning – Long rambly rant. Four posts squashed into one! Cross posted at Blogbharti
Three and a half years ago when I moved to Delhi, I had people asking me which school I planned to put the 6 month old Brat into. I was a little surprised because I was still trying to work out how to start him on solids and whether baby poop should be green.
I later on learnt to ignore it because well, there were the more important matters of teething, walking, speaking and generally, enjoying all the things that come with motherhood. Time flew by and before we realised it was time to put the Brat into school. Big school, with a uniform and a school bus. I went through my period of mommy angst, not wanting to send him and whining to the OA about how my son would become just another brick in the wall, blah blah. Yes, of course I’m over that now!
In all this, the OA and I had some err… heated discussions. My stand is simple, yes, school is useful for a degree but after a point the school is a bit of an equalizer. And what really matters is your home atmosphere and upbringing. I grew up with my grandfather teaching us chess (he was a national level badminton and football player in the good old days) and he taught my brother all the finer points of the game (I wasn’t interested!), my grandmother taught us all she knew about art – she was a good artist and we grew up poring over her books and learning to recognise Renoir and appreciate Van Gogh. The house was full of nudes painted by her and I had many a school mate come over and die of shock when they realised that the nudes on display were done by the little, grey lady. And even before I could read she was reading Jane Austen to us and reading us Reader’s Digest abridged editions. My dad spent hours playing games with us in a huge Reader’s Digest atlas and that is how we learnt our geography and my aunt who was a geography student would spend hours helping us. My uncle who was a math whiz taught us simple tricks to solve sums.
No, not all parents have that kind of time but the point I was making to the OA was that since the two of us do have a lot of time for our children, we don’t need to panic. We do take them out a lot and they do get many experiences. And once I can trust them to be silent, we can start with the museums and galleries that I so love and miss. We have our club memberships and take them swimming etc – so why should we panic? Let them get into a nice middle class school without the fancy school mates in big cars and we’ll be better off.
His logic? He went to one of the best schools in town and he owes the school a lot. Fair enough – but that’s because his family wasn’t into art or literature – it doesn’t mean that our kids need it because we do have a lot of time for them. All I want is a school close to the house so that the kids don’t spend the day travelling.
So while a good school would be nice, it’s not a matter of life and death for us. As I often point out to the OA – he from his best school in a big city and I from my regular school in a little town ended up working for the same big organisation which is where we met and he still found in me something that made him want to marry me. So it’s okay. No need to panic.
Which is easier said than done when you see people around you going into overdrive. Putting aside money to buy that 13 lakh seat at the infamous but much in demand school in CP. Yes, The Boy is going to kill me for this one!
The OA had two colleagues last year whose kids didn’t get into ANY school. That’s right – not a single school and so he was paranoid. I mean its a basic assumption that your kids will go to school. That they will get an education. Right? Also – everything depends on the Brat. He gets into a good school this year and drags the Bean in along with him.
Wrong. And so it was that the OA filled EIGHTEEN forms for the Brat across November and December. Yes, you can pick your jaw up off the floor. Eighteen schools. And it’s not a joke. Picking up the forms. Standing in queues. Adding in information about vaccinations and birth and phone bills and rent receipts.
And boy what a nightmare it was. You had to write about your hopes for the child, your expectations from the school – and wait for it, this one’s the killer – the child’s achievements. Excuse me? The child should be anything between 2.5 and 3.5 – what achievements are we looking for. It was 2 am. We were tired of forms and I was wild eyed and hysterical. I grabbed the pen from the OA and said, that’s it. I’m going to write he can pee in the toilet bowl without sprinkling. The OA looked at me in horror.
What, I yelled?? What achievements is a 3 years old kid supposed to have, for chrissake??
And so it went on. Finally I made a word document, aptly labelled ‘Bullshit’ and mailed it to the OA. And there I waxed eloquent on what we wanted from the schools and what we hoped for our child. The OA just kept changing the school name and bunging the quotes in. And finally after days of form filling, attesting documents, getting pictures taken (schools want all sorts of combinations – a couple of them wanted a passport size picture of the entire family in it – why?! Do they think we’re faking this?!), medical certificates it was done. It all seems easy – but try fitting this in with your regular day at office. EIGHTEEN forms to be deposited between 10 am and 11.30 am. On a working day. Thats taking the morning off almost every day for half the month! But we managed somehow and then awaited the calls with bated breath.
And they began. And they wanted both parents – which is something we were more than willing to do. Friends and family made encouraging sounds -‘You’re just what the schools want’, ‘young professional couple’, ‘modern’, ‘educated’, blah blah.. ‘speak well’
Right. Whatever. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the morning of the first interview my stomach made peculiar sounds and I felt slightly nervous. This year the Delhi government has banned interviewing the kids so it was all up to us. We were going to be grilled and if we fared well our son would get into a good school. As I got dressed that morning I subconsciously picked up the aged old maroon raw silk saree that belonged to my grandmother. It made me feel safer and it was a classic. Most of all, it reminded me of how proud I used to feel when my parents came to PTA meetings, looking well put together. The OA dressed in a conservative grey suit.
