Friday, January 08, 2010

Studiously UnCouth

I was recently invited to become a "fan" on Facebook by another International School in Hyderabad, which is privately run, and charges students from KG onwards, a fee of over Rs 2.50 lakhs per year. It has an amazing campus, great facilities, and boasts of being a world-class school. It seeks to be a temple of learning, a cauldron of cultures, and a centre of academic excellence.

However, it never ceases to amaze me how much our education system is going the way of the Americans. Gone are the days of Convents, and Jesuit schools that could educate anyone at less than Rs 100.00 a year. I studied alongside my maid's kids, and we both got the same education, the same homework, the same canings, and the same disciplinary sermons from the priests (father this and brother that) who taught us for free. They were often mocked for being gay, for being clannish, for being peculiar. But the one aspect nobody questioned were their motives. They demanded our respect and gratitude, and we gave it unquestioningly, because we were naive, and we believed that they had no ulterior motives in educating us, and in fuelling our growth as human beings.

Our teachers were paragons of virtue, not because they were intelligent, or articulate or because they were able to instruct us well. They were respected also because of their impecunity. Their "holier-than-thou" image of a poor, impoverished teacher who lavishes her students with the wealth of knowledge, but is self-sacrificing, and compromises on her own life to ensure she can educate students for the greater good.

A big fall-out of the American Education system is the popular notion of pedigree, network and public perception. You end up gunning for the best brands, the biggest colleges, and you pay top dollar for the privilege of being educated in these colleges. In the USA, it is shocking to see how derogatory students are towards teachers, and it is a rare, inspired, courageous teacher who can earn and retain his/her students respect. You don't worry about whether you'll pass or fail, or get a distinction or if you will graduate, or if your leaving certificate will have "Good Conduct" on it. You take it for granted if your dad is a benefactor of the college.

More than the academic rigor, and the right education, and the knowledge an course brings you, the reasons for choosing a particular school have increasingly become pedigree, reputation, standing, alumni network, and opportunities you get to make your presence felt across the world, and land the best job at a great salary.

Of course, in school, these reasons are not YET as much of importance, but with the advent of greater fees, I think that parents / students will become less obedient and will demand more as consumers. Greater bang for their buck! I mean, I know that my aunt told me about Ecole Mondiale where parents asked the teachers how they failed their child, when they were paying all the money that was asked for!

I mean, with the money paid out, a parent who already has no time to spend with his kids, will assume that the school is also parenting his kid, and guiding the student towards academic success, since that is the "product" he has purchased for his kid - a great education.

We did not have any access to television, or radio, or the internet. We did not have cell phones or sms or any kind of satellite tv. We watched movies in cinema halls, bought Simba Chipmiks and Popcorn and bought stall tickets for 10 rupees. When I was in college, Sterling cinema dress circle tickets cost 45 rupees, and were considered rich kid's seats. Or a special treat for your birthday.

My point is, we were naive, and we did not possess the cultural or the economic aspirations of today's generations. Today, 10 is the new 15, 15 is the new 22, and 5 is the new 12. The kids are sharper, smarter, and more money-minded than even the toughest gujju sharebroker you know.

Where is the respect a teacher earning upwards of 12-15 lakhs a year will earn, when the students ( and kids are sharp today) will point out that they are effectively paying for her salary and that she shouldnt be in the position to govern them?

And thats just sad. We (the people who were kids in the 70s and 80s), are lively, intelligent, happy creatures because we had the shit beaten out of us by these priests (i went to a catholic school too!), and we were taught to respect, love, and be disciplined. And we respected them because we felt that they because they were altruistic, and that it was just the nobiity of the cause that made them teach us.

Child Plans and Insurance companies are the unsuspecting benefactors of the rising cost of education in this country, and are not afraid to flaunt it with their hackneyed attempts at promoting aspirations for both parents and their kids.

I'm think that Education is the best aspiration of the middle-class and the worst bedfellow of capitalism. The consequences of this seemingly unstoppable collision could be catastrophic for the one last competitve advantage we hold over our other similarly aspiring developing countries - our underpaid, English-speaking educated population.



Vijay Shetty said...

Firstly, when we got educated (in the 70s and 80s) the number of the kind of schools (run by impecunious priests) you speak of... Were less then one tenth of the number of schools that are required today...

Secondly, during our times, our teachers were people who had chosen teaching as their first choice profession (they weren't as many PAYING professions in those days I guess) unlike today where the case of many (if not most teachers) is... If you didn't get in to Engineering, Medicine, the Defence Services, the Bureaucracy, Law, Banking... Then you chose teaching...

I will not comment on your thoughts about Pedigree or whether we are aping the American system of Education or not...

Fact is Pranay, am (I as an extremely well teacher paid Teacher getting paid less then 20% of the 12 lakhs that you talk of...) not entitled to aspirations...???

Pranay the Srinivasan said...

Hi Vijay,

My post is not against education or against the new schools that are opening. It is not even against the salaries that teachers should deserve.

It is about the equality of education that is losing out to the affordabiity of a good, strong education with emphasis on extra-currics as well.

Tell me, dont you feel that an underprivileged student who is not necessarily capable of affording a Ecole Mondiale, or a Sancto Maria, should also be part of that class, if not for anything, but to exploit that teaching, that atmosphere and to thrive on the opportunities this education brings him?

With those convents quickly degenerating into replicas of tuition and coaching classes, and adverts for private tuitions, I seriously feel that unless you equalise the class structure, you are driving a larger wedge into the socio-economic displacement of the lower middle class.

We should not take away the great Indian aspiration of a good education for middle class children just because it costs more to maintain a school and because the ROI needs to be satisfactory enough.