Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Today's International Schools

Today primary education is exorbitant and fashionable just like any other trend in the society. It has become a matter of status symbol for parents to put their kids in the most talked about school in the town for which they do not mind queuing in line for reserving a seat much before the baby is conceived in the mother’s womb. The mirage of securing the future has created this craze and in the process today schools with ‘international’ tag have mushroomed anywhere and everywhere just like malls, business parks and residential apartments have. It is a classic example of the theory of demand and supply and anyone who has the capital is trying to make hay while the sun is shining. It is for nothing that India’s education industry is thriving irrespective of what phase the country’s business cycle is in.

Today every city’s traffic congestion is half contributed by the school buses with the word ‘international’ and their phone number beaming on it bold and clear. It is a good marketing tactic to lure someone who has a family to run and is stranded for the major part of the day on the road. The vision is restricted to what it sees and a time constrained environment leads to instant decisions as a call is made while on the transit to book an appointment with the school’s admission officer on the coming weekend. So out of nowhere the kid in the family whose path was undecided till yesterday finds himself in the middle of a centrally air conditioned building to be exposed to some world class education – After all the fantasy advertisements on the hoarding and on television had promised to deliver much beyond classroom preaching. My grandfather who was an eminent educationist always stressed upon the point that educational institutions and hospitals should let the quality of service be their mode of promotion instead of spending on paid form of media. These days many private schools have employed marketing managers whose job profile includes scouting for influential parents who can afford a seat. Come to think of it and education has become like any other commodity in the market.

Coming back to the point as soon as the kid’s journey begins the parents realize that all that glitters is not gold. However the huge investment eliminates the option of backing out and like a typical Indian who trusts international brands much more than their mom’s opinion they find themselves trapped in no man’s land with no alternative but to continue with the initial choice. Moreover any change would attract unwanted attention and Mrs. Sharma from the neighbourhood would ensure that the topic becomes the point of gossip in the next kitty party at the locality’s community hall. The prestige cannot be compromised for; so what if the kid is in the firing line.

As it turns out all is not what it was showcased to be. The teachers responsible for molding the kid are what they were years back teaching the same subjects in pretty much an identical manner. If at all the meaning of values and their importance might have diminished by a margin over the years. The kid’s parents are now considered as business partners who are equally accountable for the school’s economic growth or else how could the visionary who woke up one morning with the mega idea of world class schooling encourage the thought of financially penalizing the parents if their kids broke a rule or two. Were we not of the notion that a child’s innocent mischievous mind is the breeding ground for creativity and to allow him/her to express would only reap societal benefit in the long run. Now by indirectly putting a gag on his/her naughtiness we are only hampering the kid’s lateral thinking and the society’s potential richness.

The school’s glossy brochure also promises of state of art sporting facilities that guarantees of the kid’s physical fitness and putting him/her in the process that would fuel the dreams of representing the nation in the selected sport but soon reality sets in. Most of the schools which have propped up overnight do not have playgrounds of their own; forget about coaching set up. They prefer to lease out their sporting wing to private entities who charge an extra fee for allowing access. No wonder today’s parents are much happier to provide their kids with the latest video game or allow them to watch reality shows against discussing how their straight drives, smashes or slam dunks could be mastered with constant practice.
Gone are the days when being punished by the teachers was considered to be a matter of achievement. Today in schools it is a strict no-no to hurt the kids. If any evidence is found then the parents are willingly dragging the school authorities into the courtroom. What does a kid learn from this? Is the society streaming up the pipeline with softy kids who are cushioning themselves with aloofness every time they are exposed to the real world? The picnic destinations have conveniently shifted from trips to unexplored locations to swanky resorts. Now is that a good bargain? Artificial creations have taken precedence over nature’s beauty. The kids’ appreciation towards the gift of nature is much low at a time when we are thinking of ways to counter global warming and protect the fast depleting forest base. No more do kids go to zoos instead they are taken to malls and community halls for occasions at a time when millions of rupees are being invested to protect the 1411 tigers left in India. The concept of celebration has also changed as today distributing chocolates on birthdays to classmates is considered as outdated and kids are content as long as their parents take them to nearest pizza outlet for a bite. This is not the ideal way to impart the lessons of sharing and caring. Days of national significance are no more important in the scheme of things for these new schools. Recently my cousin who studies in class I was happy about republic day because he would get a few extra hours of sleep. When enquired about the importance of the day he was clueless. How is he supposed to know what 26th January stands for when his school does not celebrate it?

It is pointless to debate how so many schools with most of the required boxes un-ticked get permission to start their venture because everyone is aware of the reality but it is worthwhile to pose a few questions which have futuristic impact on how we live our life from here on. Are the schools playing a major role in changing the meaning of life? Are they significantly altering the societal equation? Are they changing the meaning of everything around us? The answers will be clear only when the first batch of these ‘international’ students graduate and start taking responsibilities but if what one has to believe what one sees then it is time to be prepared for a transitional shift worth a period.

Sidhanta Patnaik
2nd February 2011 (Wednesday), 8.51pm
Marthahalli, Bangalore

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