|My wonderful Alma Mater in Calcutta|
Christian Missionaries have contributed immensely to the development of our country particularly in the field of health and education There was a time in India when “convent” education was the most “coveted” form of school education. I am a product of this kind of education.
I did my schooling in the 1980s when India was relatively uncomplicated. There was no “Hindutva” feeling that was visible ( atleast not among the middle classes) and what parents wanted was wholesome education for their children in a fairly disciplined environment. The nuns who taught me and thousand other girls from my generation ensured that. Education was good albeit a bit Victorian in its approach to issues. Being an English medium school, we were expected to talk in English and the nuns ensured that the accent was right. We were also introduced to literature in English and taught the social graces. In short, I can say that while it was focussed on churning out students who scored well in studies there was also may be the odd socialite that it produced.
But what was important was the stress on values- honesty, kindness, modesty, respect for elders- words that have gathered dust over the years in our world today. There was no “brainwashing” into Christianity for the non Christians. We led a fairly happy life at school with the various Sisters and Mother superiors – some of whom were foreigners. The world outside thought that we were the “snob brigade” but then when I see my friends from school I cannot spot a single snob!
When I moved to Chennai I was keen on putting my daughter in the kind of school that I had so enjoyed going to! But unfortunately there were no convent schools in Chennai which follow the ICSE syllabus and so I had to look for a different school. While the school she goes to is really good, I used to sometimes feel nostalgic about convent education and that she is missing out on it. “Used to” – being the operative word because what I hear about convent education today is not very encouraging.
I am a little puzzled by what I hear because I did my schooling in Calcutta- so I am not sure if the data is really comparable as most of what I hear about convent schools today is about the convent schools and colleges in Chennai. One of my good friends has a daughter in a very popular convent school of Chennai affiliated to the matriculation board. She herself is an alumnus of the same school and she is extremely disturbed by the quality of education and the values that the school is promoting.
Now, let me explain this better. One of the very nice changes that has occurred in the Christian missionary run educational institutions is that they have tried to rid themselves of the “snob factory” tag by making the education more inclusive- bringing in children from the villages- dalit children who are first generation learners in their families. But somewhere along the way, I think in their anxiety to reach the poor and needy they have compromised on the quality of the teaching staff. My friend was telling me about the pettiness of these teachers – many of them nuns and the scant regard they have for values. They shamelessly promote their own relatives among the students ( making them class monitors and captains), picking on children who they feel are not complaint enough and humiliating them publicly. There was an incident where my friend’s daughter was scolded thoroughly because she had a pencil box shaped like the “little mermaid” as it was perceived to be “indecent”. Another child was reprimanded for reading “Harry Potter” as it was supposed to be “against the Holy Spirit”. A third child’s parents were summoned to school because she was doing something terrible – feeding the dogs on campus !( the child’s parents, staunch Catholics enquired innocently if dogs were not creatures of the Lord?)
I am not a Christian and so I really do not know the working of the church but my friend who is a Catholic tells me that there has been a change today in the type of men and women who don the robes. Today, it is not the spiritual calling but often economic necessity or inability to get married that makes a girl become a nun. Many of them come from small towns and teaching is one option that they all want as it is probably the easiest! For such people power over a student is more important than the actual welfare of the child.
Many of these schools pass for English Medium but the quality of English teaching that is expected from a “convent school” is way below standard! I guess this may be due to the fact that Christianity is getting more Indian and therefore it is being taught differently. However I cannot understand why other subjects are equally bad? Some of the so called good colleges of Chennai run by the Christian minority institutions today are apparently equally pathetic. My husband who is an alumnus of one such prestigious institution tells me that the teachers of his alma mater today do not know anything. Students of B.A Economics are going for tuition outside of college!!!
I am extremely disturbed by these changes that seem to be coming about in the education that is being provided today by the missionary institutions. I don’t know if it is because of increasing number of students from poverty backgrounds? Do the school and college authorities feel that if a large proportion of students are from such backgrounds then the quality of teachers can be equally mediocre? If that is so then it is very unfair!! Every student has the right to the best education.
And I am in no way demeaning the work done by the Sisters and the Fathers! There are so many of them who are working in dangerous areas like the Maoist infested regions of Jharkhand trying to provide decent education to the children there and preventing them from taking to violence. There are also those who are trying their best to save lives in hospitals in far out places with the limited medical supplies that they have! Some of good friends are Jesuit Priests who are activists trying to change the system. And of course there are nuns who are daily facing the threat of rape from Hindu fundamentalists!
So obviously, there are good priests and nuns with strong values and conviction to causes. But it appears that providing education in elite institution is not a priority for them. So education in urban schools and colleges today is now in the hands of those who are not really the committed ones! It is a pity because these institutions produced some of the best brains in the country and I feel a sense of despair seeing them deteriorating in quality like everything else around !!!