Elitist self-delusion

In theory private schools are a good idea, but many of them  increasingly operate in windowless and soundproof shells. Sequestered in an environment in which every pupil is expected to be from the same socio-economic strata, the private schools are separated from the real world, from new ideas and from a progressive ethos grounded in principles of equality and celebration of diversity. A controversial circular issued to students’ parents by Bangalore’s Bethany high school smacks of elitism and snobbishness and reinforces the impression that private schools are fit for toffs born with silver spoons. Bethany’s narcissism is unjustified as it would be for other private schools working on same wavelength.

Two weeks back, speaking at a function, the vice chancellor of Bangalore University exposed a narrow mindset when he hinted that yokels cannot make it in the slick corporate world. Generally, as in the West, private school-educated pupils are considered more confident and articulate. There is no doubt that students in these schools are privileged in that they are better prepared to face the admissions challenges to colleges once they graduate and are presumed to have a solid grounding before they take on the vicissitudes of the job market. But the circular issued by Bethany goes against the country’s constitutional principles in which educational institutions are expected to follow equality and offer equality of opportunity. A deviation from these long-cherished principles in as diverse a country as India would suggest that there is always going to be discrimination in the applications process and, as elitist as that is, it will take many years to eradicate. To presuppose, as the Bethany circular did, that students from poorer and disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds would have a corrupting influence on those who belong to more suave backgrounds is down right narrow and disrespectful of children who happen to be born to deprived parents.

Some private schools, not just in Bangalore but elsewhere in the country, must abandon their elitist and narrowly defined notions of academic competence and concentrate on providing the best of education to the brightest, regardless of pupils’ social standing and financial status. Across the country — in the past and now — there are shining examples of students from non-elite backgrounds with immense intellectual richness who have brought leadership assets to the country. The putative upwardly mobile schools must set their self-delusion aside and work toward a more meritocratic educational system.

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