Thursday, December 9, 2010

Experiences of Schools

"I have two children, both enrolled at an ICSE school in Chembur, a suburb of Bombay. My daughter is in the 10th and my son in the 9th.

My children are miserable. They view school as some sort of prison sentence they have to get through. Teachers who may or may not make sense and make no effort to make material interesting. Huge loads of books that have to be humped up and down five floors. Piles of homework and two weekly tests that you had better do well at. Or else.

Neither my wife nor I have pushed them to top the class. We believe there is a lot more to life than marks given for rote learning. My children read voraciously, watch films that their peer group would not understand and are able to conduct themselves with intelligence and humour.

We have considered home schooling for a while now. There are a great deal of arguments in favour – the children can learn at their own pace, learn what they need to and set their own goals. And then there are the thoughts that have stopped us thus far…

1. The children are in their final years of school. Is this a good time to switch?

2. Home schooling requires immense commitments of time and effort from at least one if not both parents. I make television commercials and my wife handles the production design of my films while working with her own clients as a graphic designer. Our hours are very irregular. For instance, I have spent the last week at the office, working all day and editing nights.

3. Like it or not, there is a stigma attached to the National Open School system. As far as my children's teachers and peer group are concerned, the NIOS is meant for dull laggards who cannot cope with the normal school system.

My children are not dull. When interested in the subject they can effortlessly top the class – and do so very often in English. When uninterested, as they are most of the time, their marks are in single digits. Consequently, the teachers believe they are malingering and berate them and threaten my son in particular with expulsion.

We have had enough. After considerable soul-searching, my wife and I have decided to remove them from their school immediately.

I do not know where we are to go from here. Home-schooling? Another school? Boarding school?"

Some thoughts on home schooling from a neophyte at the job…

Our children left school – hopefully, for good the day India celebrated its 60th year of Independence.

My daughter was in the first few months of her 10th Std (ICSE) my son was a year behind her. My children have been in the same school (St. Gregorios – ICSE) since kindergarten. When we informed their principal of our decision, she barely heard us out, said "Whatever.." and asked us to process our papers with the clerk. So much for caring. Suddenly, our rather controversial decision looked like a very good one.

NIOS has the (perhaps unjustified) image of being the choice of weak students. What mattered more is that the examination was a state board one (SSC) and would need plenty of learning by rote – which is precisely what had turned my children off their studies in school.

IGCSE has been a breath of fresh air. We took an initial trip to New Bombay to look at the textbooks. They are written with intelligence and care. The children have picked their own subjects and we have acquired most of the texts. The books make me feel like going back to school.

The children are committed to four hours of study a day, no less, more if they want it. They end up doing at least that much, often more. Squabbling is down, discussions are up. My son chuckles with enjoyment as he reads 'As You Like It' in two sittings. He finishes another prescribed text – Lord of the Flies – and we have a long late night telephonic discussion about the behavior of the boys in the book. Not once do any of us wonder about the questions that might be asked in the forthcoming examination.

My daughter does four straight hours of history and can barely pull herself away. She finds business studies fascinating. I tell her a dormant Sindhi gene has surfaced. She watches Arthur Miller's "Crucible" and weeps unashamedly at the end. They argue over who gets first shot at 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.

We are in hunt of knowledge. There are deep veins of gold in this mine.

We have no tutors in place. We do not know how we will manage schedules on a long-term basis. The future is a vast and trackless void. But every time we see the kids study; it fills us with great optimism."

"We too have taken our son out of school only last week and have begun home schooling him. His happiness says it all.

What sealed it for us, while we were thinking about it for a while now for very good reasons, was that last month after eating school food, he came home and started vomiting and did not stop for more than 24 hours. They served them Methi Mattar Malai on that particular day... appropriate food for children, especially in this weather? We don't think so, but that's only our opinion.

Finally when injections did not work, he had to be hospitalised and was in the pediatric ICU for a few days where IV medication, electrolytes etc were given and it still took a few days for it to work. When we informed the school director through an sms while he was in hospital all she replied with was -- "I hope he gets well soon." That's it. No call till date to find out how he is.. His class teacher was not informed either and she finally called to find out where he was since he was absent for more than a week .

Even after we gave a letter saying we are withdrawing his admission, the class teacher was not informed and the principal/counsellor/director of this school with a "holistic approach" have still not called to ask if he's okay -- just one human being to another...

He's only in the 3rd grade so he's still got a few years to go to undo all the damage like where he was made to pull his ears exactly as directed by the music teacher ("pull it harder so you can hear how badly you sing!") , in music class, because he was not "singing correctly" and him crying made no impact on the "teacher" or being told to "get out" of art class because he kept some material in a wrong place by mistake, said sorry many times, but apparently it was an unpardonable mistake... this is an eight-year-old we're talking about. A lot of this info came out while he was lying in bed in the ICU... and there's a lot more....

