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So after recovering from a month of birthdays (my three-year-old and my one-year-old are both September babes), I headed off to my three-year-old’s pre-school for the quarterly parent-teacher interaction. I have been to a few of these before, as he’s been in pre-school since he was 18 months old, so I know what to expect. I’ll look through his adorable set of scribbles and collage pictures, which have been carefully filed away, I’ll read through the teacher’s assessment of my boy, and we will discuss whether he’s sharing his toys, and whether his brief biting habit (which started with the arrival of his baby brother and ended soon afterwards) has reappeared. Standard stuff.
This time, I was surprised to read a comment from his teacher that “Jake has shown improvement in his academics”. I read it twice, just to be sure, but yes, it did indeed appear to be congratulating my 3 year old on his academic prowess. Had it referred to his crayoning or block building skills, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, but academics, and three year olds, in my opinion, don’t really mix.
It reminded me of a meeting I had at the same school, to discuss an extra weekly class which was being proposed, for an additional fee. The subject was “phonics”. After a long and detailed speech from the headmistress about the benefits of the additional hour of “phonics tuition” we were asked if we had any questions. Damn right I did. Up shot my hand. “Er. What exactly is phonics?” Twenty pairs of amazed parental eyes swivelled to look at me. “Can you explain it in simple terms?” I persisted. “In the simplest terms” replied the teacher, with a sigh, it is “aabuhcuh”. “Aabuhcuh” I echoed, wondering exactly why I was being asked to shell out more money for something which I’d been teaching my own child since he could talk. “Ah, but this is aabuhcuhfrom the University of Cambridge” came the swift response. That led us to a heated debate about the benefits of tuition, with parents pitching in and sharing stories (read – boasting) about the extra curricular classes and activities which their tiny tots aged between two and three years old were already attending.
Unmoved by the lure of a Cambridge endorsement I chose not to opt for the additional phonics class. After the meeting, one of the other parents approached me a little nervously and asked if she could speak privately with me. “Sure I said”. She proceeded to tell me how stressed she was because her entire family and her in-laws were putting pressure on her to send her 30 month old for tuition so he wouldn’t fall behind. “What can I do?” she asked me plaintively. “They are making me feel like a bad mother. But I just think he is too young”. I imparted what I hoped were a few words of wisdom, urged her to stand up for what she felt was right, and left, my head reeling at the craziness of a society where peer pressure begins when a child can barely walk.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since. India is a fiercely competitive country, due mainly to the sheer size of its population and its lack of a social security safety net. If I, as a Brit, fall on hard times, I can return home and ask the government for help. They will give me money to live on and even provide me with a roof over my head, if funds are really tight. An Indian in India who falls sick and is unable to work, must rely on savings or generous family members. And if they don’t have those, then there’s nothing to stop them falling into abject poverty and joining the ranks of the less fortunate who occupy the slum dwellings and even the pavements. So I get it, I really do. I get the pressure and I empathise with the stress of wanting to climb to the top of the pile and remain there. But I still can’t understand why educated women who clearly have their financial safety nets in place, won’t allow their children to be children, to grow through play, to enjoy the innocence of childhood and the fun of nursery and preschool, without turning it all into some crazy competition.
Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty images
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