x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A fight for education

The new year is already shaping up to be a tense one for some young Indian mothers with school-age children

The new year is already shaping up to be a tense one for some young Indian mothers. Especially the ones I have been speaking to in Abu Dhabi, who are finding a shortage of space for pupils in school, especially when trying to even get them a seat in classes at the kindergarten level.

At first I did not understand what all the fuss was about. After all, how bad could it be? Your kid skips a year or two and goes back happily to playing in the crèche. So what?

But in light of a recent article I read by Amy Chua, called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, my view has started to change. Excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, it went viral on the internet as debates raged on child-rearing. In Ms Chua's case, she argued that tough love worked and, like her Chinese immigrant parents, there were other ethnic communities, including Indians in the US, who pushed their children to not just do better, but to be the best.

In her defence, I present to you the anguished mother in Abu Dhabi for whom a seat shortage in the Indian schools is nothing short of academic disaster. That her kid may not find a place is not just unacceptable, but unimaginable.

And for that, much like Chua, parents will do everything. They will coax, cajole and threaten their children to get the best grades, develop hobbies, put on performances and diligently answer any number of questions during the interview rounds.

In spite of that, if there is a slight sense that their children may not make the cut, they will make as many phone calls as it takes to get to the founders or board members of the school to literally curry favour.

They will shake many hands and wring just as many in order to set up some sort of a deal that will allow their child to enter the first rung of school at an age they have deemed is right.

In fact, the shortage is nothing to be laughed at but there are jokes that won't go away. Chasing the story, I found myself calling members of the Indian community. One man at a social centre reluctantly took my call and was relieved when I didn't ask for a reference letter for my child. Instead, he said the trickle-down effect was getting so bad that non-resident Indian bachelors from the Gulf returning to India for an arranged marriage were being faced with a strange request. Never mind demanding a dowry: the potential fathers-in-law were forward-planning. They wanted to see a guaranteed spot in a school for their future grandchild before they agreed to marry off their daughters.