These are details yes, but we are sharing it because we feel it's important in light of the latest order by the NCPCR that teachers better be ready to have an FIR registered against them for corporal punishment or even calling a child stupid, mindless etc..(TOI - Aug 10). This can be seen online in the e-paper if you have not seen it already... Does this kind of humiliation also come under the purview of this order... because it is just as damaging as other sad, pathetic, inhuman, criminal acts carried out in the name of "discipline"... how effective will the order be? But more importantly what are the state education departments doing as these incidents (a child dying or being chained) should not be taking place at all. These are children we're talking about! Where are the checks? How do private schools that don't have even the basic infrastructure thrive? how do people who don't have the requisite qualifications/mind-set become teachers in these schools? And we're not talking about children being subjected to this torture in local municipal schools alone, the higher the fees the more subtle the humiliation, children are not spared. How does this prepare them for adult life? How can people who hate children this much become teachers? We are not generalising at all, naturally we're speaking about our experiences, wishing they were different. Yes there are plenty of teachers who genuinely care and are very good but they are outnumbered by the ones who don't. We're glad that at least this order is in place... Children's rights finally being considered human rights is good but why was it any other way in the first place? Do teachers need laws in place to stop them from being cruel to children? We are not disconnected from reality or being naive, it's just a basic, simple thought... "

Manoj and Priya

"My daughter is still in the school system. But having started full day school- 9 am-3.30pm, we can see the toll its taking on her, us. We miss her terribly all day and when she comes home, all we seem to be doing is scolding her to finish her homework, to eat fast, to rush to music class etc. She is still so tiny."

"I'm not even sure my girls(soon to be 13 and 15)even qualify as children but i want to ask
anyone who has ideas on what i could do to decondition them this far down the line? Their
heads are stuffed with knowledge to pass examinations and they have nice natures
because they were brought up in a home where love,truth,peace,etc are real words that still mean something and are used to help us make decisions. But they are no nearer knowing what their innate abilities are or how to make choices that will make them happy (not to be equated with successful). I don't care if they even take exams or go to college - i just want them to make good life choices but how can they when i put them on a certain path 10 years ago and that is the only way they know. Sounds like an uphill task i know but i'm certain there is a way to do this - i just have to find it."


"I just sent my son off to school. He wasn't in a great frame of mind.
He asked, for the nth time, why he can't stay at home and learn whatever he has to. Why school. He's gone with bent head, miserable.

But today, I made him a promise. That he, and I, will be out of this senseless existence in six months time.

I did a mental checklist. There are some points that are always brought up -- in my mind and by people -- when I think of pulling him out of the system.

1. School is necessary.
What did I learn after 12 years of going to school and then college?
Nothing much. I am pretty much clueless about physics and mathematical theories. About a lot of history. And geography. And economics. I have learnt more by reading books than from my school.
I think it would be nice if I could find people who were really good teachers and could spend time with him sometimes to . I remember I had a cousin who could make physics and maths seem like magical topics. I used to often wish all my teachers were like that. Maybe from my own circle I can get some people like that for Abhimanyu.

2. Does he need a degree?
I don't know. He may. Like all those other endorements he needs to get around in this world, all those other certificates --
vaccination, passport, voter's ID, driving licenece. He MIGHT also need a degree. I am exploring that. (I haven't given him most
vaccinations. There's a woman here I know. She works in the health sector and is a well-known nutritionist in Bombay. I met her while I was staying in Goa. My boy was just born. She had her one and a half year old grandson with her. He wasn't vaccinated. Neither was his mother. Or her sister. This woman must be 70 at least. She took the decision to not vaccinate her kids at that time -- must have been in the 40s. After reading up a lot and meeting like-minded poeople ad going on what her instincts told her.)
So about that degree, I am still undecided. He can of course give an open univ exam and get his degree that way. Let's see.

3. There's that common, and I feel, rather asinine, point that people bring up when all other points have been answered. "But what about his 'peer group'?" "He needs to mix with people of his own age."
It makes it sound like all the children are inside schools, none can be found outside. My son has more friends outside the school, in the aptt complex that we stay in, than inside it.

4. He'll feel out of sync with the rest.
That one's kind of worrying. He is already the son of a single mom :-) I'll be adding on to that. I have told him why I decided to not marry. And why I feel it's as normal to me to have a child outside marriage as it is for two people to 'tie the knot.' But I can see that he has some difficulty explaining to his 'peer group' this
concept. And he can get a bit flustered.

