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Jolly's Volley: The Educational Shift

13 April, 2012

I grew up in India and finished eighth grade before the family moved to the USA, timing it perfectly right in the middle of another doozy of a recession in the early 80's (1983, to be precise). While in India, I attended Guru Harkrishan Public School (GHPS) at Vasant Vihar in Delhi. Interestingly enough, I got to connect with more of my Indian schoolmates in the San Francisco area over the last several years than I had stayed in touch with here in India. This was done pre-Facebook, and actually in person (a foreign concept now).

In any case, during one of those gatherings in the Bay area, one of the guys brought up the topic of the number of school days that we used to have back in those days. The fact was school was six days a week, and both summer and winter holidays were filled with homework. However, I must admit that I might have been a catalyst for a trend that now seems to be heading towards catastrophe. At GHPS, our principal used to have a suggestion box where students could provide ideas on how to improve the school. I had suggested that students should get every fourth Saturday of the month off, which the principal actually accepted. So, the six-day school week became more of a 5.75-day school week. Eventually, the second Saturday was also given off. I was, of course, the best known seventh grader at that the school after Principal Singha accepted the suggestion during the morning assembly.

Now, the flurry of international schools look and feel more like a resort than a school. School is, at most, five days a week and for some reason, they tend to celebrate every religious festival (the 15 or so mandated holidays in Karnataka AND Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Sikh holiday, so that they don't discriminate). Then you throw in celebrations like staff appreciation day, accreditation day, drivers' strikes, Ayodhya bandh and the like, and the number of days may easily dwindle to less than 180 in a year. Then, there are the completely unpredictable days when an old politician dies and unfortunately, states love declaring holidays, especially if the politician belongs to the then ruling state party. And this holiday ritual continues for politicians at the central level, state level and sometimes even at the MLA level. With the sheer number of old politicians, and the amount of turnover that takes place in India, I am betting that the number of school days will actually asymptotically approach zero. Home schooling at that time may be the best option, especially since INR/school days attended ratio will go to infinity.

China, I believe, has the completely opposite policy, or so it seems. For every key political figure who passes away, they add a school day and soon the number of holidays in China will asymptotically approach zero.

So, think about itâ China, with its English-speaking mandate and with every child attending close to 365.25 days/year, compared to a typical private international school where apparently most of the well-to-do kids go, an educated child in India attending school for a fraction of that duration is only going to lead to some fairly significant issues downstream. I am sure many readers will disagree with the above point since a bunch of schools in India still have a six-day mandate with serious rigour in terms of academic training. I will agree with that notion. The fact of the matter is that most resident Indian families who are sending kids to international schools, tend to be either well-off with family businesses or senior executives at MNCs who are also well-off and extremely connected. The expat community that is the mainstay at these schools is often on a 2-3 year stint in India, and treat their stay more as a resort or extended vacation than actual academic training. Language issues (many kids may not be fluent in English, for example) may have a tendency to bring down the overall calibre of education and the study material covered in class.

The point that I am trying to make is not to poo-poo emerging international schools in India (heck, my kids go to one of the schools that I am talking about), but to simply highlight that we should all be paying close attention to what is happening at the schools, even at a primary education level, to make sure that India can truly compete with China over the long term. Else, between a resort-like atmosphere at schools and dwindling number of school days, we may find ourselves sending kids to China to actually get some decent education.

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Jolly's Volley: The Educational Shift

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