As I sit down to write this, I find myself trying to organize thoughts I have been taught to express only in English. Coming from a family that has had the privilege to prioritise education over everything else,I have always been sent to the best schools, that is, private schools.
And in private schools, you learn about the supreme importance of the English language, long before you are even able to speak it. We were scolded, worse, taunted, for speaking Urdu in class. The piles of English books in our library crudely overshadowed those scripted in Urdu. Austen stood proudly before Iqbal.
So, with our nelson scripts and awkward accents, we spent our days in the bubble of pretty buildings, chatting with other kids who distorted our perception of Pakistan. As a ten-year-old, they were the extent of my world, and everyone in this world was exactly like me. I had never heard of such a thing as a ‘public’ school, for us, it was just schools, and they were all the same, and kids were all the same. Protected by the brick wall and the black gate, we never had the chance to look out at the streets.
Those were the streets where Kashif and Zara walked; my cook’s two children, who attended these alien ‘public’ schools. Two kids, who lived in a tiny quarter in my house, who crossed my fancy building everyday, who I used to play with in the evenings, were living in a world my ‘English-ed’ mind had never even imagined.
Today I watched Saba Qamar and Irfan Khan highlight these very issues in their latest film, Hindi Medium. These problemshave plagued our nation for years; they decide who gets to climb up the economic ladder, who gets admission into LUMS or Aitchison or LGS, who gets to compete on international platforms, who gets to sit in the comfort of their apartment and write about the very problems they have had the privilege to ignore.
Of course, there are programs that allow children of underprivileged families to attend private institutions, there are scholarships that give them access to this side of the social curtain. But inviting a child, who is already struggling to find the sense of worth that is so deeply ingrained in our own kids, into a classroom where lunches are packed with oreo biscuits and the occasional pizza slice, is the same as telling him, this world is better than yours, you must fit in with us.
Isn’t that what we think of private institutions anyway? Aren’t they better than government schools? They must be, look at all those acceptances to ivy leagues.
As the film Hindi Medium aptly points out, English does not make you a better person. We memorise essays on compassion, yet are rarely taught to practice it. We write on equality, but cringe at sharing cutlery with our drivers, cooks and tailors.
We study slavery, and yet allow child labour to continue in our country. We condemn poverty, and yet there is a homeless man who sleeps less than a hundred feet away from our favouriteKhaadi store. Our private education has taught us what it was meant to teach us, how to create the upper class. And at that, we have succeeded.
So what is the alternative?
I dare not put it out there, but in sending our children to only private schools, we are depriving them of an experience no ivy league can teach. In sending our kids to only private schools, we are doing a disservice to our own nation, and to all those public schools who will benefit from parents like us; parents who have the time, and the privilege to make sure the schools are well staffed, well resourced, well funded. A family that is already struggling to make ends meet, will not have the time, the energy, or perhaps even the insight, to be able to sit and discuss their concerns with the headmasters of theirchildrens schools. We, who have the fortune, and the influence, are only insulting our education by shying away from putting it to good use for all.
I do not know a single family which would want to sacrifice their kid’s future for the sake of this ‘good for all’ idea. And I feel ashamed that I even felt the need to use the word ‘sacrifice’.
Endings like these only happen in movies; that are applauded in the cinema, discussed over coffee, and eventually forgotten as we step back into reality.