5. What will he do when he grows up? What will he 'become'?
A sane and happy human being. I hope.

I do feel scared, very apprehensive about the step. But how much more screwed-up can life get than it is now?"


"My almost nine-year-old son too goes to a 'school with a holistic approach' which basically means we pay more than 10 times the amount we'd pay in a 'mainstream' school . All that's 'holistic' is their intention to make as much money in as little time as possible. The teachers are mostly mothers with at least two children in the same school and hence are doing their jobs not because they love children or teaching but because this way they can get free /subsidised education for their children.

Most of them, including the Principal, are clueless and offence is their best defence. I was once told that my son does not know how to take no for an answer (because he asked too many questions!) and that he will grow up to throw acid on some girl's face because as a child he did not learn how to take no as an answer!!!!!!!! Needless to say, I let the lady know exactly what I thought of her analysis and then told her that the next time she had an opinion to put it in writing, on the school letterhead, with a stamp and a signature and that I would take that further in the way I deemed fit... that shut her up and she treads very carefully now but if I show you my son's 'holistic report card' -- you will be shocked that grown women can be so vindictive... we did not show it to our son and never will and yes, I took it up with the woman again... which is so sad and unnecessary...

My son has been miserable to put it mildly. When he gets hit in school by older children who bully everyone around, and I take it up, I am told that it's all a part of growing up and that he will learn how to deal with aggressive people in life! Hullo!!!! If another adult hits you, you have him arrested because that's classified as assault in the adult world! There's a law against hitting all and sundry in the 'grown up world'. So what's the alternative? Teach our son to hit back? Because he can -- he's a big boy and can cause quite a lot of damage if he wants to.. We are really so proud of him for the restraint he has shown in these circumstances. From a fractured ankle to being bitten on his arm by a classmate (and getting a tetanus shot for it!) to being punched hard in the tummy, he has endured it all -- all in just three years of school. He never went to 'playgroup' or nursery, but straight to Jr Kg before this, and his kindergarten principal told us that our four -year-old son was dyslexic and a challenge! I often wonder why we bothered with a school after our experience with the kindergarten....

So that's what most 'alternative', 'holistic ' or whatchamacallit schools are all about -- higher fees for fancy terms and psycho babble that few understand or care to look beyond. And the people behind these schools are very clever indeed... This is not to say that most parents are not happy with this school.. most are, but we are not and don' t expect the school to change for us but we realise that we have to change our lives if we want to help our child live the life he deserves and give him the best we can. It's not about saving money either.

So that's our story and why we want to do it our way, we are weaning our son away from what was 'normal' for him for so long, everyday is spent weighing the pros and cons and talking to like-minded people and yes, reading these mails have helped immensely. We spend time talking to him too because it is not something we want to thrust upon him. He has to be a part of the decision too.

None of it is easy because I am a working mum too, but I have made changes in my working life to be there for my son in the last four years. My career is not important to me, by that I mean, climbing the ladder is not, I love my work and have made adjustments to ensure that I can work on my terms and it's fine by me that I stay exactly where I am and be there for my son and not be 'swiping in and swiping out' and living my life according to what someone else decrees only because they pay me... My husband has also decided to work on his own now and spend more time with his family than be at the beck and call of people who think working till midnight is 'hip'. He is working out his notice period right now. We knew we had to make changes in our life if we wanted to be happy -- and I hope we get there.

Many people have said a lot of things -- that both my husband and I are stupid not to have moved to Mumbai or Delhi as today we'd be at the top, that we are both wasting our talent (my former boss repeats this endlessly)... but we think we are where we want to be, in life and in our careers and when people say our son asks too many questions that they have no answers for and that he is a happy, intelligent child, we know our 'talent' has been put to the best possible use.

All I know is that if you follow your heart, you will do what's right for both you and your child."


"... they follow this "kids will be kids" policy and "let them figure out their own equations" etc, he gets bullied and shoved around quite a bit by the heftier boys. But they don't do much about it. It's been going on for too long now.

There are many other things. But the people who manage the school are essentially good people.

But I am not satisfied, frankly. I think the best thing is to get them out of any kind of school. Because any kind of regimen will ultimately destroy spontaneity and creativity.

I think we as parents are being cruel sometimes -- we seem to build the foundation for bad health and a dull life right from the start.
Our kids get upso early, food is shoved down so early in the morning down their throats when they haven't even woken up properly. It takes
the digestive system some time to get kicking and to shove food down 20 minutes after waking up is detrimental. Then the lunch hurriedly gulped down because they want to go down and play. Then there's the commute -- most of them commute for a long time to get to school.
There's the heavily polluted air they are breathing in every day. My son gets back around 4.30. Because he goes by the car pool. That's a
long day.

Most parents are happy with your child's school because most people do not question anything. They live the status quo."


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