It was a very frequent occurrence during my childhood that the girl’s from La Marteniere (or other convent schools), who lived in my colony would introduce me to their friends (in their clipped nasal English that has come to symbolize affluence in India) thusly:
‘This is Srishti. She studies in a ‘Kendriya Vidyalaya’ (*eyes rolling)
Kendriya Vidyalayas are (for those not in the know) Central Schools, i.e. schools run by the Government of India where you get a cheap but good education (using the term loosely). They were built so that Government servants, in frequently transferable jobs, can send their kids to a different school, whenever they are transferred, without worrying about dislocating them too much. I must have attended four different Kendriya Vidyalayas in all.
Somehow this, nasally condescending, introduction made me feel more relieved than irritated because I was aware of two things:
1) I went to a school which, for various reasons, did not cultivate a sense of institutional superiority. I think as a child I understood something that I have often lost sight of as an adult, institutional superiority complexes are comic at their best, and disturbing at their worst (i.e refer to Hufflepuff for the former and Slytherin for the latter).
2) My schooling did not interfere with my education. (I am of course paraphrasing a certain Samuel Langhorn Clemens).
Now what do I mean by this? I mean that I received literary instruction at my school, I learnt about the sciences, mathematics, and understood that sports is a good thing.I can write decently, as you see (I mean, hopefully, as you see). String words together tolerably. Sometimes though the incorrigible ‘KV-ian’ in me comes out, and I mispronounce “Hakka Noodles” or the word “Canary” (I cannot get the hang of that word. I just can’t.). It was the basic requirements of an education covered. So why do I describe the experience as AWESOME?
Because people left me ALONE, to find my way, and become a young adult on my own terms. NO ONE tried to mess with my head, and give me a well rounded personality. They did not try to teach me how to speak three foreign languages while playing football, and balancing a violin on my head. When I look at all the well rounded personalities that private schools regularly churn out, I get goosebumps, and hold my imperfection tightly to my chest, thanking heavens for my Rs 300 a year education, which did not make me perfect. Not even close.
What it did give me was the ability to make friends with people from different parts of the country, with different backgrounds. It taught me not to take too much pride in good grades or good diction, because really most of your abilities are half chance. It taught me that people have immense room for self improvement on their own, and that giving kids minimal homework actually lets them be happy young people.
I enjoyed the long games periods, in the usually sprawling grounds that KVs have (though I never really played any sports of any kind). I did try to throw a javelin once, however projectile motion is a complicated thing, and the Javelin just hung limply in the air, and then fell down near my feet. This caused the games teacher to shake his head with violent disappointment, almost as if I had failed a dope test on the eve of the Olympics.
I also remember the hot summer afternoons, after lunch break, when we would have classes. The most soporific effect would be that of Hindi poetry classes, where we would have to take turns in reading poetry. Some classes would of course turn bizarre, because poems would, in detail, discuss things like the physiology of elephants in heat, or the polygamous tendencies of Krishna. How the latter was considered age appropriate, I will never know, but it was poetry, so there!
But this gives me an idea! We could try teaching sex education to children through Hindi couplets written in the Veera-rasa. I think that will take care of the question of Indian values, and spreading of the Hindi Language all at once. Don’t tell me this idea is not Pure Gold. We could schedule the class right after the compulsory scripture lessons, and top it up with lessons on self-control and compulsory roti-stuffing into unwilling mouths.
Anyhow, as we grew older our social sciences syllabus was divided into History, Geography and Civics. Civics is an extremely important subject that teaches young students their place in the world, bits of the constitution and mores of social organization. The syllabus is organized to be as Soul Crushing as possible, but luckily I had a wonderful Social Sciences teacher, who could even make reading transcripts of a Manmoham Singh speech interesting. I think she (Ms Aditi Chatterjee) played a wonderful role for me and my classmates in Kendriya Vidyala Ballygunge, Kolkata. She taught us to think for ourselves, question the tide of current events. Imagine 14 year old children discussing the Iraq war in a classroom with a coherence and eloquence that I have struggled to find even in college! This was right before our prejudices set like cement in our sub-conscious, and we were more willing to listen to a contrary point of view.
I also remember the canteen and the rather squishy Samosas and Jaljeera for sale there. People developed addictions to it, from what I remember.
I think this post is coming dangerously close to becoming a unceasing walk down memory lane. One can’t use a blog too often to take such trips, out of fear of losing their readers along the way.
I feel that in our quest towards educating our young, we are focusing on turning them into elites, well spoken with a good sartorial sense, mixed in with their sense of entitlement. Private school education, with its humungous fees ensures a kind of income bracket homogeneity and talent engineering that makes kids ‘designer kids’. And if that is what one wants out of an education, there is nothing wrong with it.
For those who value the imperfection in their kids, and are okay with taking a bit of a lottery on exactly what the kid is going to become, try a school that lets them be. That gives them the basics and sets them free.
If you can, then try a KV! 🙂