The Schooling Dilemma: Elitist, Islamic, or the Purely Mundane..


Anyone who has a child knows what it means when you have to decide on a school. This is all the more mentally exhausting in urban, upper middle-class Pakistan, of late. The focus on early schooling (preschools), when the child is just a toddler, has taken the world of educated socialites by storm. Now, the child’s school is just as much of a prestige point a.k.a status symbol as is designer couture. Either its hot ,or its not.

The musing begins during pregnancy, when other mothers recommend the pregnant mother-to-be to start her school search early, and to get her baby registered in all the "good’ private schools well-in-advance. The first-born’s school is considered important, because if he/she makes it into a high-class school, the siblings to follow later on will not have a problem getting into it either.

I got the first taste of this frenzy when I used to go to Dr Saadia Virk Rizvi’s clinic while expecting A’ishah. I am, as is known, quite complacent about my kids’ schooling up till now: I believe that the actual, most important schooling begins and ends at home. The official school is more of an environment for development of the child’s gross motor and social skills. My opinion aside, I found the conversations at Dr Saadia’s clinic quite entertaining. Modern mom’s would be fretting over their child’s admissions. I hadn’t seen people more desperate for any acquisition like this, except perhaps for a US visa!

With time, I have figured out that some Montessori schools pass their children on to specific primary schools. Hence, Samrahi’s, Links or Pre-school Plus probably guarantee admission into the ‘prestigious’ Karachi Grammar School, Bay-View High School or The American School. Then there are the other ‘high-class’ institutions that come second, such as Frobel’s and Foundation Public School. After these – does anyone care enough to be listening now? – come the cheap, tardy, mediocre schools that only the losers go to. Eh? (That last line was sarcasm, by the way). 😉

A bit off the topic – I later realized that Dr Saadia Rizvi is herself somewhat of a status symbol. You should see her new clinic: it looks more like the drawing room of some Fashion Designer. It was even used for an extensive designer-wear fashion shoot for DAWN Images recently (I rest my case). Not that I have any problems with that as such, but I realized during my second pregnancy, when I consulted her again for the exact same reason (i.e her clinic at South City Hospital being very near my residence  – which is a factor to consider when you’re pregnant and have to drive yourself!), that most of the ladies who consult Dr Saadia do so: (i) for the prestige factor, and (ii) because they are not particularly interested in delivering their babies painfully. Read: they prefer elective C-sections, which Dr Saadia is notorious for performing at the slightest pretext.

Perhaps I should save the subsequent change in my choice of hospital and gynecologist for another post. What I want to refer to here, is that the kind of ladies who came to Dr Saadia’s clinic – and hence their obsession with getting their children into prestigious schools – were themselves residents of extremely upscale localities, donned in haute couture from head to toe, and probably completely "oblivious" of the contents of the pregnancy-related medical file which they clutched in their manicured hands. (When I used terms like foetal distress, dilatation, uterine rupture, amniotic fluid, primary breech, etc. people would ask me, "Are you a doctor?". That made me realize that not all women read up about pregnancy and birth. They just get dolled up, go to the gynecologist, and blindly accept her verdict of whether they need a C-section or not!). There’s a derogatory slang word that comes to mind for such ladies, which I cringe from using, because I am not a *&$^ (another slang word used for a "mean woman"). Also because not ALL of them were like that. But most were, unfortunately. Consequently, I am not surprised that such ladies would be so desperate for their children’s admissions into prestigious schools.

I don’t care much for who wants what – because, to each his own – but something struck me about this whole Montessori thing. It all came down to: what do I want my child to be like as an adult? With whom do I want her to get along – a select few, or all kinds of people? Do I want prestige or quality education? Do I want to boast about my child’s school at social gatherings, or do I want her to succeed at gaining knowledge? Is my child’s school intended to be just a medal on the show-case of my social prestige? What attitude would I like her to have towards others in society, particularly poor and unfortunate children? And lastly, do I want to always be part of her education as her mother, or just hand her over to an institution, to mould into a pre-determined, branded and packaged end-product?

I hate making generalizations, but I know all sorts of mothers. The religious mothers who have placed their children in KGS, Links, American School, PSP or Frobels (what’s the spelling of the name of this school anyway?) more out of family tradition than pursuit of prestige: because their older children or their husbands went there. Some have acquiesced to their husband’s and in-laws’ demands that their child go to these schools. I also know some not-so-religious mothers who have sent their children to the same schools. And, finally, there are the religious mothers who are adamant that the only school good enough for their children is an Islamic School.

