Tag Archives: school

A school is a school is a school…not!

When we knew we were shifting to Navi Mumbai, my first concern was a good school for my daughter. However, I saw that the area we were shifting to, had a number of reputed schools, so I was reassured. I decided a school was a school was a school. Any child in middle school has to start working hard and it really did not matter which school she is in. I found a reputed ICSE school – walking distance from home and I was happy.

However, three months down the line, as we are cramming for first term exams, I’m plagued with guilt. I feel that I should have researched a bit more about schools in the area.
Not that the current school is bad. Everyone seems to think its ok.

I mean if you are extremely academically oriented, this school is perfect. But we have always favoured a school that offers a more all-round education. I believe, a school is after-all the microcosm of society. Children learn social behaviour, they enjoy their childhood and somewhere in the process they also gain knowledge. If you ask me, a child learns from every little experience. You take them to participate in inter-school culturals – they learn. You have a carnival in school and involve the senior children in organizing the event – they learn a hell of a lot! If you have debates and JAM sessions, they prepare for the topics with enthusiasm – and before you know, they have learnt a whole lot more without even realising it. Or how about you ask them to work out a drama on a particular topic they are learning…say in history…how much fun is that!

For me, formal, academic, learning at school is a by-product. Whatever else they learn is what matters more.

So, here’s a reality check. My daughter’s current school has 4 tests a week. Two on Mondays and two on Fridays. It essentially screws up our weekend (among other things). Then they have maths teachers who write sums on the board and ask the students to copy, without really explaining the concepts to them. Copious notes are given on every topic in every subject and students are expected to memorize and vomit! Whatever happened to students understanding and writing it in their own words? I’ll tell you what happened – the students in this English medium school cannot speak English. In grade 7 they are not comfortable speaking the language. So they need to be spoon fed the answers!

However, by doing so, the school is completely curbing any kind of independent thinking. The children are not imaginative or intuitive. They feel helpless to learn if they do not have the answers.

Ok fine. Let’s accept that for the moment. What horrifies me more is that they have exams for art, music, general knowledge and…wait for it…value education!!

I mean…what?!

Why can’t the kids learn art for fun? They are actually given topics to prepare! What happened to spontaneity? What if the kid prefers shading and does not want to use colours? What if the child has a penchant for abstract drawings? Or, what if, the child’s drawing abilities stopped at stick figures? If you have to grade the child at all, why not give them the freedom to draw or create whatever they like. Creative expression. Mark them for the thought behind the art – not for the artwork itself. The point of art is freedom of expression – right?

Ok. Let’s grudgingly grant them the art exam. But value education? This is not an exam subject. This is something, the child needs to imbibe and practice every single moment of their life. This is their foundation as human beings. As global citizens. However, in this school, they are given question and answers to memorise and write. In the meanwhile, outside the school gates, children unwrap chocolates and throw the wrappers right there.

General knowledge exam? How about making that a bit more fun? And having just a quiz and getting the kids excited about it a bit?

Music – kids are given a choice of 2 Hindi songs and one English song. They can opt for any one. And mind you, there is no like a ‘music period’ that the kids have during the week. These songs are sung during the school assembly. So if you happen to have learnt it…good for you! I mean, imagine a school with no music. Sad.

Wait. There’s more. So apparently when the kids are in grade 3 or 4, they are asked to choose a musical instrument. I’m not sure, but I think they are given a list of instruments like guitar, tabla flute etc and asked to choose one that they would like to learn. And then…wait for this…they have to LEARN IT THEMSELVES! So what the hell was all that select-your-instrument-process all about? What if I don’t want to learn an instrument from your list? What if I want to learn the Saxophone? Or what if musical instruments are not my thing. If you are not planning to teach in the school – why make the kids choose at all? I don’t get the point!

Now comes medical check-up. Firstly, I think every school must have medical check-ups. Every school I have been to, or heard of, has it. I remember my school used to have an annual medical check-up. A stern looking doctor and nurse would visit the school, make us stand on a weighing scale, check our height, make us stick our tongues out, pry apart our eye lids…and so on and proclaim us to be in good healthy, albeit a tad overweight or some such thing. But in this school, they give us the medical check-up form and we go get it done ourselves. What? Seriously? If I feel there is problem with my child, I will do it. If you are not doing it, why are you dictating that I must?

