Preschool is no panacea

Taleem-o-tarbeeat — the mantra that is ground into each and everyone’s psyche in our region is supposedly the corner-stone to nation building. So much for eastern wisdom, the in-thing nowadays is to bundle off the little ones to any forsaken institute in the name of schooling with the fee being the yardstick of quality.

Preschools are now a status symbol, with parents boasting about the institution their child attends. As for the formative years for character building, well I suppose we have yet to adopt an institution from the West to provide an organised, mechanised, “Mc Donaldised” version of character building, but then as long as what people do confers to the western wisdom, so be it.

The irony is that what started as a facilitation system for working mothers, has today become part of the huge money-making machine called the education industry. According to Shumaila Zaidi, a mother and a teacher at Beaconhouse school system, “We don’t actually need it in our society, where most people are still living in joint families and mothers are home-makers.”

Need or trend?

Why does this post-modern syndrome manage to affect so many parents who send their children to preschool at a tender age of 18-months? A decade back, the term ‘play group’ was only associated with those working mothers who, because of long working hours, would send their child to day care centres. But nowadays, it’s a matter of prestige and social status. Parents rush towards preschools located in posh localities of Karachi to get their child enrolled as soon as he/she is born. In some cases parents actually plan their families according to the school’s eligibility criteria.

The most unnerving part is the fact that getting your child enrolled doesn’t mean that he/she gets the admission. The school then interviews the child as well as the parents to see if the child is capable enough to be part of their school. Many people believe that by giving an entrance test for Montessori, they are denying the right of a child to have quality education.

In Karachi every parent waits endlessly to get their child enrolled in the school, which is supposedly the best in town. “I have seen mothers while sitting in groups at family functions and get-togethers, emphasising that the standard of their child’s school is better than others,” says Sheherbano, mother of a three-year-old. A group of mothers at a private club were of the view that it’s a status symbol to have your children study in expensive Montessori, so why blame the system? These schools give your children the attention and time, which parents can’t give so they buy it. The school system nowadays is more of a commercial business rather than an educational institution, they added.

Negating this notion, Mrs Rumana Hussain, former teacher at the Centre of Advanced Studies (CAS), says, “Interviewing or assessing an 18-month-old is nothing short of a farce and an eye-wash, as schools are looking more closely for parents that fit the bill rather than at their child.” According to her, “in many cases private schools are run as a ‘Seth’ runs his business.” On asking whether preschool is a need or a trend she says, “It is more of a trend. Perhaps nowadays it is a tall order for parents to devote time to their children, getting involved with them in different activities at home or taking them for outings, or reading out stories to them and of course, playing with them. But if they do all of that, preschooling becomes redundant.” Explaining, Hussain says, “I feel there was no particular benefit in sending my own children to a Montessori school when they were only  two-and- a-half years old. They could very well have done without it.”

The question is whether a play group Montessori gives your child a head start? “I do believe that preschools give children a helping hand. Young minds have a capacity to absorb and retain. However, I feel we as parents are over-burdening our children in the race to be better than others. There’s a thin line which we should not cross,” says Mrs Amber Saifee, a mother of a second grader and a play group student. She was adamant that the system, which requires us to register month old babies in preschools, is ridiculous and torturing.

Luxury or burden?

Talking about the fee structure, it is the same in schools following the same curriculum that is between Rs8,000  and Rs15,000 per month (in some schools it’s even more than that). The admission fee is also more or less the same which is around Rs70,000 to Rs80,000. This high fee structure seems to be certainly beyond the imagination of a middle-class parent but there are parents who send their children to one of these schools by cutting on their expenses and sacrificing their needs. According to Haider, parent of a second grade and kindergarten student at Beaconhouse school system, “The amount of money I have paid up till now is higher than what my parents paid for my education till university.”  In the last decade or so, the number of these preschools has multiplied because parents today are ready to pay through their noses for their children’s education.

Although, a number of parents believe that some of these schools do manage to groom children’s abilities and general aptitude but there are still some who think that home is the best  place for early education.

The Express Tribune

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