Our daughter spent her entire schooling years at Kendriya Vidyalaya ( KV), IITB. My only regret with the KV system was the relatively little emphasis on the humanities and a rather undue emphasis on rote science and math. There are two factors that explain this. First, the qualifications of the teachers. For many years, the insistence of a B. Ed. after the first degree eliminates the more subject-oriented, more passionate individuals such as MA, MSc, History or Science or Language (Hindi, Marathi) from applying for permanent positions. Second, the school caters to a wide socioeconomic spectrum of kids, from the children of janitors to the faculty members. This, at times, dampens the enthusiasm of many teachers, who spend a lot of time trying to get the class in order.
I was never an active parent in school; in her initial years, I was. Soon I withdrew. This was partially a defeatist attitude; the reasons were as follows: I realized that the main hurdle to improving the overall ethos of the school — academics or extra-curricular — and the education it imparted, was the community of overzealous, “certificate-obsessed” parents. I call this group: the enthu-cutlets (EC). Their chief trait was their almost exclusive focus on their kids alone, and not the school at large. The enthusiasm of these ECs was drawn from their urge to fulfill two desires:
- Their child, willy nilly reached competitive levels in an extra-curricular activity.
- Hoist their thwarted ambitions (perhaps, unable to go through the IIT system, unable to immigrate to the promised land, unable to reach national levels in a sport) on their child.
There was yet another sprinkling of mavericks in this EC pot — these were the Silicon Valley or Boston area returnees. No one argued with individuals who had returned from these two spots, on education; they were the last word on the subject. A few took it upon themselves to reform the KV education system and cast it into the mold of their “homeland”; for instance, workbooks from San Jose schools were introduced into the KV system; pity the plight of a KV teacher, who had grown up in middle-class MP, UP or Bihar, and with a firmly set notion of education that the Indian system breeds, being asked to teach from a San Jose workbook! It brought to mind the lines from Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mocking Bird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
The Pied Pipers and the Middle Years: (2006-2012)
Waiting at the KV gate and engaging with parents just before school breaking time provided me with ample fodder to think of the way the IIT community perceived education. In that period, I too, was a bit disillusioned with school, and once in a while wondered if there were better options and should we be looking out for better schools? But we were clear that the school should not carry an elitist hue, and that our daughter should identify with the socio-economic background of most of her classmates. It was around this period that the “international school” charmers or the Pied Pipers appeared on the education horizon. A sociologist friend and a Silicon valley returnee fell hook, line and sinker for a Nita Ambani. Curious about this school, over cups of chai I would hear: “Nita does this, Nita does that.” Lest your imagination take flight from these phrases, it was purely clinical, propah charm. They were enamored by her vision of education that had taken the form of a highly hyped international school catering largely to the Bollywood and South Bombay elite. They tried to win me over as well. This scribe has never read a book on education in his whole life, is also a bit headstrong, and the charms of Nita did not ensnare him. It was like the stubborn mule being prodded and pushed to the pond to drink water. More seriously, two factors deterred us. First, even if we considered this option, admission to the school involved a lot of lobbying, which we found undesirable and were not willing to do. Second, the thought of our daughter sitting next to Akshay Kumar’s or Shah Rukh Khan’s or Sachin Tendulkar’s child did not go down well with us. Rather, learn more about life by sharing space and communicating with someone lower or at the same level in the socio-economic ladder; this was our thinking. Of course, there were positive sides: you could gain access to many facilities, resources, and good educational institutions within and outside the country after you graduated, with little difficulty. Or, if you queued up early enough on the school annual day, you would stand a chance to shake your hand with a Sachin Tendulkar, Akshay Kumar or Nita herself! And you could bottle the smell of that handshake for posterity to sniff on special occasions, like Gudi Padwa or Saraswati Pooja.
Waiting at the KV gate and engaging with parents just before school breaking time provided me with ample fodder to think of the way the IIT community perceived education.
There were other charmers or Pied Pipers who also came along in the years – Pawar Public School, Treedha, Scottish International School, Podar, and the Bangalore International School — with their visions of education, but KV, in spite of its deficiencies, definitely seemed to be our best bet. Another clinching factor was the commuting distance; given the Mumbai traffic, we were not keen on her spending a significant time of her day on the road. Complementing the KV diet with other supplements — largely books, followed by travel, music, dance, live performances, music/dance festivals, living on other campuses — we felt we had done our bit in providing her a holistic education. (Incidentally, internationalization in education came in a big way later on, soon after the school years. If not admitted to the IITs, any university outside the territorial border of India was considered a better option than those within the country …Hong Kong became a popular destination, so did Costa Rica, Canada and Britain.) Opposites truly attract in the field of educational institutions – amongst my own colleagues, sociologists are bowled over by the Ambani or Manipal schools, renowned rural activists root for the elite Treedha, champions of the downtrodden are besotted with Pawar Public school, vociferous leftists and IPR canvassers root for private schools in Sheffield….
I leave you with these lyrics (penned by Shailendra) from a lovely song that reflects our quandary:
“Ajeeb dastaan hai yeh, kahan shuroon kahan khatam
Yeh manzilein hai kaunsi
Na woh samajh sakey na hum…”