Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hubris at school: how can arrogant schools teach our children humility?

Its August!And for a parent with school-age children in India, this is when the trauma begins.

I have a five-year old studying in UKG at the Kensri School, Hebbal. My wife and I aren't very happy with the school's poor infrastructure and limited receptiveness to feedback, and are looking for a good school in North Bangalore for the next academic year.

Our requirements in a school are fairly basic:
- within 8 kms radius of Malleswaram
- good infrastructure
- good teachers
- parent-friendly school management
- reasonable fees
- preferably CBSE syllabus (though we aren't too rigid on this parameter)

And we've been unable to find one school that fits even these basic requirements!

I visited a school called National Academy For Learning (NAFL) today. The experience was insulting, to say the least.

My objective of visiting this school today was two-fold: to find out where exactly the school is located (that would save us a lot of time during our next formal visit), and to get a brochure of the school if possible. What follows below is a narration of my first moments of truth with the
school as a parent.

To start with, I tried to reach the school for over three days on phone and through email. My emails and phone calls both went unanswered - which is actually reflective of my experience with other schools in Bangalore too. Our schools in general don't seem to have an attitude of customer-friendliness.

So today my wife and I set out with our kids, to actually see this place for ourselves.

On the way I tried the school number again and this time there was a response - a somewhat authoritarian voice said in a hurry, that today was the sports day, and that it was "really not a good day for you to come, as there will be nobody to speak to you". She refused to give me her name, and only said - "this is the administrator here."

We finally located the school after nearly an hour of driving around (no website, no directions or road map online). My wife and kids stayed in the car while I walked into the school, which was surrounded by a high-walled compound and no clear identification boards outside.

Walking in, I identified the nearest human being - the person sitting by the gate - and asked him where the office is. His response: "What do you want?"

I told him that I needed the school's brochure. He looked around and called in another employee. This guy walked up and rather pompously asked me the same question - what did I want? I repeated my intentions. His answer? "We don't give brochures out just like that."

So what did I have to do to get a brochure, I asked him. "Come in October when everyone else comes, and take the brochure," he curtly replied. I asked him whom I should meet when I came back. The Principal, the gentleman condescended to reply. And he promptly interrupted our discussion to turn around, and ask a passing student how she was doing. I patiently waited for him to grace me with his attention again. He turned his back to me for a few minutes, apparently
looking out over the grounds and waiting for me to go away. Suddenly he seemed to notice that I was still standing there. So he turned around and asked - quite curtly - "Yes?"

"And the principal's name is?" said I. His reply was not only rude and discourteous, but quite surprising: "I can't tell you the name of the principal."

I asked him why not. He said that the principal has asked him not to reveal the name to anyone.

I left the building in a daze, feeling rather insulted. What possible reason could there be for a school to treat a parent like this? This school charges parents Rs. 95,000/- a year according to the administrator I spoke with this morning, which quite a large sum by any standards in India. And here I am, ready to shell out this kind of money, all because I want my child to get a good education. And what I get for my efforts, is a display of pure arrogance.

Having visited so many schools here, this kind of behaviour is the norm rather than the exception. Getting a child into a school in India is quite difficult. Once the child gets in, she is expected to spend the rest of her schooling life in the same school. That means that in reputed schools, there are hardly any vacancies in each class, and every vacancy is hard-fought for, with no transparency in the process of selecting a child to fill in a vacancy.

But what's really appalling, is a very fundamental issue. How would an institution that operates from a platform of arrogance, be able to instil values like kindness, humility, acceptance and understanding in its children?

I've decided that NAFL is not the right school for my child. After all, if they can't train their own employees to be helpful to their customers, how can we expect them to pass on those values to our children?

Edit - December 4, 2008

Well, its time to add to this post. My wife and I did manage to finally meet with the Principal of the school. The lady was extremely gracious and patient with all our queries, and spent close to half an hour with us. And the office had an 'open door' - which perhaps indicated her approach to her work.

My very pleasant meeting with the Principal has changed my stand on not admitting my daughter to this school. But the bitter taste of the first experience with the school is something not easily forgotten.

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