Ok, back to the academics. Right. If you are a wholly academic school, let me sigh and accept that. But then, live up to that name. Till date, my child says, they have not visited any lab in school. Not even the computer lab. And computer is such a practical subject! Instead they learn things like –
Step 1 – to open a file go to the top left corner of your computer, click on File and Click open
Step 2 – a new file will open. To save this file click on the top left corner…
Well…you get the drift! What’s the point of learning computer this way? They need to be hands-on don’t they? Fine, have the theory classes, but also take them to the lab and show them how it’s done! Seeing is learning – at least in case of computers.

And Chemistry. An entire lesson on physical and chemical changes. Not one visit to the lab. The teacher gave them the experiments and the results. Duh.

The heavy school bag she has to carry is another Pandora’s box. But I do not wish to open it here. My child lugs a heavy bag (at least around 7 kgs) – up six floors to her classroom. Eeveryday. It breaks my heart. I would like the school’s director the try doing that for a day!

I really think this school needs to loosen up, have fun, allow its students to have fun. They are not allowed to talk – even during lunch breaks. It’s a school, not a monastery, dammit! The poor class teacher is forced to eat lunch with the kids – because, you know, she has to ensure that the children behave! I’m sure she needs a break from the kids and vice versa. I’m not surprised to know that the teacher turnover is very high in this school. All the good teachers leave!
Honestly, I’m really really really disappointed. I expected the school to be up to some standard. People always say education is better in the Southern states – and I thought that was a mindset. Until now. Now I wholehearted agree.

So hats off South Indian schools. Especially the top Chennai schools. You guys have got the formula right. You are the right mix of fun, learning, social skills, cultural grounding and sports. My daughter and I miss you immensely Chettinad Hari Shree Vidhyalayam, Chennai. You are truly one of a kind school.

The Indian lecture culture

Being lectured. And lecturing. The two sides of a coin. We all hate being lectured to. Nothing more annoying than that really. On the other hand, we love lecblablablaturing. When we get the opportunity to lecture, we believe we are wisdom personified. We just go on and on. We don’t get (or maybe we choose to ignore) that the recipient of the lecture is getting pissed off.

I’m Indian and this article is from an Indian standpoint. I’m not sure at all that this applies to other nations. In India we grow up and age on a staple diet of lectures. Everyone thinks it’s their birthright to lecture us. We just don’t know the art of stating things smartly. We need to make everything sound like a lecture. It starts with our parents. They lecture us for everything. If you dig your nose you get a lecture. If you climb a slide backwards you get an earful. If you eat with both hands – God forbid – you’ll be lectured about the demerits of eating with your left hand, until your meal is digested and passed out of your system.

Then we start schooling. That’s really 12 years of unending lecture sessions. Every subject teacher thinks we all need a lecture on diverse topics ranging from tidiness, discipline, running in the corridors, doing homework, presenting work neatly, revising your lessons, handwriting, asking permission to use the toilet or to drink water, doing extra reading on the subjects we are learning, eating healthy food, coming to school on time, polishing your shoes, cutting your nails, how boys should have short hair and girls should have long hair and not the other way around, revising your answer paper before submitting it, how to avoid silly mistakes in exams…and so on. On any given day, teachers can find many exciting topics and they unleash a flurry of words on a captive audience of bored students. I’m sure they are well meaning talks, but the student’s space out and go about their business of drawing nasty cartoons of the teacher in their rough note. Not a word of what the teacher says registers in the mind. Which is a pity, really.

You’d think, we’d be done with lectures once we leave school. But no. It continues in college. Worse still, here even the teachers graduate to being called ‘lecturers’ and they live up to their name! College lectures cover pretty much the same topics as the school ones. Only they are longer and more intense.

hairpullYou graduate. Hurray! And you think you’re done with lectures. You’re about to get into the corporate world. You’re free to do what you like. Think what you like. You’re officially an adult – who earns. But the joke is on you my friend. Because the lectures now come from all your bosses down the line. They get nastier in fact as each one takes out their anger and frustrations on you. Tips on how to do the job right. Do’s and don’ts. Rights and wrongs. These days you get to attend concalls from clients abroad and you hear lectures in myriad accents – on interesting topics like how to plan your work better and meet your deadlines.

