Why The Aspiring Middle Class Lays Such A Premium On Private Education

20/07/2016 2:02 PM IST | Updated 22/07/2016 8:51 AM IST
Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters

A few weeks ago, our driver Vinod came up to us with an anxious plea. He was seeking admission for his son into a well-known private school in our area and he wanted us to help. It is quite another matter that we ourselves are stricken by doubt over our almost three-year-old's school admissions. However, the requisite letters of recommendation with polite hints of financial assistance were dispatched at the earliest. We didn't have to wait too long. The rejections came back quick and clear. Out of the three schools that he had applied to, not one had found the applications or the pleas satisfactory enough.

He still had the option of making his son join a government school which is close to his house or a school run as part of an orphanage. Both of which did not appeal to him, to put it very mildly. The very thought of putting his child into what he perceived to be a below par education system goes against what he has been working towards all his adult life. Vinod and most of the domestic workers I have spoken to have no qualms about spending even half of what they earn on their children's education.

A private "English medium" school is the first port of call for any parent wanting a better future for their child.

Which is what got me wondering -- why is our aspiring middle class willing to pay such a price premium for their kids' education in private schools? Some of the things that came up through the conversations that I had were:


There may have been umpteen parliamentary debates and editorial columns about the merits and demerits of English as the language of teaching in schools. But for Vinod, and indeed any of us hustling to get our kids an education that measures up to anything, fluency in English remains the basic standard that we aspire to.

And one does not really need to pull up statistics to underline the glaring absence of good teachers of English -- especially in primary schools. A private "English medium" school is, therefore, the first port of call for any parent wanting a better future for their child.

School Board

If it is in the Queen's language that we seek acceptability -- it is in the daunting maze of school boards that one tries to establish merit. If the already-past-nouveau-stage rich are busy pushing their progeny into International Baccalaureate programmes, Vinod is seeking a step up from the vernacular-language-heavy State Board. He hopes that a certificate from one of the more widely recognized programmes will open more windows of opportunity for his children. He is even willing to shell out those extra rupees to send his kids to tuitions that will ensure that they will perform well in these systems.

From what I could gather, it all boils down to: employability, independence and, most importantly, respectability.

Community aspiration

This was one of the more interesting things that came up in the conversations that I had with Vinod and others like him – people who were literally stretching themselves out for their kids. Education as a way up in life is now a motto for everyone in the community. Anyone who is not going that extra mile for their kid is not doing enough! By virtue of this subtle community subtext, most people find it a given to do the best that they can for their children's education. Everyone is working towards moving the whole community up from where they are at present.

From what I could gather, it all boils down to: employability, independence and, most importantly, respectability. When I speak to Vinod about his own education, he tells me with pride about his brother, who works in a private firm and has a visiting card to his name. The credibility associated with a lettered position is clearly something that Vinod, who spends most of his time behind the steering wheel of a car, cannot lay claim to. Even if his earnings are at par or even more than his brother. "My son will not be a driver," he tells me, with finality.

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