To School or Not?

Okay, so I have a two year old. And if we were in the US, there would be no question at all. If I were working, he would have gone to daycare, and if I were at home, he would stay with me. Or maybe go part time to play with kids his age. In India, it’s a whole different ballgame.

When we got here, we were keen on having Aari in some sort of playgroup for the same reason I mentioned before. So that he could be with some kids his age. I had been told that there are many such options available in Bombay, and I thought finding a place would be a breeze. To my horror, when we visited some of these playgroups, the commerciality of it was all I could see. It felt like they were all little factories…fairly expensive factories that churn out kids ready to interview at fancy  private schools. We cater to the interview pattern of the Ambani School and the American School, I was told at one place. At another place it was Bombay Scottish, and the Podar Schools somewhere else.

In addition, all these playgroups, or nurseries, or preschools or whatever they should be called are only for two hours a day, with a scripted curriculum. We cannot go and come as we please. We cannot go late. IN the two hours that the kids are there, they have 20 minutes of “free” playtime. At other times, they “learn concepts” and “revise earlier concepts.” Somewhere in the middle of this, they eat a snack that we provide from home.  Of course, they break for 2 months in the summer, 2 weeks for Diwali and 2 weeks for Christmas. So how is this not a school? Where is the play, and where is the fun? Okay, I‘m not saying kids are utterly miserable in this process. And I’m not saying the teachers are strict and the kids are scared. But they are going to be in school for a good chunk of their lives starting at 4 years. So why start earlier? Why regimen and constrain them in these learning outcomes and benchmarks and schedules when they are still toddlers?

Also, what do working parents do? They have to pay 50,000 rupees a year for this. And look for reliable before and after school care. And the saddest part is that most people (in the cities anyway) go to great lengths to do exactly that. School admissions are really hard, they all say. Our children need to be given an edge. Really? Your child is 18 months old! What edge? Don’t you just want him observe, experience and absorb life in all its vibrancy? What is this assembly line we’re putting kids through? Yes, I want my kids to recognize animals and colors and other objects? But do I really need a class for that? Isn’t that something the kid will get organically growing up? We did, didn’t we?

I asked the principal at one of these schools what their teaching philosophy was. What philosophy, what child centered, she said. We get them ready for their future schools, don’t we? Okay, I thought…my question is completely lost on you. But at least I have an answer- Aari is staying home this year.


2 thoughts on “To School or Not?

  1. The concept and importance of free play is completely lost in most education systems today. Incidentally, a colleague of mine is home-schooling his children. Apparently, you can do that until 8th std in India. I’ve met his older kid. She’s extremely smart and has a wide range of interests – she might not know all the things that other 8th standard kids know, but she certainly has a greater level of confidence in learning pretty much anything by herself. She gets to interact with other kids her age through various camps and classes she attends, as well as with other apartment kids in the evening. Its a heck of a lot of work for the parents, but they have managed it for 10+ years with 2 kids. Unbelievable!

  2. Thanks, JP. What your colleague is doing is really impressive. Freedom of play and exploration have so much value, and yet we so easily forget them. That said, there are a few viable options available in India…it’s a matter of finding them.

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