If some of you are smirking out there saying, you’re a home maker and these office politics don’t apply to you. Well, I have news for you! If you thought your mother was the lecture expert, your mother in law, takes over the mantle with aplomb and runs with it wholeheartedly. How to cook healthy meals, how to maintain a home, how to manage maids, how to bring up your kids…oh yes the list is endless.

Apart from these regulars, random people also lecture you:

The auto driver – if you dare to argue about the exorbitant fare he demands, he will lecture you on the rising cost of living.

The vegetable vendor – If you so much as raise your eyebrows upon reading the price tag on onions, the vendor will unleash upon you his theory of how the government deliberately hoards onions, increases prices and makes money on it.

The milk delivery man – If you go OMG about the milk prices – you will be subjected to the above mentioned onion like lecture on government atrocity.

The digital set top box repair guy – He will give you the works about how to use your remote and set top box right. So that it never breaks down and you never need his services ever again.

The family doctor – If you come down with the flu or something, then the trusted doctor will lecture you on how to take care of your health. What exercise to do, what vitamins to pop in so that you build better resistance.

Your friends – Oh yes. If you’re stuck with the wrong bunch of friends – they lecture too! If you don’t attend their parties. Or if you attend someone else’s parties. Or if you go off for a movie without them. Or you plan a trip with some other friends…then they give you an earful.

Your housemaid – The housemaid bunks work. It is her birthright. If you question her, she will lecture you about how you live in comfort and get running water in your taps. She has to pump water and carry them in pots and buckets to her home. This makes her sick. How dare you question her!blah_00033341

Your siblings and random cousins – If you forget to make those mandatory calls or write those emails updating them about your whereabouts…then you’ve had it!

Your yoga teacher or gym instructor – Oh boy! The lectures you get! Let’s not even get started on this…

All this while, mind you, the lecture from parents continue. In India, parents assume they need to keep teaching you to do things. Even if you are 60, your 90 year old mother will scold and lecture you on how to do things right.

The flip side?

By the time we are forty, we Indians are masters at giving lectures on any topic. And why not? We hear it every day from every possible source. So do lectures piss us off. Yes! Do we love to lecture. Yes! It’s a vicious circle. And we are well and truly trapped.

Note: Definition of lecture
– speech read or delivered before an audience or class, especially for instruction or to set forth some subject
- a speech of warning or reproof as to conduct; a long, tedious reprimand. verb (used without object), lectured, lecturing.
- instruct by lectures.
- to rebuke or reprimand at some length

 

Mommy to a 7-year old granny.

I can never stop feeling guilty about this. My only child growing up amidst boring adults (like yours truly) and transforming into a child mature beyond her age. Not only does she spew words of wisdom that I feel certain are beyond her understanding, but also does things that make my heart take a tumble and say ‘isn’t she too small to do this?’

Just yesterday, I was down in the dumps at the thought of starting yet another freakishly hectic week where I’d have to juggle work, irate clients, meeting deadlines, solving inter office issues, picking and up dropping her from school and to sundry classes on various days of the week, folding clothes, managing meals and other issues at home and somehow keeping calm through it all. She rolled her eyes at me and said well its not too bad being an adult. At least you get to do your own thing, she admonished. Just try sitting in a class room during a free period listening to PT sir yelling NO TALKING, FINGER ON YOUR LIPS, or having to ask permission to pee when you just have to go so very urgently, or to drink water when you are so thirsty.  Or trudging up 2 floors for art class, and then 3 floors for computer class and so on.

Yeah well, when she put it this way, my life did not seem so bad!

Last week, when I stayed late at work for the third consecutive day, I was filled with guilt and dreading her call asking when I would be home. She did call to ask and I honestly answered that I really had no idea. She complained that I always did this to her – making me wallow some more in guilt. Then she called back after a bit saying she’d had her dinner and also done her home work – had I finished my work yet? A little later she called again and sternly advised me against ordering and eating some junk for dinner. “I have a surprise for you. Come home and eat my surprise!” she ordered.

