The unacknowledged symptom of middle-class midlife when personal arguments and political choices converge into a farce. So was last week for me!
For me, with a 9 year old, it is that time when the conversation about school choice starts. The British middle class wisdom - State (schools) till 8! - knocks on the door. The juggling of post codes, entrance examinations and school ratings overwhelm dinner table conversations. The conversation about happy children looks quaint, and the intense race for 'future' starts.
My protestation that the Secondary school is still a good two years away is pointless. I live within an enclave of Indian professionals, striving suburban middle-classmen who grew up in scarcity and embraced oneupmanship as a positive virtue: I am starting the race for future way too late.
But, indeed, there is some truth in the obsession about schools, and that hits home as I google the local state schools. The story I see is consistent, ranging from grim to mediocre, that about half the pupils of these schools fail to get at least a C. As I look at the ones with about 17% pass rates and silently wonder why they exist, the I-told-you-so scores a home run.
In context of this full-blown personal crisis, have I failed my son already, another, slightly apocryphal, story hits home. Jeremy Corbyn's second victory in a year in the Labour leadership contest highlighted a story that his first wife voted for his rival, which led me to the Wikipedia trail of Corbyn's marriages - ultimately to the story of his second divorce, from Chilean Claudia Bracchitta, on ground of school choices for their son. As The Guardian reported the story in 1999, Corbyn's marriage ended as Ms Bracchitta insisted that their first son must attend a Grammar School, a selective institution that the Labour Party loves to hate, and Mr Corbyn demurred, on a point of principle!
Given that it was clear that the local comprehensive that Mr Corbyn's son could get into was a failing one, this surely sounds crazy! One must do what is right for one's children, and this adds more colour to the claim, made by middle class politicians across the spectrum (the claim that led to the recent leadership challenge that Mr Corbyn had to fight off), that people like Mr Corbyn fails to understand the middle class aspirations of Modern Britain. The middle class is all about striving, getting better than the 'competition', earning kudos and careers along the way, and Mr Corbyn's views - the one that objects to Theresa May's perhaps only lovable policy of more Grammar Schools - is surely completely at odds with everything my friends and neighbours hold dear.
So, as I get back to all-too-familiar conundrum of the school choice, whether I sign my son up to the preparations of Grammar School examinations, or endure the climbing tuition fees to get him into one of the private schools, there are two questions that obsess me: Why are the non-selective state schools so bad? And, indeed, does Mr Corbyn and people like him live in an ideological cuckoo-land?
That State can not run schools, the familiar argument, is a clear nonsense because there are whole countries and territories - talk not just of Finland, but also of Canada and even our Northern Ireland - that do it very well.And, coming back to Grammar Schools, it is indeed not good enough to say that better schools can only exist if they can select their students, as that will turn the argument on its head and the value-add of the school would be unclear. And, yet, there is something in this conversation about selective state schools that may explain why non-selective comprehensives that perform so badly.
If one knows anything about education, it would be this: It takes a village to raise a child! Despite its obvious African origin and connotations, there is an universal truth here: That education is an ecosystem activity! School is not a self-contained institution, a factory that processes the Children's brains few hours every day. School is one part of the learning environment a child lives in - perhaps the most structured part of her world focused on learning - and everything that makes this world matters in learning.
This sounds obvious, but this is entirely forgotten when discussing the role of parents in education. Our paradigm, that the school is the factory of knowledge and competence, and parents are just paying customers, is completely wrong (for Higher Education, we substitute the parents with the students themselves) and yet it dominates the way we think about education, public or private, and the way we shape policy.
The selective schools are better because they sort out parents who are concerned about their Children's education from those, who, by force of their character or circumstance, do not. And, private schools do the same - with an additional criteria of money thrown in, which helps in segregating the class of parents.
Therefore, what happens when Private schools (confusingly called Public Schools in Britain), selective Grammar Schools and non-selective Comprehensive Schools exist side by side in a borough? The private schools invraibly have more resources, as they attract students from more affluent households, who could afford more discretionary spending on allied or extra-curricular activities, offering the most attractive options in terms of education and exposure. Selective schools absorb the more academic ones, those with parents who are serious about education and competitive in their worldview. This leaves the unfortunate majority, without money or households focused on education, to go to non-selective comprehensives, creating an ever poorer feedback loops and ghettos spreading their effects on the neighbourhoods.
This phenomena, observed and documented with great conceptual finesse by economist Albert Hirschmann, flies in the face of the Conservative doctrine of 'Choice' - that diversity of school choices in a territory creates incentives for all schools to improve. It is no wonder that the Comprehensive schools in London and South-East of England, where there are more private schools because of the Higher Per Capita income and more selective schools (not uniformly across the boroughs though) historically, are particularly bad, unless they were saved by house prices in the neighbourhoods [some of the best Comprehensives are in Central or West London, where peak house prices ensure a selective demographic]. So, creating more grammar schools, or providing school vouchers so that parents can choose their schools, do not improve the educational capacity of the State schools, they just impoverish them further.
So, does Mr Corbyn live in a cuckoo-land? From my vantage point, fully braced for endless Open Days to be spent in conversations with over-eager parents, he indeed does: He believes that he could change this system, which is a disaster for a democratic society. It is so not just because it creates extreme deprievation among those who lose hope early as their schools fail them, but also delusion among the others who live in the bubbles of private education, lose visibility of the people on the other side and grow up without the compassion that is so critical for democratic survival. This intentionally created Chasm, created early and therefore foundational to how we live, undermines the very systems that we swear by, and creates both the angry voters that voted for Brexit and the manipulative fools such as Boris Johnson.
But, then, Mr Corbyn did not become the Leader of the Labour Party without believing that he could change all this, and build a fairer Britain. That work must start from ending the segregation in schools, building mixed and democratic classrooms. If there is to be a higher form of civilisation, if we are to remain democratic, his vision, however out of context it may appear from a middle class vantage point, has to be realised. And, finally, here is the sad fact about the middle class vantage point: It is over! However much we like to believe that we are on a straight path to Genius economy, where men with brain would rule (and therefore, it makes sense to strive and strive harder for a better school) most of us, unbeknowingly, would actually be left out there. Our hopes should reside in a fairer, cooperative, human-centric society, and not in the vision of a segregated society of winners, run by robotic workers and deluded leaders. Mr Corbyn not only represents that vision, but also the integrity of action that is needed to realise such a future.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
As India's democracy reaches a critical juncture, with a very real danger of a authoritarian take-over, Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary is a perfect occasion to revisit the founding idea of India once again. There are many things in his politics that we may need to dust up and reconsider: Tagore's political ideas, because of his inherent aversion of popular nationalism and enthusiasm about Pan-Asianism and universalism, were outside the mainstream of the Indian National Movement, seen as impractical and effectively shunned. He was seen mostly as the Poet and the mystic, someone whose politics remains in the domain of the ideas rather than action. Tagore himself, after a brief passionate involvement in politics during the division of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905, withdrew from political action: He never belonged to the political class, despite his iconic status and itinerant interventions, such as returning the Knighthood after the massacre of Amritsar in 1919.
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.