Three years ago, at an age when most girls experiment with clothes, 14-year-old Aakanksha Makhija lived in her school uniform.
After returning home from her SSC school at 3 pm, she immediately set off for tuitions that lasted until 8 pm. When she returned home 12 hours after she had left it, she was still in her grey pinafore. Her sister Simran, 13, followed the same routine.
“It pained me to see my daughters do this every day,” said her mother Anuradha, 42, who runs an IT company with her husband. “They had no exposure to sports or art and their emotional growth was stunted. But they had more than 50 students in their class. They got very little attention. So tuitions became a must.”
Her daughters are hardly exceptions. Like the Makhijas, several parents want to give their children a good education and inculcate work habits that will help them for a lifetime but are unhappy about the approaches they are forced to take.
Parents who have the fortune of sending their children to better schools feel compelled to use their free time to expose them to a range of activities. Mehr Basantani, 10, a student of an ICSE school in Vile Parle, for instance, attends one activity every weekday — speech and drama, art, dance, swimming and computers.
“Others attend even more,” said her mother Anushka, 34, who runs activity classes for children. “You can’t escape competition. Parents are victims of peer pressure too.” Succumbing to this pressure comes with a cost: the Basantanis spend Rs 8,000 every month just on Mehr’s extra-curricular activities.
Overall, parents’ average expenditure on the education of their school-going children has increased from Rs 35,000 in 2005 to Rs 94,000 in 2011, according to a survey conducted in 10 cities in March by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India. Parents invest 40% of their income in their children’s education, the survey said.
Yet, too much structure and scheduling have downsides. Gouri Dange, a family counsellor, argues that children’s psychological problems are linked to overemphasis on education. “Thinking on one’s feet and standing up to authority are also skills that need to be honed,” she said. “Academics alone will create emotionally-challenged individuals.”
Realising this, Anuradha decided to act. Three years ago, she pulled her daughters out of their SSC day school and admitted them to a weekdays-only IB boarding school in Lonavla. Her daughters, now 17 and 16, are involved in sports, art and music while also doing well academically.
“When I meet them every weekend, they are happy,” she said. “Nothing else that is more important.”