I did as I was bid and somehow staved off hunger till I got home at 10 pm. By then the little princess was tucked in bed. Her adult worries buried under her pillow, her face peaceful in her sleep as only a baby’s can be.  My guilt rose up as tears, as I kissed my sleeping baby. Then I freshened up and went to have my dinner.

There, on the table, waiting for me were two smiley rava idlis. With green peas for eyes, carrot for a nose and a cashew for smiley mouth. And a little strip of paper on which she had scribbled ‘I love you amma’.

I did not know whether to laugh or to cry.

So I just ate. And cuddled up next to my little adult.

Seeking – girlfriends!

Woman in mid-30’s seeks girlfriends. Preferably with young kids. Fair, dark, dusky…any complexion. Any caste or religion.

If you thought finding the right man was tough, well, try finding a girlfriend that you get along with. Or is it just me? Am I too weird to find friends?

It’s not like I don’t get along with people. I do. Or at least I try hard to.

At one time I decided I would join the group of mothers whose kids go for dance class with my daughter. So I went up to them and introduced myself. After pleasantries were exchanged they delved into the subject of school. Studies. Marks. Homework. Assignment. Test. Exams. Writing skills. Teachers. School politics. Extra curricular activities. And on and on. Until my mind boggled. By the end of it I felt mighty stressed! I felt inadequate – like I was not doing enough for the daughters’ academics. The fear of what-if-I-fail gripped me. It honestly took me a while to get that feeling out of my system. I do not believe in stressing myself or the child over her studies. And I do not believe that her marks define who she is. Apparently this group thought it did.  Now I stay away from the bunch. After a polite hello I slink away for a lonesome walk.

Then there was this group of mothers I met at a birthday party. It went well enough until the topic steered towards the child’s lunch box. We exchanged ‘what do you give them for lunch’ questions. I innocently mentioned my list – pasta, sandwiches, rotis, pulav…I noticed a silence in conversation while I rattled off and paused. They were all gawking at me like I was from outer space. ‘Why don’t you give sambar rice etc?’ asked one mom. I told her my daughter would never eat it because she did not like rice very much. ‘But what nutrition is there in all this.’ Asked another. I assured her that I buy only wheat pasta and organic at that. Then suddenly one of them was most interested. Presto! She pulled out a notepad and pen from her bag. ‘Give me the recipe ya.’ She urged, her pen ready to fly. The others soon followed suit – as the collective opinion was that my weird lunch items can be given on special days. Soon they were all in position to write and looking at me expectantly. It was my turn to gawk. Really! Imagine being ready with notepad and all that. I never do that – this writing down recipes from other mothers I mean. I believe that every child has his or her own taste. You cannot impose one’s likes and dislikes on the other. So why try? But apparently they did not think so. Was I wrong? Yet again I felt inadequate.

Then there are those incredibly charming kinds. They are so wonderfully sweet and innocent that I find it too stressful to make conversation. I mean I think I’m a normal woman. I swear. I joke. I bitch. I giggle. I guffaw. But the oh-so-sweet kinds would never do that. They will ask you over for tea and say such nice things about you. Compliment you on your drab outfit, your frizzed hair and what not. And you find it hard not just to accept those compliments but to graciously pass on some in return. But then you feel obliged to. So then you mutter some nice things. And then you start to feel suffocated. Just the strain of having to make that conversation is tiring. Oh yeah I have such friends. I hate myself for saying this, because they really are sweet– but I avoid them like the plague!

Then there are the whiners, the husband and mother-in-law bashers. They look like they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Oh what would the world be without them? They cook, clean, wash, get their kids ready for school, make them study and do their homework. (Excuse me but don’t we all do that – some more, some less – but we all do it!) And the mother-in-law is most unappreciative. The husband is always supporting his mother. And on and on and on. Until I get most depressed. My point is no one’s life is perfect. We all have our issues. It’s the attitude with which we face them that matter. If I’m out with friends, I’d like to forget my troubles – not keep brooding and whining over it. I’m not saying these women are wrong…but I guess our chemistry just does not work.

Are there no women out there who don’t take their role as mothers, or wives, or home makers or daughters in law or themselves soooo seriously that they forget to enjoy it? Who can accept their flaws and laugh at them. Who can discuss their problems without whining? Who can move on in life and not dwell in the past? Who can have a good laugh and giggle over silly things. Who can drool over handsome men just for the heck of it! Who love window shopping more than shopping itself. Who love to laze around over a cup of tea…

Sigh. Woman where are you? If you are SHE, please get in touch with me please. I seek you. Desperately.

