Friday, August 19, 2011

THE CHANGING CHARACTER OF CONVENT EDUCATION

 
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 !!!

11 comments:

Bikramjit said...

SO very True .. I did my schooling from YPS patiala and it was very much as you say
lot of emphasis on respect and honour and all ..

we had IPS matches and all that came handy in that learnt win or lose resepct the opponenet
and elders

these days i dont see that happeneing in schools ..

Bikram's

Tomz said...

if the situation is so, it requires serious consideration ( I am not a convent school product, so I am not authentic to talk on this)..anyway, if the convent education is losing its quality and standard of yesterdays, then it is a serious matter of concern..

SUB said...

even i am a product of English medium school, one of the oldest one...and i have seen it's standard deteriorate... i can relate to what you are saying here...

Heavenly Muse said...

Educational institute got a long definition.
as per my experiences,the missionaries schools and colleges that used to produce very sophisticated lot now are loosing their charm by accommodating limited range of brats.Well my own university is run forman Christian club(a missionary club)I know few catholic brains over-there(though very few) that really want to raise a humble, enlightened and accomplished generation.

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

I really liked the honesty with which you presented your thoughts on this topic, few people do.

I too am a product of Convent education. A slight difference is that I studied in an Indian convent school for a couple of years and then in a convent school run by German Dominican nuns in Africa. The difference in the approach to education is startling.

In the Indian Christian convent school in Kerala, students from 'respectable families' were given admission and those who were poor were made to feel worse because they couldn't afford the fees or speak English easily. Also, in the Indian convent school, there were many instances of non-Christian students being forced to pray in the chapel, sing hymns and so on. In African convent school, Christianity was not taught but it was demonstrated to students by making them do good things for the society. That is far more effective than brainwashing students by telling them "Krishna was a thief and Jesus is the son of God" which has been an Indian Christian missionary's mission and zeal during the era when I was studying.

If they protested, they were told to find some other school to study in. What I didnt like at all was that Christianity alone was drilled into the minds of young kids as the religion that brings salvation. That is the wrong approach to education. You cant 'brainwash' kids because you believe in something blindly. You can give them an open discourse on Christianity but to expect them to be forced into the religion, that is illogical and insane. I am not against Christianity. I have great respect for the religion but honestly, I have very little good things to say about the way the religion is being propagated in schools that call themselves "Christian."

Any kind of emotional force in the context of religion - I see it as nothing less than a crime because religion is a private matter, of the heart and soul. No institution has the moral right to force its way into a child's mind by demeaning the religion he/she is born into. I sincerely hope this approach is not continuing in India but I have my doubts.

Christopher said...

The decline in quailty and a holistic approach to education is not restricted to convent schools but is evident everywhere.

When I was in school, we spent a large part of our time playing, riding a bicycle, reading books other than those prescribed in school or hanging around with friends. Studies took a relatively small part of our lives. Today, children spend around 12 hours with their books, struggling to complete their assignments and homework. These children can't even protest and some parents actually force them to compete with others. With the increased load of the syllabus, even teachers find it difficult to keep pace, especially when a school's reputation is linked with the results.

Sadly, there is very little time to build values.

Somewhere along the, we have stolen childhood from these children.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thank you all for your comments. I guess it has a lot to do with the overall deterioration of quality of education. I like Swapna's comments about how the spirit of Christianity needs to be demonstrated and not preached. In India we unfortunately do the later!

Hariharan Valady said...

There has been a gradual deterioration in quality, not only in Christian Convents but in other schools and educational institutions. Economics and commerce of running an educational institution are given more weightage than imparting quality education. I don't want to sound pessimistic; but I can't help.

Anne said...

Hi Meera!

I did my entire schooling in a well-reputed convent school in Chennai - and it was one of the best times of my life.I also believe that it taught me a lot of things and today I am where I am because of the strong educational foundation I had. I too fondly remember and cherish those days. Just for the record, in my school, although the number of christian students were more than in non-christian schools, we were still the minority. And no one was forced to do anything against their wishes. If there was something planned for the christian students something else was specifically planned to cater to the non-christian students too.

Having said this, whether the quality of education at this school has changed or not now - I don't really know. But I sincerely hope not!
Although what with the government poking their noses in and changing the syllabus etc. - I guess it wouldn't really be surprising...

Meera Sundararajan said...

Welcome to my blog Anne. What you say is true. My experience at a convent as a non christian student was not in any way unpleasant. I suppose the government interference has as much to do with the deterioration of the syllabus as the other reasons. I have never understood why the convents of Chennai did not follow the ICSE syllabus like those in the rest of India?

Anne said...

I don't know Meera. Now that I've started dreaming about having a child, I've already started worrying about all this! lol!

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