By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
It must be a very trying time for the parents of the city, especially for the mothers, who are passiotely involved in the welfare of their children. It is not that the fathers are not interested, but they remain too busy in other work throughout the day. The care of the child mainly depends on the mother, who thoroughly enjoys doing her duty to her baby. At the moment the mothers must have been spending sleepless nights in an agony of uncertainty. The cause of her anxiety is the school entry of her child. It is the time for school admission and various schools in the city have opened their doors for the new entrants.
Once, admission into a school was not such a crucial problem as it is today. In fact there was not the slightest problem for the parents to admit their child into any school they desired. The child was admitted to the school when he completed five years. But now parents think about the school admission the moment the baby is born. By the time the infant completes two years the parents seriously consider about the school into which the baby can be admitted. Though in earlier times admission into any school was a very easy thing, in the present era admission into the school selected by the parents is as difficult as scaling the Everest. The parents want admission for their child in the best school when he can barely lisp a few words. Normally the children are admitted to the nursery class at the age of three, but some parents want admission even before that age. They seem to derive some vicarious pleasure by admitting the child at an earlier age without bothering as to how much pressure they are inflicting on the innocent baby. The little unwilling child has to wrestle with alphabets, numbers, rhymes, colours before the date of admission. Though rebellious, he cannot escape from the rigorous routine. turally the child is not the least interested in being selected or not. It seems to be the mother’s test and not the child’s. At present Guwahati can boast of several renowned and aristocratic schools, which are very costly as well. But money is no problem for some of our lucky people. Hence if you are lucky enough, you may try to get your child into one of these sophisticated schools. You may have to spend a lot of money for the admission of your child, provided he gets through the test. Only parents from the creamy layer of society may afford to admit their children to the expensive schools and they are not at all dismayed by the staggering amount charged for admission. For them money is no problem and they want the best school for the child. If the child cannot get a seat in the ‘best’ school, the parents search for the second best. I wonder what is meant by the ‘best’ school. Perhaps it implies the most aristocratic, sophisticated, glamorous and expensive school where students are taught to speak fluently in English. Most of the parents have a strange fascition for the English language. Undoubtedly English is a very rich language, possibly the richest amongst all the languages. It has secured the status of the world language and has a treasure of literature. I feel that children should learn the language. But what is in explicable is the craze for English. It is obvious that though our imperial masters departed decades back, they left their legacy behind, including the language. I have noticed that in some of these elite homes the infants are taught to speak in English the moment they lisp a few words. The mother asks the child to chant some rhymes in English to impress any chance visitor, who has to acclaim the infant’s sharp memory and fluency in English. The mother becomes inorditely proud if the little child can speak a few sentences in English. I have heard some mother proudly saying that her child has done very well in the examition and has secured excellent marks in English, though he could not do well in Assamese. You must have heard occasiolly some young people talking with a good smattering of broken English to demonstrate their proficiency in the language. It has also been noticed in certain colleges that the students from English–medium schools treat their counterparts from Assamese or any vercular–medium school with contempt. To make the child proficient in English is an excellent notion. But the mother tongue should never be despised or relegated to the background.
Once there were no English–medium schools in our state. They were all vercular–medium schools. There were no English fictions with the book sellers. They sold only English text books. There was not the least sign of aristocracy in those schools. In our time we did not even have the facility of fans in the class rooms and the students were supposed to learn their lessons in those stuffy rooms in the scorching summer. But there were neither protests nor agitations regarding any problem. In fact, the students did not dare to raise their voices against the concerned authority on any issue. And those unglamorous uttractive schools produced intellectual giants, scholars and many geniuses whose mes even today we take with reverence.
I know very well that times have changed and we cannot stick to the past in this age of science and information technology. Now people have adopted the westernized culture and hence those who can afford try to admit their children to the famed and sophisticated schools and there are quite a few in our city. Enterprising people have opened a large number of English–medium schools; but all of them may not be able to compete with the most glamorous and well–known schools in the city. These lesser known schools are patronized mostly by the people belonging to the middle class, whatever the term may imply. They cannot aim at the best, due to the exorbitant fees demanded by such schools. But in this era, from the economically backward to the affluent section, everyone wants their children to learn English. Hence the lesser known English–medium schools are also doing reasobly well. What is unfortute is the commercialization of education. Education has become a kind of trade.
