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.
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!