And so we reached the first school. We were grilled. Boy, were we grilled. On our parenting, our policies, our principles, our vision for our child. And in the midst of all this they’d slip in a question on whether we lived in rented accomodation. Err… excuse me? How is that relevant to my child’s admission?
Day after day we went to schools and at times we weren’t interviewed. We just had to submit forms that proved that we lived in a certain area, what we paid as rent, income tax returns and much more. By the end of it, my bum knee was aching, I was rushed between home, office and school interviews, the timings clashed with everything and I was just exhausted. I’d walk into work in a saree and colleagues would look up and say – ‘Ah – another interview? How bad was today?’
Some weren’t too bad. One of the principals chatted with the OA about the recession and funds investing in India in a knowledgeable way and asked me pertinent questions about my job. She told the OA and me outright that our son was through and that she wanted children of parents like us – whatever that might be!
The OA and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We had nothing going for us. The Delhi Govt ruling says the schools must give points and so the schools gave points – for the area you live in, to girl children, to second children, to children of single parents, to children of alumni and to poor children.
So our firstborn, male child with parents who weren’t from Delhi and by some sad quirk of fate were still much in love and together – got barely any points. The only quota I didn’t grudge was the economically weaker class because I totally support their kids getting a chance.
The thing with schooling in Delhi at this point is that there’s no point looking for a school whose philosophy matches yours. Simply because there’s no guarantee you’ll get through. So all you do is apply to the schools in your area and hope for the best. Acting fussy will get you nowhere because this year 1 lakh 75 thousand kids didnt get admission into any school in Delhi. Yes.
So you see, by the time you hear this bit of news you’re no longer acting pricey – you’re willing to take any school you get. The whole term ‘best school’ too takes on a new meaning. What is the best school for you, may not be the best school for me. And in the last few months of speaking to older parents, our views have changed too.
For instance, there are a few schools in Delhi that are more lenient and follow a more modern philosophy of never writing a negative remark in the report card like ‘Talks in class and disrupts.’ A remark I got year after year in my card. In theory that sounded good to us.
Until we met many parents who sent their kids there and said the kids were turning out rude, lazy and indisciplined. They believed that this system wasn’t really working for the average teenager in Delhi. It works wonders with the younger children but the older they get, the more insolent, spoilt and disruptive. One father who sent his kids to a school that gained popularity after Priyanka Gandhi sent her kids there, said he was very happy until his kids reached the senior classes. Therafter the school philosophy was such that they weren’t being disciplined very well. I quote him – ‘Teenagers everywhere are unmanageable, they’re worse if they’re rich and the worst is if they’re rich teenagers in Delhi.’
It doesn’t help that the moment a school begins to give a good education, the rich can pay their way in. And there is always a clerk or a principal who learns that ethics are nice, but there is a price at which they’re willing to lose them. So invariably all the good schools soon have rich kids and long waiting lists and longer cars waiting at the gate. Hell even the fees for most of them is close to 2 lakhs a year.
Which leaves us with nice, subduded middle class schools with old fashioned methods of discipline and fewer facilities. Suits me fine. I don’t need my son learning horse riding and pottery in school. I want him to learn math and some discipline. The rest can be organised outside of school. I don’t want him to have this sense of entitlement.
So the results came out and the Brat got through four decent, middle class, old fashioned schools. Most of his class hadn’t got through anywhere because they’d applied to the top three schools in the city that the whole world had applied to. There were two schools I had badly wanted that he didn’t get into and I was so mad when I realised that all the richest kids in his class had got through despite living further away from the school than we did. Obviously the income tax returns helped.
The OA and I breathed a sigh of relief and picked one, paid up the fees and relaxed over a cup of tea. The Brat was thrilled when we went for the orientation and called it a ‘beautiful school.’ We’re duly grateful to get his stamp of approval.
But the orientation began and as we settled in and saw the crowd around us, some richer, some poorer … some just like us which was rather reassuring. The show started with a simple Saraswati Vandana by Grade Three. And then, oh horror they sent six 8-year olds on to dance to some disco number in skimpy outfits. The girls outfits were clingy, transparent and most inappropriate – all rather sad considering the little girls were just at that stage where they were developing.
I looked at the OA in horror. We looked around the hall to notice most of the parents looking rather pleased and clapping. Just a few more faces mirrored our horror.
The lady doing the introductory talk couldn’t string together a sentence in English and I wished she’d just stuck to Hindi. Whats wrong with speaking Hindi if you can’t speak English? And proceeded to tell us how the display was to show that the school believed in Indian culture and well as Western modernity. Err… alright.
As we left, I groaned to the OA that I would have to spend my day making the Brat unlearn the mispronounciations he was taught in school, and then teaching him the correct pronunciation.
The OA grinned and said I was a typical mother… Nothing was good enough for my child.
Hmm… maybe he’s right!
Sigh – why didn’t anyone tell me how traumatic getting your child into school in Delhi is? Oh wait – they did try. I just wasn’t listening!!
PS: The Brat starts school tomorrow. Pray for him and wish him a happy 14 years ahead.