The selection tests are usually conducted by those schools, which are very much in demand. Apparently they hold the tests to judge the eligibility of the candidates. I wonder how they test the intelligence of a bunch of 3–year old toddlers who do not even know the meaning or an admission test. Usually the little children do whatever they wish and are not bound by any rules or regulations. I vividly remember an incident which occurred several years back. A friend’s little son was to appear at some written test in a famed institute of the city. She asked me diffidently if I would accompany her to the school, as she was very nervous. I agreed and went to the school with my friend and her son to lend her moral support. The scene at the school was one of pandemonium. There was a huge number of little candidates with their mothers and a few fathers. I could not help pitying those young mothers. They looked pathetic and anxious. Then somebody came out and took all the howling kids away, possibly to the examition hall. I looked at the young mothers with anxious faces and tried to console them as best as possible. In a way the scene demonstrated a kind of unity in diversity. The young mothers from diverse background very soon become acquainted with one another and they started talking animatedly about their respective children. At least they looked relaxed as well as resigned. I think sharing of one’s problem does lessen it. For some time the bonhomie continued.
After about a couple of hours the kids came out and ran towards their mothers. All the fond mummies embraced their own children and offered chocolates and other eatables as reward for their endeavour. Every one asked the children about the questions they had to tackle. But nothing could be made out in that babble of voices. Filly one bright child said that they were asked to paint an apple. My friend eagerly asked her child which colour he used. She had given him a box of colouring pencils in anticipation of such an eventuality. The boy replied nonchalantly—”I used all the colours”. My friend looked so dejected that I had to draw her attention to the other kids. Apparently every one used various colours. My imagition boggled at the thought of all those apples in such a riot of colours. I wondered how the examiner would assess the intelligence and ability of those little children and also on what basis they would select some of them for admission.
It must be very difficult to judge the ability and intelligence of some 3–plus kids. Some may be even younger. They are not at all interested in the school admission and could not care less if they were denied admission. A retired teacher, conversant with school admission, once told me that the parents, who want to secure seats for their wards in better schools, should impart interview skill to their kids to impress the interviewer with their presence and ensure their ready response to certain questions. I believe that the ability to understand and respond makes the child eligible for admission in the nursery class. May be, the interviewer takes notice whether the child is shy or an introvert. No doubt, the intention of the magement is good, but the problem is that the child may not utter a word at the interview, though he may have the ability to respond. It depends on the mood of the toddler. The child may be very jolly and an extrovert. But in the strange atmosphere he may not be inclined to talk. Children everywhere have the same ture and they do exactly what they want to do. I think that one should be proficient in child psychology to grasp the mentality of the little children.
I do not think that these admission tests are very effective in judging the merit of a little child. At the same time it is also true that a school cannot oblige all the hopeful mothers and their kids. The schools turally have to take recourse to some strategy to select some and reject others. Their rooms are not elastic and no school can afford to admit all the children due to the scarcity of space. Hence they must hold an admission test to felicitate the process of selection and rejection. But what I cannot fathom is how they do that. I mean, what is the standard they use to measure the intelligence and the ability of the children, who are a wilful lot.
Anyway, we should not make any comment on the feasibility of these admission tests. May be, they have their own way to test the ability of the children. Fathers do not seem to be unduly worried about these tests. But for the mothers it is a life and death problem, which may make or break the future of a child. But I do not really think that these tests can determine the future of the little toddlers. We have heard that no tests for admission into nursery classes will be held any more. I have no idea if all the schools will agree with the notion. But it is also true that if the admission tests are banned, the schools would have to find a method to select some children for admission and reject some others. After all, it will be practically impossible to admit all the hopeful children due to paucity of space.
Actually the parents should not be heart–broken if their child is denied admission in their preferred school. It no way affects his future. It is seen that if the child is admitted into one of these renowned schools the parents are overjoyed and celebrate the delightful event. But if admission is denied it is a day for gloom and despair. I feel that though it is a matter of pride and joy for the parents whose child has been admitted into the nursery class in one of these famed and glamorous schools, the parents, whose child is denied admission, must not feel dejected and heart–broken. These selection tests do not reflect the intelligence and the ability of the little children.
The parents should realize that their child can have a very bright future even if he/she is admitted into a lesser known and unsophisticated school, provided parents give proper guidance. What is required is the sincere effort to succeed. Dedication, sincerity and diligence are necessary for a bright, successful future, regardless of the school one attends. It is only tural that parents today are very much worried about the education of the child. All the parents want only the best for their children. They know that in this age of competition one has to have the necessary qualification and competence to succeed and rightly or wrongly they feel that to impress the interview board in future life they must have fluency in English language and they also must follow the westernized life style in dress and behaviour. They also think that their children should strive for excellence, as mediocrity is fatal.
Times have changed. Education has been commercialized to such an extent that it has become a kind of business. Hence affluent parents are ready to do everything possible to get their children admitted into one of these expensive and sophisticated schools. But they should also note that those children, who fail to get admission into one of these favoured schools, may also have an equally bright future. The only thing is that they should not belittle the little kids and give them an inferiority complex. I think every school should impart value education to the children to make them worthy citizens of the county. Only then peace, happiness and prosperity will prevail. After all, the future of the country depends on these little children. Let us wish them good luck and pray for their brilliant future!
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)