A day after her ninth birthday my daughter has posed a fundamental question:"If I want to become a fashion designer or singer why do I need to go to school?"
I don't really have a good answer.
As the participants on 'Paanchvi Paas' have demonstrated, most of us don't remember anything we actually studied in those classrooms. Forget the advanced stuff like trigonometry, basics bhi gul hain.
Looking at the class IV CBSE textbooks I would say that by the end of this year Nivedita would have learnt all the stuff we really need to know in life. ie
Reading & writing: English, Hindi
Basic maths: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
Basic science & social studies: what is photosynthesis, different regions of India and so on.
But no, she will have to plod on to higher classes and study more. 10th, 12th and then some form of college.
Why? Well, these are the reasons I could think of:
* Because I did it, he did it, she did it, they all did it. You gotta do it to be known as 'educated'.
* Because any document you apply for - passport, visa, bank account - you will be asked for educational qualification.
* Because without a formal certificate/ diploma/ degree you will be counted in the 'illiterate' category even if you are more street smart and excel at at your profession.
Besides, I said. what if you change your mind and want to do something other than fashion design when you are 14? You can't go back and rejoin class V.
She doesn't buy it.
In my heart I know the answer. It is me as a parent who is afraid to make my child an exception to the rule. Even if I know that part of this creative little soul is dying everyday on that wooden bench, copying Q & A from the blackboard.
It is me as a parent who is also unwilling to take the responsibility of bringing her up, 'educating' her, alone. Although there are brilliant examples of parents who are choosing home schooling.
Like Cdr T R A Narayanan who withdrew his two sons from formal schooling. One of them is now a wildlife photographer and the other, an origami artist.
Our decision to pull them out came when Shivaram returned from Mumbai after wrapping up an Origami programme where over 3000 children participated. He had missed his half yearly exams and wrote them on returning. Quite predictably he did not do well as he had no time to prepare.
But, the school authorities said that we had our priorities all wrong and that his talents in this little known art would get him nowhere. Studies and marks was all that mattered to them.
So, we decided that we would not allow the system to drown our children's talents - whatever the field may be.
The Narayanans enrolled the boys in the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) which gave them ample time to develop other interests. Well, hats off to them, but I don't have the energy or the devotion to go down that path.
At the end of the day, I rationalise, Nivedita is an only child and school is where she is learning valuable social skills. And the System is also teaching her that life means buckling down and doing things you don't really want to do or like to do. Because, they have to be done.
She may want to spend the evening exploring her many birthday gifts. But that will have to wait until after she completes her workbook.
And as she does that, I continue to ponder on that question... Unable to frame an answer that will make sense to her.