x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Parents queue all night hoping for Indian school places

Indian parents in India and abroad make many sacrifices to try to get their children school places.

Not to keep on harping about this, but the lack of school spaces for Indian children now involves fathers. Until last week, the mothers were wringing their hands and shaking as many as they could, in order to get recommendations to bypass rather lengthy waiting lists to get their three and five-year-olds into a decent school.

This weekend, I found myself standing in line with hundreds of Indian men, all professionals, all of whom can afford to send their children to good schools, and all of whom had woken up the night before to queue in front of schools, in the hope that somehow luck would work in their favour.

One man, with two young children, had circled the school block the night before, did not fall asleep in his car after he parked and waited for a few hours. He was the first to stand in line to try to get his son a spot. 

This, I am told, is what all determined parents do, in India and abroad. After all education, within most Indian communities, is paramount.

I grew up in one such household. I remember one hot summer my mother making me wear this horrible, knee-length herringbone woollen skirt and sateen top for a school interview when I was five.We journeyed a few hours in the car, while I practised my multiplication tables and manners.

I don't quite remember how the interview went, except that in a few months there was a trunk with my name on it and I was being packed off to boarding school, much to the pride of my relatives.

Many years later, I would realise that my parents had lobbied an entire education system, including the board of directors, to get me a spot even to sit for the written exams.

Apparently, little has changed since. Whether it is Indians abroad or in India, the chronic shortage of school places continues to haunt parents. This weekend when I tried to interview fathers, they kept insisting I wait in line as well, assuming I was a distraught mother, queueing in the rain, waiting for a place for her child.

What if I did have one? Could I see myself getting out of bed at 5am to make sure my child would have a chance at a decent education? Would my child ever realise how much sacrifice and pain goes into shaping their lives?

With that in mind, I realised that braving the rain and standing in a queue all night, is what it takes to be a parent.