Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Waiting for 2020


And yeah well you thought that during the travails of raising children you'd have to deal with potty training, food fuss, tantrums for possessions, indiscipline et al. 

And suddenly, as you groan out of bed at 5 30 something in the AM, you realise that all the above mentioned struggles pale in comparison to SCHOOL - perhaps the biggest trial of raising a child.

Lets begin with the moment your little baby has to go to a school - and I am not referring to your neighbourhood Nursery cum Day cares or Play Schools. I am referring to those imposing buildings with rows upon rows of classrooms, where your five year old will walk in with a bag full of books and a head full of trepidation (not unreasonable ofcourse), where you hope she gets a 'sound' education (now what's that!) and where she will stay till she is out of school academics (12th grade) for good.

And you don't just 'hope' she stays there, you will compel her to, after the jostling-in-line for the admission form, the insinuating 'Parent Interview', the capitation fee disguised as 'tuition' fee, the scandalous amount you shell out as quarterly fees - you may even want her to grow old in that school if need be!!

And it does not stop with the rigmarole of admissions or annual book purchase insanity. Its an everyday affair.

It starts with the gargantuan task of waking up at unearthly hours (and putting 5 year olds through the ignominy too). There was a time when sanity prevailed and an average school day began at 9 am. Today my daughter goes to a school that begins its day at 715 am. Despite the fact that we live just one km from the school her average wake up time is 545 am. Can't imagine the ungodly hour children who come from above 5 kms wake up at!

And I don't necessarily blame the school for this. 

The management wants children to reach home at a reasonable hour to avoid the glaring heat of mid afternoons as well as give them enough time to complete (mountains of) home work. And play too! Of course! "Your child needs to play at least two hours everyday" teachers and principals will almost reprimand parents who stand up at PTA's and say that the children don't get time to play.

Look at a typical school day - after getting home at 2 pm, taking a shower to get the grime of the sports period off, a quick lunch, and/or maybe even a short nap, the child goes into 5 pm. A quick snack or cup of milk later, she sits down to tackle the home work for the day. By the time she is done with her home work its almost 730, almost too dark to play outdoors. 815 dinner. 9 pm in bed. 530 something am - the circle of life begins again.

Travelling time is another problem. A lot of children I know travel any where between a half hour to one hour to school one way! With good (are there any?) schools becoming as scarce as the rainfall in Pune, parents don't mind letting their child traverse the distance all for the 'sound' education!

Homework is another area that is demanding of parents' time, attention and patience. Its what fuels the fast growing 'tuition' industry (should be granted industry status actually) and gives parents sleepless nights. It is also what leads parents to tender letters of apology to the class teacher ("for not having completed her home work due to a severe stomach ache last evening"), contents that sound like a story book formula to 'get away with it'.

Ah such levels parents have to stoop to! And really what choice do parents have! Homework is fast becoming the teacher's excuse to wriggle out of her 'home work'!

Three pages of Math problems, writing an entire essay in Hindi, collecting pictures for Science....this is the kind of work my daughter has to complete in one evening! Time to play? If she does go out to ride her favourite bicycle for a half hour or play with her friends, we know that she will go to bed in tears because the homework is still just half way through. So she does what any 10 year old diligent child will do - quit play time.

Helping write an essay, mugging spellings or solving a math problem is fine. Its still the easier part I'd say. But its when children have 'project work' that most parents wonder why they don't just quit their jobs and take over child rearing as a full-time occupation. 

Working parents have it especially hard. Like this one time I remember my daughter wanted pictures of some dance forms, famous freedom fighters and carnivorous birds on the same day, and we spent close to an hour and a punishable amount of fuel looking for them store to store. 

Why teachers cannot inform parents of an impending project requirement on a Friday is still a mystery to me. My daughter is in class VI and despite repeated written requests and pleas, she still gets project work requirement at the nth hour. 

All the anger and contempt you feel for the teacher, the school, the education system and their lack of planning is confronted by the crying child who stands helplessly shaking her head as you ask her idiotic and mindless questions, "Couldn't your teacher have remembered it two days ago?" replying, "How do I know Mama?"

Project work requirement can also be very funny. When my daughter wanted seven match boxes we bought her seven. She promptly emptied the match sticks into a drawer saying "Ma'am said to get empty match boxes." Needless to say, it has been almost two years and we are still well stocked with match sticks!

The expectations of the school don't end with the daily home work or projects, the arrival of the child 'on time' in a 'clean' uniform (polished shoes, handkerchiefs, neatly pig tailed or pony tailed hair and of course, these days the sanitizers) etc. They also expect you to give the child 'healthy' and yet tasty tiffin/snacks. "Bread, Maggie, Chips etc are not allowed" reads the school circular.

Fair enough! I agree that children should not be consuming junk food and amongst their peer, they tend to consume anything you pack in - without a murmur. But again, its the task of making the parathas, dosas, poha or some such and having it ready by 645 am is the challenge.

As parents we have another 10 years of this rigmarole. Six for my daughter, ten for my son. By 2020 we will have the liberty to sleep beyond 6 am on a weekday. 

Until then, we rise, we awaken, we cook, we scream, we cajole, we dress, we run for the bus and we triumph!

For those parents who are in the same boat - hugggssss...

For those waiting to join the bandwagon - All the best! 

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