In their mad rush for a seat in a reputed school, parents push their toddlers into a straightjacket of study and regimentation even before they have learnt to talk or walk, rues Vatsala Vedantam.
Abhishek is two years and ten months old. By next June he will be the right age to enter the nursery class in any school. Still bottle fed and diapered, the little scholar appeared for his first test and interview last week in one of the city’s prestigious institutions. Schools have already issued application forms (ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1500) depending on the school’s reputation.
This school may not have been the “best” according to Abhishek’s parents. They chose it for its proximity to their home. Besides the promise that they need not go begging for admission in any institution for the next 14 years or more, depending upon the school’s ability to attach a higher secondary section too. Anyway, their child had crossed the first big hurdle with comparative ease.
Dressed in his best outfit, he was taken by his parents along with his bottle, diaper bag and breakfast/lunch and fruit juices to sustain him for the next few hours. To their pleasant surprise, he conducted himself with poise and equanimity during the interview with the principal and her aides.
When a basket of fruits were placed before him, he identified his favourite ones by colour and shape. When a vase of flowers appeared before him, he promptly named them correctly. When the principal showed him the picture of a cat, he literally crowed in delight and accuracy. Abhishek was admitted to the school after the parents agreed to pay the mind boggling “development”fee in addition to the Rs 100,000 admission fees, books and uniform fees etc.
“It comes up to nearly two lakhs of rupees, but we were prepared for it,” says his mother. Abhishek’s education has started with a bang. His parents have not yet realised that they will be asked to pay a hefty sum hereafter year by year, as he moves up class by class. He has got admitted to an upmarket school, and that is all that matters now to them. The school is “floated” by a reputed industrialist. He promises to affiliate his institution to an All India Board of studies. But that is still 12 years away.
Why should they bother about that, or whether the school is recognised by the Government of Karnataka? Does it have the approval of the central board? Is it the ICSE or CBSE that their child will face 12 years from now? It is a big question mark right now. But, they could not be bothered about such issues when they actually managed to get him into this school which must be a good institution since it cost them a little fortune.
The panic which drove Abhishek’s parents to find a school for their son is an epidemic more fearful than the dengue or plague. Young mothers scare each other about their child being left behind in the rat race for nursery school admission once he completes two years.
The schools whip up this panic into hysteria by giving out a limited number of application forms. The panic spreads and parents are led to believe that their child is doomed to a life of illiteracy if he/she does not get that first admission. They forget that there are alternate schools which may provide a more wholesome environment to a child.
They also forget that there are any number of playschools which may not promise a school leaving certificate after 12 years, but which allow an infant to play and grow unfettered. In their mad rush to assure themselves of an event that is miles and years away, they push a toddler into a straitjacket of study, discipline and regimentation even before he has learnt to talk or walk.
They simply forget that the best school for him now is his own home. The best teacher his own mother. In that friendly familiar setting, surrounded by siblings and family, children learn the early lessons of living, loving and giving. No school can ever replace this early education.
November is a bleak month for thousands of children from affluent families who are groomed, prepared and made to face their first crucial test in life.
Even as the proud parents march out of a posh school triumphantly armed with the admission slip for their baby son or daughter, they may not realise that they have robbed their child of a precious bit of childhood itself.