Father’s first spring

  • Critical and creative approaches are in short supply in our money-spinning classrooms and I’m worried what sort of a person my daughter will grow into
My father, who died at 86 three years ago, had paid one meagre rupee to the school for my admission. All these years later, I’ve already spent more than what I did for the entirety of my school and five college years on my daughter’s kindergarten education

Mar 17, 2018-I find few things in common between my five-year-old daughter and a younger me.

I was four when my father admitted me to the local school in the first grade. My daughter will have been at kindergarten for four years before she is enrolled into primary school come the Nepali New Year in April.

We father-daughter, no doubt, have many differences in the way we have been brought up, but as I gear up to enrol her into her first “proper” school, the difference in our costs of education jumps right out of the page. 

My father, who died at 86 three years ago, had paid one meagre rupee to the school for my admission. I remember as we walked away from school that day I uttered one word to ask for books: “Kitap!”—my term for the Nepali ‘kitab’. Father turned back towards the school to see the headmaster and said: “Kitap po bhanchha ta” (He wants a book). The teacher handed us a set of books for the first grade and the smell of those new, fresh pages still lingers in my memory. Books, at the time, were free for the first three years of education.

All these years later, I’ve already spent more than what I did for the entirety of my school and five years of college on my daughter’s kindergarten education. I know I’ll have to pay tens of thousands of rupees more to enrol her into the first grade of a so-called “good school”—a private English-medium school.

The problem is that the government spends more money each new year on education but the state of public schools is deteriorating perennially. This means that in both towns and villages, those who are able to spare some money for their children’s education choose privately-run schools. Ironically, even government school teachers send their kids to private schools, marking their lack of faith in their own jobs and workstations.

With the federal system of governance in place, the local governments, numbering 753 in total in Nepal’s seven provinces, have got sweeping powers to run school education in their respective local federal units. If this delegation of authority from the centralised state is properly utilised, school education could change drastically in terms of curricula, teachers’ management and infrastructure. But it is hard to say yet if the changes will be set in motion.

Even the so-called good private schools, which run on the same national curricula, do not properly serve the purpose of education if an independent assessment is made. Why they maintain some visibility (and repute) is because the government-run schools, with few exceptions, are engulfed by chronic mismanagement, rampant politicisation, shrugging of responsibility by teachers, and a general lack of public faith.

Critical and creative approaches are in short supply in our classrooms. Schools by and large rely on a content overdose, loading students with tiring written assignments and futile rote. Teachers’ task has been both easier and tougher due to the content overload. Easy because they don’t need to consult any resources other than prescribed books and difficult because the course matters can’t be taught in a year given their sheer volume and mismatch with students’ social and emotional  faculties.

There may have been a few schools that produce their own instructional resources based on the prescribed curriculum, tailored assessment models and teachers trained on the specific approaches. But they are within the reach of only those immensely rich, who don’t mind paying any amount of money demanded by such schools to groom their children and as such, they are class apart from the rest of the society.

I’m worried what sort of a person my daughter will grow into. She’s already got a fairly good command over three languages. She knows some keyboard short-cuts that I never learnt in all these years. She’s learnt some linguistic features that our family never taught her (she seems to have acquired them from my landlady). She’s friends with several people in our locality that I have little idea about. She’s picked up some traits that I never wanted her to have.

My illiterate father always wanted me to be a section officer (sorry pop, I failed to live up to your expectations on that account!). And I’m already telling my daughter what I’d love her to be like as she grows up. 

I have full realisation of what I can’t be or couldn’t be in life. I would have gratification if my daughter achieved some of those. So, she’s already burdened with my expectations too early in her life. My poor parents were able to educate six of their seven children in every which way possible, given the circumstances. We, an educated and employed couple, have fears about properly educating our only child in a Kathmandu that is getting more expensive by the day.

But in this era of YouTube and Wikipedia, my expectations from her school and teachers are more about manners, culture and integrity than knowledge. I dread if leaving her among friends for whom privileges come that easy, it will make her suffer from a sense of deprivation. As she grows older, with a community of friends to influence her, a whole new set of teachers to explain what her parents never could, exposure to diverse set of beliefs, practices and cultures, will she continue to listen to me?

Will I be able to find her a school where she’ll learn not only math and science but also good values? Will her school help her to be a good human being or wire her to be a robotic being without much care for humanly touch? How much money and effort will it cost me to get her into a place of learning where she gathers knowledge but also learns humility?

My generation studied in one of the toughest times. We needed no footwear to go to school, let alone a uniform. There was nothing that would attract children to school. Some repeated classes year after year. We would not even get water to drink at school. Some would leave home in the morning and return in the afternoon without reaching school at all—successes were few and failures galore.

I see today’s kids supplied with almost everything. Many schools have CCTV and smart boards, delicious hot meals and celebrations of every festival or cultural occasion with the children. But I still feel something is terribly amiss with our money-spinning schools. They seem to be driven by pomp. Deep within, you can’t help but sense, that the promises and shiny boards and flashy brochures ring hollow. 

At the moment though, I’m seeking to enrol my daughter into Grade 1, at a good school. In this day and age, never did I think the task would be as difficult. 

The writer tweets @GuragainMohan

Published: 17-03-2018 07:49

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