Annual day and all that

Today was my daughter’s annual day.

Of course our kids coming on stage is a special moment. Even if they just come up on stage and blink their lines away we would still go “awwwwww” and feel all mushy. But today was extra special for two reasons:

1)    My daughter M was playing the lead role in a play that was scripted by me!
2)    She was going to do her first ever solo performance (a bilingual puppet show)

The event was being held in a large hall with a makeshift stage. The surface of the stage did not seem very even to me. M had to wear a blue sari (as she was river Cauvery) in the play. I had nightmares about her tripping and falling on stage! I could hardly sleep last night worrying about my baby (why?!).

Butterflies flew around in my stomach as I fretted about her forgetting her lines. Her puppet show involved a monkey that spoke colloquial Tamil and a Chipmunk that spoke very British English! She had to switch from one language to the other and that’s hard enough for adults. I wondered if I had given her something too tough to do. It was of course too late the change the script. So I simply fretted.

Meanwhile, me along with a few other parent volunteers, helped create the backdrop for our Cauvery play. We collected saris in every possible shade of blue. M and I made little fishes and paper boats. Then we put up a dark blue background and put waves of light blue saris on it. We stuck boats and glittering fishes on that. Our task over – we stepped back to survey. To our highly prejudiced eyes – it looked like the cutest thing since stuffed teddy bears!

Today dawned bright and early for me. At 4am I slipped out of bed unable to worry any more. I did some vigorous work out on my stepper and had a calming cup of tea. Well… I was as set for the day as I would ever be!

It was time to wake M up. She awoke on my sixth desperate wake-up attempt. At 6:15 am it was still dark and she could not accept that it was morning. We went to the balcony and yelled at the sun for doing a shoddy job. Finally he peeped out from behind the buildings and spread some light around. Humph! Better late than never we said as we went in to bathe and get ready. Sari was draped after breakfast. And she looked like a little blue school teacher. Of course she insisted on jumping and dancing in it. I ran around behind her pleading with her not to – worrying all the time about her tripping.

It was time to leave for school. We were the first to arrive (ok fine call me a paranoid mom!). Other nervous parents arrived soon enough. And we all assembled in the green room. Cacophony ensued as kids grinned and commented at each others’ costumes (there was a Narada, a king with a feisty mustache and a sage Agastya – who were all simply too adorable!). We mothers were trying to give them last minute instructions over and above the din!

Finally the teachers chased us out.

I sat nervously and wrung my hands until my husband calmly joined me just as the invocation began.

Soon it was M’s turn with the puppets. My heartbeat was so loud I was sure the entire hall could hear it. M marched up on stage grinning and began with a “vanakkam” in such a colloquial Tamil accent that the audience warmed to her instantly! She simply cruised her way through the show. Not forgetting her lines and switching effortlessly from Tamil to English… and left the stage to a fantastic ovation! I heaved sigh of relief and shared a proud grin with my husband.

Two acts later it was time for our ‘All Izz Well Cauvery’ play.

My script being staged for the first time. I confess it was a proud moment for me. The kids were wonderful as they giggled and bungled their way through the play. M had a long dialogue that she said with great élan! The play ended with a peppy All Izz Well number (based on the song in 3 Idiots – sung by us parents). The audience clapped appreciatively.

Ah it was over! My first script staged. And my baby did not trip and fall. All Izz Well that ends well. Whew!

G for genius?

I would rather its G for Girly. G for Giggle. G for Grumble. G for Good. But not Genius. It seems these days everyone wants Einstein’s for kids. They don’t want kids any more. By the time the child is three – they are packed off to various classes including chess, dance, skating, music, dance…. Oh did I forget drawing, painting, abacus, mental arithmetic, spelling, handwriting.

Gone are the days when kids could run around in knickers, dig into sand, chase butterflies and so on! These days they are so adult well before their time.

