Just another brick in the wall


Parenting in Mumbai, especially the schooling part, can take a crazy toll on an unsuspecting parent. I will speak from experience in South Mumbai. Some years ago, we selected a nursery school for my 2-year old son in Colaba with the hope that he would have FUN and maybe along the way absorb a few things. What he got was a ‘structured’ introduction to the alphabets and formal work in the form of worksheets. At age two and a half he was ticked off for not knowing that ‘Fan’ started with the letter ‘F’. I was told by the head of the school that other children were able to do their phonetics well, so why not my son?

I wanted to tell her perhaps it was because I had not sent him to ‘school interview coaching classes’! Oh yes, there are those too! What my son could do was amazing to me. He used to show each of the alphabets by contorting his body, he knew the names of at least 10 dinosaurs (he could say ‘pachycephalosaurus’ faster than you can say dinosaur), he could recognise more than 30 nursery rhymes and say them too, and he could name most animals and birds.

My son’s school never bothered to either look beyond his ‘inability’ to form words from letters or his seeming lack of confidence in class. Instead of drawing out the child, they drove him with more vigour to the periphery. Confidence is not built in a day, nor is it only built in a classroom. But isn’t it wrong to expect each child to be conformist and ‘regular’. Shouldn’t there be room for kids who are maybe not?

Mumbai schools flog the bogey of ‘admission’ into a higher school for their pressuring the child to learn all there is to know about ‘our helpers’, ‘our festivals’, ‘healthy and junk food’ and so on, apart from the ubiquitous ABCs. If all this is to be dealt with at the nursery stage, then why have kindergarten at all? The child can go straight to Std 1. I know there are thousands of applicants for a few seats and the schools are hard-pressed to choose. And they sometimes have to come up with pretty innovative stuff including group discussions of parents and multiple interview rounds to determine the ‘suitability’ of the child.

In many school interviews 3 year olds are asked to match letters and many children do it right since their nursery has prepped them (In one particular school my son was asked casually by one of the interview board members to write his name. He couldn’t but I am pretty much sure many kids would have come good!)

Coming back to the point, once the child joins the school, he starts with ABC again, in short, he is made to reinvent the wheel. The school admitting the child knows he will be taught the letters from scratch, yet they can’t resist testing the children before admitting them.

The year before my son got admission into a school was so fraught that I often questioned my own abilities and searched in the deep recesses of my mind for my self-esteem, as letter after letter of rejection knocked on my door. I post-mortemed every word I had uttered in front of the various, often humourless interviewers.

I often analysed myself about how I wanted to project myself and why. I kept dithering crazily between projecting myself as a ‘housewife’ which I really was and projecting my past achievements at work. It drove me crazy. I finally found peace only after he secured admission in a decent, heck, good school, and it is definitely not because of either his genius or his parents’, though by now he knew his alphabets very well now and his phonetics too! At 4 maybe it was as it should be.

If you are in that same position today, please don’t drive yourself crazy. In hindsight I can tell you it doesn’t help. Be calm, be composed for you end up transmitting that stress to your child and you spread it around too. If you have any ace up your sleeve (recommendations, influence, pull, old students’ network, whatever) USE IT please. If you don’t have any aces, well, you have my sympathies…the world is sometimes unfair, contrary to what I tell my son.

E. Vijayalakshmi Rajan is only sometimes a hassled parent. For the most part, she is the happy mother of an energetic and opinionated 8 year old.