BY SAILAKSHMI DEEPAK
My husband and I lived with our two boys (10 and 6.5 year olds) in Mumbai until two years ago. We were happy to send them to an ICSE school there, knowing it was an extremely grounded one. It gave them the much needed foundation in terms of introducing the concept of school, timings, uniform, being independent, and largely sticking to a time-table for the day. But what the school offered in terms of education has always been a favorite topic of debate and discussion between the two of us, and among friends in India with school-going kids.
Education in India three decades ago did not do as much for my husband and me, as did the way we had been brought up, or the experiences our lives had given us. What schools and teachers taught us outside the curriculum has made us what we are today. Our scores and rankings were poles apart at school and college, yet we have been equally successful in our careers. Our ability to handle situations, make decisions and to reason out issues are comparable.
The system that was followed in India back then has changed in many ways, in order to accommodate the easy access to information today. But the basic framework is the same: subjects, tests, text books, homework, heavy bags, projects, learning by memorizing etc. The more we spent time in Mumbai, the clearer we were that this was not the kind of education we wanted for our children. Our children needed much more learning outside of books to prepare them for the future.
The International schools in Mumbai offered much better facilities, extra-curricular activities and the kind of education that we wanted for them, but they were unaffordable. Moreover, we wanted their early years to be spent with children that belonged to a similar economic background.
So, in 2013, when we were transferred to Dubai (a move that we had actively pushed for), we instantly looked at enrolling the kids into an international school very close to home. We have gone through a lot of challenges and changes due to this move, but it has given them the kind of experiences that education cannot.
- The curriculum at the school here is based on learning to think, rather than just learning. They are encouraged to explore on their own with basic guidance from the teachers. They are tested not based on their knowledge of “correct” answers but based on opportunities that mandate application of their learning. This is almost always done without the children even knowing that they are making that effort.
- We have hardly had any homework since we moved, except for a few weekends where work has been given that would require parents to share some ideas with the children. A lot of their free play during the evenings is invariably influenced by all that they are learning in school. It is so interesting to see them use varied material as props to support their games.
- The school uses programs that are based on monthly or term-wise topics across the primary school. Hence, both the children are learning the same topic but the extent is different. Our weekend discussions revolve around the same subject. They come up with some amazing questions, quite thought provoking even for adults. They are always hungry for more information, and that is exactly what we want the school to do for them.
- Their teen years will likely see them all confused about many things. The school will, however, present them with many opportunities and expose them to varied professions so that they will be better equipped to make decisions on what to study at university. It will also give them the courage to do something out of the ordinary and to follow their passion, if that’s what they’d prefer.
- Their tolerance towards members of different communities, nationalities and culture is much higher thanks to an international set up. Yes, they make stronger bonds at this age with other Indian kids since they can relate to each other better, but with the others, they already know what works and what doesn’t.
- In India the choice was between taking the school bus or the car or an auto to school: which was the most convenient mode to get from Point A to Point B. Here, the children needed to be educated about incomes and expenditures and affordability to make them understand why we could not buy a luxury car or a sports car.
- We were now arguing and discussing pros and cons of having their own devices; why carrying a book made more sense than carrying an iPad to school every day; why being a 10 year old does not mandate carrying or having a mobile of his own.
- The older one took a lot more time to settle into the school. He had to break into a group that had been together for 7 years; he had to move from being ‘popular’ in India to ‘insignificant’ in Dubai and then to ‘acceptable’ in his class; he was also being bullied for a long time by another child in his class. It taught him and us as a family a lot about his coping mechanism, but it was an ordeal we went through for a large part of the first year.
- They are now exposed to older kids in their bus-ride back from school. This unsupervised interaction gives them a lot of unwarranted opportunities to learn about things that we are not sure they are ready for. We are having to sit with the 10 year old discussing appropriate / inappropriate behavior, objectification of, and respect to privacy of, women, sex, sexual preferences. In fact, at the end of the first day of school, we were wondering how we could tell him it was ok to be the only one in class who didn’t know the meaning of the ‘F-word’!
In a way, the last two years have seen an incredible amount of growth in their personality, knowledge base, and in their ability to make decisions. Yet, they have quite suddenly lost their childhood, innocence, and some of the important life skills that educating in India would have retained in them.
After all this, do I think I made the right decision 2.5 years ago? I most definitely do.
About the author:
Sailakshmi lives in Dubai with her three boys: 6, 9 and 40. She loves to read, eat, bake, sing and dance! She works part-time as a librarian, and the rest of the time she is busy going completely crazy with, for and because of her boys.