Dramatic lightening slashed across the blackened sky last night, as a storm fit for a scene from King Lear confined us to our billet. To venture out would have been fraught with hazards. If you think I exaggerate I can direct you to this morning’s edition of the Hindu that reports six deaths within Karnataka State during yesterday’s storm. Rain water swept rapidly along the road, the drains unable to face the onslaught of such a deluge admitted defeat resulting in a minor lake appearing at the corner of the street. At one point the noise of the downpour lashing against my window was such that I was unable to hear the music to which I had been listening. This was a tempest to compare with any I have seen here in India or elsewhere. One impact of this abrupt downpour was the addition of quantities of natural detritus on the roads, with small branches and many leaves brought from the trees to join the chaotic customary assembly of rubble, and litter. This morning the roads could only be described as muddy and care was needed not to slip whilst attempting progress on the streets.
It was whilst negotiating the obstacle course that constituted my early morning walk, and noting the number of advertisements for schools and tutors, that I reflected on the educational provision available in Bangalore. The majority of Indian people value education greatly, and parents have high aspirations for their children. In conversation with Indian friends and colleagues it soon becomes apparent that high on their list of ambitions, is that their children should receive a better education than they themselves experienced. Just what a better education constitutes may be a point for debate. Most speak of high examination grades and academic outcomes, entry into “top” universities, preferably overseas, and opportunities to network with contacts that may enable their children to “get on.”
In some areas, children travel considerable distances to get to their parents’ school of choice. School buses, many owned by the schools, and some leaving as early as six thirty in the morning battle their way through traffic to get them to classes on time. Others pile into auto-rickshaws to cross the district, sure to be shaken wide awake by the time they reach their destinations. Most are smartly dressed in the kind of school uniform that would have been common to many British establishments in my school days, and all look neatly burnished and well groomed to express the high degree of pride that their parents take in providing for a quality education.
I emphasise this level of pride in the parents, for many make financial and personally significant sacrifices to ensure that their children attend what they perceive to be good schools. Within Bangalore, as elsewhere in India, there is a distinct hierarchy of educational establishments, much as we see in England, but it is greatly heightened here. It is true that the government provide schools for large numbers of children in the city, many teaching through the local Kannada language. I have visited a few of these and have reason to have been impressed by the level of commitment of teachers working in them, often with limited resources, and in classes with large numbers of pupils. Sadly, these schools are looked down upon by the majority of parents, who see them as providing a barely adequate learning experience, and a lack of access to appropriate resources and well qualified teachers.
The term “elite school” appears on the lips of many parents and professionals here, and they are certainly spoiled for choice. The ways in which they make these choices are somewhat intriguing and variable. Some look for schools that avow a specific philosophy, such as the Valley School with its adherence to the ideas of Jiddu Krishnamurti, or those who favour a Montessorian approach. The large number of Montessori schools here in the city used to surprise me. However, having seen the commitment of the Montessorians here in Bangalore, and indeed had the privilege of working with several as students and colleagues, I understand why so many parents are drawn towards their schools. Both Maria Montessori and her son Mario spent extended periods of time in India and their influence here remains strong.
It seems that wherever one turns in the streets of Bangalore there are signs and advertisements for schools, support centres, tutorial opportunities or specialist language classes. Many of these are colourful depictions of the kind of experiences that the schools suggest that they offer, with smiling children involved in exciting activities. Some are clearly making an effort to present an international flavour and place an emphasis upon excellence in the English language. Others seem strangely idiosyncratic, such as the poster for a Scottish school, replete with an image of the mythical (well, with apologies to the Scottish Tourist Board – I think it’s fictitious) Loch Ness Monster. I envisage children dressed in tartan uniforms, reciting the poetry of Robbie Burns, eating haggis and neaps for lunch, and enjoying lessons in Scottish dance and playing bagpipes. The school probably does none of these things, but isn’t it fun to occasionally let your imagination run riot!
Parental choice is a mantra high on the educational agendas of many governments, including that in my own country. The extent to which parents are able to make informed choices, and on what basis these are made, continues to baffle me. I spent part of yesterday in discussion with my good friend Savitha Ravi at Pramiti School. Here is a school as inclusive as any I have seen anywhere in the world. For some parents Pramiti is clearly their school of choice, whilst others, knowing of the school’s reputation for teaching children of all abilities together in the same class, shun the place. It would be interesting to spend time with both these groups of parents in order to discover on what basis they make their decisions. Sounds like an interesting piece of small scale research – is anyone willing to rise to this challenge?
There are no shortages of educational opportunities in Bangalore. But how does one choose?
Click on any of the images to enlarge