Our school bazaars

2014-04-05

Himalayan News Service

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Despite the difference, all middle class parents have one thing in common: we have limited means but unlimited dreams. And a part of that dream is future of our children in which education plays an important role. We earn our livelihood through lawful means. We may not be able to fulfill all wishes and whims of our children. We compromise on our living style but we do not want to leave any stone unturned in pursuit of quality education for our children.
 
But, which school do we want to put our child in? Let’s be frank, it’s true that public schools do not count as an option. Even low income working parents cut their expenses to put their children in “boarding” school, and though most of us parents may have been educated in public schools, our children definitely go to “boarding” schools. Despite the huge investment by a government supported by foreign aid and the arrays of benefit and high level of salary government teachers are paid, public schools, except few exceptions do not provide “quality education”. There are debates about why, but we know that Nepal has two kinds of citizens: those educated in public schools, and others educated in “boarding” schools. And the gulf between these two groups of people is likely to widen if things continue the way they are. 
 
Search for a good school becomes intense when the child turns around six and is about to start grade one. It’s the time when parents start consulting other parents who have been lucky enough to find the “right” school. Months prior to admission, they start visiting several schools and collecting brochure, which often comes with a heavy price of the admission form. In the month of Chaitra, they hop from one school to another for entrance exams.  They are impressed and scared at the same time by some school’s academic rigour, seeing the piece of paper that gives details about the questions to be covered in entrance exams. And in the playground they sit and chat with other parents, sighing with relief to find out that they are not the only ones going through this rite of passage. 
 
If we look closely, the experience is similar to that of shopping for fashionable T-Shirt. Like fashion houses, there are education houses with a particular brand name:  big and small. Each school comes with bright colour, attractive messages, slogans and one liner which they call “motto”. On top of that, like a fashion brand, schools are advertised in media. Past few days, we keenly observed few advertisement of the school in television. One school boasted of “swimming pool”, another bragged of “computer based learning”. The most interesting of all, was an advertisement showing a boy not being able to solve a colour puzzle. Then the girl joined in and solved it in an instant, then came the voice over, stating the name of school she studied in. And the camera lingered a bit on the face of a proud mother who made the “right” choice. Indeed, education has become a commodity. It seems as if parents are buyers, and schools are retailers selling dreams of quality education. In this whole process of buying and selling, our children are transformed into a product themselves, to be molded according to dreams of parents and guarantees offered by school. It seems as if we believe that the more expensive the school is the more quality education it offers. But is it really so? Few days back, one of our relatives announced that he is enrolling his child into a very “good” school which is better than one of the big brand name school in Kathmandu. We wanted to know how he came
 
to that conclusion. “Fees”, he said, “they charge higher fees than that other school”. When we heard the amount of fees charged by some of the very good schools, our jaws dropped. We even felt a little guilty over being such a bad parent for not being able to afford “quality” education. But we were amazed to find few parents of a similar living standard, who have chosen to put their children into the “best” schools whose fees only the higher class can afford. Few months back, we met one professor who had put his children in the “best”, schools in Kathmandu valley whose tuition fees nearly equaled to his monthly salary. Fortunately for him, he had other sources of lawful income. He intended to keep his children until primary level and shift to another affordable school after a few years. Asked why, he said he did not want his children to be disadvantaged the way he was.
 
Majority of parents in Kathmandu send their children to school far from their home in quest of quality education. This requires children to eat dal bhat around 7.30am in morning and reach bus stop at 8am. In evening, they come back with homework which leaves them little time to play. The most challenging transition is for the children who start their grade one in new schools. From close-knit small pre-schools, they move into larger schools, where the hours are longer and bags heavier. 
 
If only there was one single education system which ensured similar level of quality in all schools. With this, we could send our children to nearest school forgoing an hour long bus journey back and forth in traffic mad, busy street of Kathmandu. If only, education for our children was more about learning and discovering than being the bearer of a brand name of the education houses.
 
But these are farfetched dreams. For now, we must embrace the reality. Our son is starting new school from today. Doubts linger while we hold his little hand ushering him to his new big school bus. Will he be able to make friends, will his teachers care for him and will he survive? But then, looking at all those bright young faces in a bus along with him, a relief comes over. If they made it, he will too.
 
As parents of two children, the Khanalsare interested in different issues relating to parenting in Nepal
 
 (Source: The Kathmandu Post)