By Shibika Suresh:
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6 [The Bible]
There was a time in India when ‘convent’ education was the most ‘coveted’ form of school education, and it was not without reason. The education at a convent school is still based strongly on the idea of imparting and extending discipline. The extremely high educational standard that was imparted in such schools turned out to be their uniqueness. The behaviour that young, impressionable girls got to see and learn from their teachers, acted as a strong foundation on which their discipline in school and otherwise was based. Being an English medium school, students were expected to talk in English and the nuns ensured that the accent was right. To many convent-educated, it seemed that not talking in English at school was sort of an offence. Undoubtedly, there has been a kind of legacy that has stayed attached to convent education and this has compelled parents to send their children to the best convent school irrespective of numerous private schools where it is easy to get admitted and which are more easily accessible.
A critical focus on the intricacies reveals that the products of such institutions might be headstrong individuals, but when they come out of their hard-boiled eggs, they are in for a surprise.
The idea of including the education of the young amongst the occupations of a religious community (Christianity, in this case) has been here for a while now, and is practically as old as that of the religious life for women itself. The entire institution of convent education, especially in the Indian educational scenario, has been highly overrated. It is just another unsuccessful attempt of aping the West, like we have done by introducing the four-year courses in Delhi University. The fact that the British brought convent education to India makes the Oriental gaze all the more predominant.
One of the appreciated changes that have been brought about by the Christian missionary-run educational institutions is that they have tried to rid themselves of the ‘snob factory’ tag by making the education more inclusive – bringing in children from the villages and other economically and socially backward sectors. But somewhere along the way, in their attempts to reach the poor and needy, they have compromised on the quality of the teaching staff. This can also be linked to the fact that there is a huge increase in the teacher student ratios. In earlier times, convent schools used to admit only a limited number of children. Now there are as many as sixty students in a class. Without a doubt, this affects the quality of teaching. All it takes is a few calls to the right people and the right amount of money you are willing to shell out.
“And so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”- Titus 2:4-5 [The Bible]
Though the teachers and learners of convent educational institutions would say otherwise, it may so appear that convent school education can just teach girls how to be good ladies, put the cutlery nicely and how to buckle up dresses properly. In fact, there is a growing trend in the Indian social scenario where the girl’s chance of a wealthy match improves sharply if she has been to a convent.
So now the Indian bride-to-be has to be very fair, beautiful, homely and house-trained, needs to have a decent bank balance and is supposed to be convent-educated. Because this is the word of God.
Though many convent-educated women say that no non-Christian was brainwashed to follow the faith, there have been many instances where beliefs of the church have been misused for a different kind of propaganda. For instance, in a convent school in Chennai, a child was reprimanded for reading Harry Potter as it was supposed to be “against the Holy Spirit”. Elsewhere, a child was scolded thoroughly because she had a pencil box shaped like the little mermaid as it was perceived to be ‘indecent’.
At a time when everyone is moving towards practical and innovative education, convents are more traditional and conventional in their teaching styles. And though many convent schools still have the same reputation and quality of education that they did earlier, most of them have definitely lost their purpose.