The movie Hindi medium was marked with four stars, therefore rating it a ‘good film.’ No surprises why. Everyone loves a good old exposé of social double standards and hypocrisies, even at the cost of complete suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief is the supreme duty of cinema so no arguments there. Especially since Bollywood is a proud and worthy tradition holder of making the impossible possible. And we know that Bollywood’s sheer genius in dumbing down the complex is unparalleled in world cinema. 

So shopkeeper couple relocate from Chandni Chowk to South Delhi to get daughter admitted in ‘good’school. A good school is where daughter has chances of a bright future, loosely understood as life amongst the ‘upper English speaking class’. This is a necessary prequisite not to get into depression and subsequently drugs. 

Thus Hypocrisy exposé number 1. Far more chances of her doing drugs with upper class classmates is disbelief we shall suspend.

Back to the movie, couple pay to train for school interview. They learn how to write in English, spell in English and say ‘less is more’ and ‘caring is sharing.’ Their new upmarket snooty neighbours don’t encourage Hindi speaking children and patronise fathers who dance with daughter (that part I didn’t get). 

Thus Hypocrisy exposé number 2. Even this viewer was willing to suspend disbelief of some rampant inherent generalizations here. 

Denied admission inspite of willingness to pay donations for a seat, the couple forge documents for the ‘economically backward quota’ and shift for a month to a suitably ‘poor’ area where people don’t eat pizza or drink bottled water. Here ‘poor is more’ and “poor ‘care and share’ more than rich people.”

Thus High quality  hypocrisy exposé number 3 of ‘Indian mentality’ to get admission at any cost. Viewer requires high quality suspension of disbelief  that donation cannot buy admission in the highest ranked school. Never mind that the existence of a ‘top’ school principal who has never cut a deal is a creature as mythological as the unicorn.

In reality all urban private neighbourhood schools are English medium and Pia would have got admission in any another private school maybe lower down in the school rankings. And any school is happy to take donations. Only ‘top’ schools have a carefully manicured image of integrity and never get caught.

But never mind all that and since also in reality desperate parents do desperate things so the suspended story moves along. ‘Poor’ man throws himself in front of a car to raise admission fee money for friend, who is actually rich but pretending to be poor.

Thus Exposé number 4. Poor people have more values than rich people. Suspend all disbelief that poverty is the breeding ground for violence and abuse.

The only real moment for me in the film was when poor man accuses rich man of stealing his child’s seat in the school, and therefore his child’s right to education.

This rang true only because rich and poor, Hindi and English speaking, able and disabled- are competing in true ‘Indian mentality style’ for admission in a media created ‘top’ school.

The heart of the pathology , social, economic, educational and cinematic will not be found  in the rich versus poor, English versus Hindi, government versus private dialogue. The pathology, endemic, pervasive and pernicious lies in the ‘top school syndrome.’

In reality, there are ample seats available for the advantaged in all urban private neighbourhood schools. Importantly for the advantaged,  all private schools more or less share similar pedagogies based on western education. Most lesser known schools do not suffer from the close-mindedness and rigidity of ‘top’ schools and are happy to comply with the end-user, the parent.

In reality-the disadvantaged have ample reservation quotas in any neighbourhood private school. Government schools too, mostly share similar pedagogies and curricula as private schools, and everything evens out during the all important state and central board exams. The only visible demarcation between public and private,  is facilities and infrastructure. Educational values and implementation is lacking in both private and public schools, only in different ways.

In reality- the disabled have ample quotas in every private school, but parents of special needs would rather have their children in special centres in ‘top schools’ rather than inclusive classrooms in lesser known schools. Many such parents call themselves ‘inclusion advocates’. Little do they know that competing with other disabled children for a place in a ‘top school’ special centre overcrowded with other disabled children  is not ‘inclusion’ by any stretch of the imagination. 

Summarising, little do the advantaged know that there is no dearth of English medium private schools in their neighbourhood with the exact same pedagogies and exact same resources as ‘top schools.’

Little do the disadvantaged know that all the above mentioned schools also have the disadvantaged 25 percent quota available to them.

There is no need to fight for the illusory pot of education gold. Yet parents and schools find innovative ways to circumvent an illusory system to obtain and thus perpetrate the illusion they created in the first place.

Schools that have clawed their way to the top of the food chain have done so by being around longer and by masterful lobbying in the ranking system created by our famous villain, the media.

But here the villain is just a tad bit over rated because there is a more sinister methodology that goes into the making of a top school.

In this year’s approximated board results around 6 percent scored more than 90 percent. In an average top school around 25 to 30 percent score more than 90 percent. This is the clincher for a top school. The percent average. The more the 90 percenters the better the school. 

So how do top schools bump up academic results by 20 to 25 percent more than all India statistics? Are their teachers sorcerers who magically transform weak students into ‘toppers’?

No. And this is the frightening part.

 Weak students are not transformed. They are eliminated. 

According to severity of inability to score  weak students are either moved to the NIOS or if you have spent all your school years in the special centre, you don’t even get to take the NIOS, you leave after class 8. You would have left sooner if the law didn’t prohibit it. Heck, you would never have been admitted, if the law didn’t prohibit it.

For schools disability lists are scoring and rating lists and the special centre a very effective gulag for the academically unworthy.

The elimination process starts early, sometimes as early as class 1 and by class 8, if your grades have been slipping you are doomed to the academic boondocks. 

And this is how schools have operatively defined and set the ground rules for corporate education.  90 percenters are created by elimination, not education.

Next time you see a school score chart where your child’s marks will show up only if it’s the highest score, calculate the average percentage for above 90, and if it is 25 to 30 percent ask this question.

If in a normally diverse classroom only 6 percent have the likelihood of scoring more than 90 percent, where did the missing 20 to 25 percent go?

The answer is not palatable. At least 20 percent of children in top schools are being deprived of their right to education. Started by top schools this trend is followed by other schools and is fuelled by our comprehensive lack of understanding about the definition of education.

A school is neither good like Eton or bad like government schools. A school is where a child develops into adulthood within a community hopefully imbued with lasting enduring values. School is not a marks race course. For marks there’s homeschooling. Genius like charity begins at home. Not in school. Ask Malvika Joshi, who went straight from homeschool to MIT.

The media must stop rating schools on the basis of scores or building infrastructure or extra curricular activities. At best this reflects the media’s own illiteracy and lack of education. At worst it provokes fee hike, class and culture dissonance, best embodied by the Hindi English competition. Let a top school be judged by how diverse and aware its community is, and in this regard inclusion of its most vulnerable is the best yardstick.

Our children’s school lives must stop becoming fodder for number crunching newspaper headlines. Universities must find better ways to select their students. As parents on Facebook school must become a celebratory rite of passage irrespective of marks, not a war zone your child has returned from, alive, with a percentage victory.

And most importantly a school is a top school when there is only one list of students, preferably in alphabetic order. In that list students have only names. Not numbers.