School- There are two major Islamic schools in the making, whose staff I am personally acquainted with. They are coming under intense criticism from all and sundry, and I don’t know why such fierce antagonism (read: propaganda) is being directed towards them. I for one, know that their intentions are very good. Perhaps the high number of enrolment in their institutions, and the rapid growth in their size and popularity indicates a new trend in society, a trend which their counterparts are not prone to like and welcome? Could it be that the prospect of bearded mullah’s and hijabi-niqabi’s, with their lines of little tots, actually gaining prestige, respect and economic strength in society is perceived as a "threat" to freedom? After all, they were up till now considered backward and uncivilized, symbolic of a lack of modernism and education. Weren’t they? 😉 How could these "fundo’s" start an Islamic School and get away with it?

My daughter is, for now, enrolled in DA Junior Model School. Why? It’s nearby, it has a uniform, its affordable, it has a big playground and a proper school building, it lacks the prestige symbol, and most importantly, it has ALL kinds of children in it. For me, my little princess will be the most beloved to me if she has a humble heart, a heart that realizes the enormous blessings bestowed on her by Allah, so that she never, EVER considers herself above anyone; a heart that realizes that true greatness is getting down on the ground and eating meals with the poor, holding hands with a child whose feet wear no shoes, running and laughing with other children regardless of what organizations their fathers work for or what clothes their mothers wear..

And if for these reasons, she is considered a "loser", so be it!

7 thoughts on “The Schooling Dilemma: Elitist, Islamic, or the Purely Mundane..

  1. ya i agree. they perform c-sec at southcity by makin a fool out of patients. a case should be filed against the hospital and dr.zeenat and dr. saadia

  2. I completely agree with you as far as the competition for schools is concerned. I am one of those mom’s who have succumbed to this rat race. The pressure is from everywhere, in my case more so from my in-laws. Yeah I do agree that schooling begins at home and ends at home but you have to know that a lot of mothers, especially from the so called elite class don’t know how to educate their children (I’m not referring to all mothers here). They are really very busy in their own world hence, leaving the child in the hands of an illiterate child servant that they have employed full time. There are very few parents who give values to their children. I being in the education world for the past 6 years have seen this.

  3. @Faryal: I was told by Dr Saadia not to "take any risks" by going for normal delivery with my second child. She believes that a C-section is the safest, most risk-free form of delivery. However, I think I should mention here that I recently met two sisters who have both had babies normally with Dr Saadia, after 2007 (when I last consulted her and changed my doctor in order to give normal delivery a shot – and succeeded, alhamdulillah). These two sisters told me that she induced them and encouraged them to go for normal delivery…so perhaps she has changed her stance since I wrote this post. I hope she has, because personally I think she is a very nice person; very humble and Allah-fearing. Allah knows best.

    @Sana: glad to see your candid reply. I hope mothers today realize, like you and I have, the reality behind the local over-priced and early schooling "craze". Schools, especially montessori’s and pre-schools, are becoming highly lucrative, money-making business ventures, via which young parents’ zeal for their children’s "perfect" education and upbringing is exploited to the full. Mothers need to wake up and see that their child’s knowledge, especially in the first few years of his or her life, depends largely on the amount of attention she herself gives to him/her, and the stimuli in their home/family environment. Passive television viewing should be discouraged in these formative years, and children should be made to explore naturally. Even expensive toys are not necessary. Just provide basic raw material to your child, such as paper, pencils, old boxes, safe scissors, building blocks, lego, terra cotta utensils, and other simple toys, and watch how they create and build using their own creativity and innate imagination.

  4. I agree that education of a child starts at home, but first step to educate mothers, “Generally” in our society women (specially house wives) doesn’t know how to train a child, so getting admitted the child in a good Montessori is the only alternate available.

    According to above article , it would be wise for every mother to seek for a Montessori rather than consider it a matter of social prestige.

  5. I totally agree with you, even though I live in Lahore and people here are slightly less crazy about early schooling. But the school you send your child to is still considered a status symbol. Thankfully my mother-in-law and I have very similar attitudes towards schooling. So when i started looking for a school for my daughter, i decided to skip the big schools(whose fees were more than the rent on an average sized house) and finally decided on a small startup Islamic school which has the same educational standards as Lahore Grammar School but also includes basic Islamic education. And because the school has recently started and they have fewer students, each child gets a lot of attention. I think the school you choose should also be a reflection of what the environment at home is like otherwise children end up very confused.
    I think this decision was also the result of another decision my parents made a long time ago not to send me to an upscale school but instead to the DHA school (Karachi). And they stuck to that decision even when people stuck up their noses and said they hadn’t ever heard of that school.

    1. Nicely put! I went to DHA School (Karachi) too, when the standard there was just as good as the “pricey” schools.

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