When I was doing the round of playschools for my daughter – I was appalled at the number of schools which assured me that my child would be writing by the end of one year. Playschool – I ask you! The child is barely 3 at that time. But its amazing how many parents are impressed by the credentials of such schools. They gleefully dump their kids into these torture chambers where they are made to read and write at an age when they should be drooling and doodling!

I once attended a seminar by some organization that claimed to develop the right brain of the child (Or was it left brain? I forget!). They had video footage of six month old babies who could recognize alphabets and colours and even add up numbers. While I yawned through it, other parents watched with their jaws open. At the end of the presentation I rushed out to preserve my sanity – while other parents made a beeline to buy the CD which cost no less than 25000 Rs!

I fail to understand the logic of why the child must learn something ahead of time. How does it matter if the child writes by three? He or she will only actually need to use his/her writing skills in UKG. So what’s the whole point? And why is it so critical that the child must recognize alphabets and numbers at 6 months? They will eventually do so right? Why not let them observe and learn at their own pace. In fact, the geniuses we exalt today were all left alone to observe and learn at their own pace! Surely the Einstein’s and the Ramanujams were not forced to read, write, count and draw before their age and mental make up demanded it.

So are we creating a generation of geniuses or are we creating minds that mature and consequently rot before their time? I suspect so. We can expect a lot more intelligent criminals to surface in the society. A lot more kids who do not fit into the mould. A lot more frustration at a lack of purpose and direction in life.

I feel sorry for parents who feel compelled to send their children to this class and that. Yes children adapt. Yes they learn. And then what? Are they ready to raise these geniuses? I think not.

I for one am happy to let my child laze around and do things at her pace. Smell the roses, catch the butterflies, watch the snails, believe that there’s tons of cheese on the moon, decide that 1 + 1 becomes 11 chocolates…

Well…you get the drift. Not many parents would agree with me. For they are pressurized by their peers and they do not want their child to be left behind. I hope I maintain my resolve. At the moment things are pretty normal and I’m G for so so so so Glad! :)

Dog and God

There are times you wonder if there a God. A force out there that is keeping an eye on you and guiding your life. And then sometimes HE/SHE/IT shows you a sign. You don’t really see it then – but later you reflect and you wonder if that was a sign?

Day-before-yesterday my office boy was waiting to cross the road, on his way to deliver something to a client. While he was waiting for the Green Man at the signal a stray dog came and stood next to him. He ignored it, while the dog sniffed him out. Suddenly the dog snarled and within seconds it had dug its set of sharp canine teeth into his leg. He got bitten all the way up to his bone and the fool came back to office bleeding and in agony. At the office we put him in an auto and rushed him to the nearest hospital. Yesterday he was down with high fever and sore throat. We hope that nothing worse happens to him…

In the afternoon yesterday I went to pick up my daughter. It was just after a spell of rain and the roads were flooded. There was a chaos of cars outside the school. When we stepped out of the  school gates we could not locate our driver and car. So while I looked on one side, I asked my daughter to walk down the pavement and see if she could locate our car on the other side. She walked happily – the way children do – skipping, jumping and in her own happy world. There was a dog sleeping happily on the pavement. She hopped, skipped, jumped and landed right on the dog’s feet. I turned to look towards her just as she landed on the dog. My heart just froze. She was too far from me to do anything in case the dog snarled and attacked her. Time froze for us. My daughter realised that she had stepped on the doggy and she stopped dead in her tracks. I held my breath. Then she started screaming (more out of guilt at having stepped on the dog than anything else!) and hopped past the dog and ran towards me. All of this happened in a matter of seconds.

The dog did nothing. He merely woke up from his slumber, saw that it was a child and then his body relaxed. He had no plans of attacking her.

So why did this incident have to happen yesterday? It could have happened on any of the other 300 odd days that we go to school. Why did it happen soon after my office boy got bitten? Was it a sign of some sort? Was it someone telling me that HE/SHE/IT is there to protect me and my loved ones?

This thought did not strike me until late last night as I put my daughter to sleep. Suddenly as I held her close my heart was filled with inexplicable fear. Had the dog bitten her – there was nothing I could have done to save her! Or in her panic after having stepped on the dog – she could have run on to the road where the traffic was heavy. Anything could have happened.

But nothing did. It now remains an incident. Unless I look upon it as a sign. Was it? I do not know…