Why ICSE Schools Deserve a C Minus


Why ICSE Schools Deserve a C Minus

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

Iremember in my first week of college, I met people who pronounced the word “robot” as “Robert” and called the show Entourage “into-rage”. I would secretly snigger. My posh, South Bombay self had recently finished his ICSE schooling with proper English elocution, and this made him feel a little superior to these Robert people. Little did I know, this into-rage of Roberts would be more street-smart than my hoity self could ever hope to be.

Everybody who’s been through the Indian school system knows that between trigonometry, balancing equations, and botany, our curricula has more futile subjects than a Bollywood film has songs. And if you happen to be one of the kids who went to a “top school”, then not only were you full of this futile information but also sorely lacking in the important stuff. For instance, my command over Hindi is only marginally better than Katrina Kaif’s, and I still haven’t learned the art of navigating the Indian queue, which takes any form but a straight line. It’s only after graduation that you really figure out that all that the crisp, formal uniforms and polished, international schooling did was prepare you for any situation except a real-life one.

“Top schools” can be found in metros across the country, usually in their poshest nooks and crannies like South Bombay and South Delhi. More money is probably spent on sending students to school in chauffeur-driven sedans than it would take to educate an entire village. But these schools peddle stuff like “global methods” and “an international outlook”, which are admittedly nice things to hear but leave you helpless if you get accosted by a traffic cop. While I frantically pulled out my licence, my non-fancy school friend winked and chatted with him in Marathi. A “kaay dada chukla” later, we were on our way home. The only knowledge I have of Marathi is that ajoba is not a berry but a grandfather. Between that titbit and singing “Yere Yere Pausa” every time it rains, I can’t say that my supposedly superior schooling was helpful in making me fluent in local languages. Or dealing with bureaucracy for that matter.

I have proudly collected merit certificates in English literature and gold medals from spelling bees in my schooling years while the Roberts of the world were busy cutting class, running across train tracks, and sneaking into theatres to watch the latest David Dhawan movie. While they learnt how to wink at girls across darkened theatres, I would learn that despite what Tinder might want you to think, sapiosexuals aren’t everywhere. Once I left school, I quickly learned that using words with more than three syllables only makes you the punchline of a Shashi Tharoor-themed joke or gets you accused of being a Lord Macaulay apologist.

It’s been ten years since I left school, and any wild notions I had about my fancy education giving me an advantage in my adult life, have been eroded into nothingness by the passage of time

Eloquent oration is not the only Tharoorian activity that is valued in school and mocked in the outside world. Participating in a Model United Nations is the holy grail of student experience at the nation’s best schools. You score brownie points with teachers, get to mingle with cute students from other schools, and boost your ego by feeling like all the world’s problems are just waiting for you to get a diploma so you can come solve them. Then you grow up and step into a world where Donald Trump becomes the US president, the government wants to stalk you through Aadhaar, and the media’s favourite topic is the HrithikKangana spat. That’s when you realise your laptop and misplaced sense of entitlement aren’t going to turn the world into your oyster. On the other hand, the Roberts are well-prepared for the chaos that rules our world. Thanks to their time spent in buildings that can only be called schools because of the presence of uniformed children, they’re already acquainted with violence, corruption, and how to deal with all the shit that life throws at you.

Even as your superiority complex starts to crumble, you try to take refuge in the fact that you’re still the torchbearer for cool. Your exposure to international media and refined tastes guarantees that much at least. Or so I thought, until the first time I found myself in the middle of a group discussion on which Sarabhai vs Sarabhai character was the best. In the fancy little bubble I grew up in, Hindi movies and TV was something we sneered at, but in the real world, we were the clueless ones. You realise you’re not the cat’s whiskers when people react to your clever Seinfeld references with blank stares before guffawing at any joke with a punchline that includes the word “soluchan”.

It’s been ten years since I left school, and any wild notions I had about my fancy education giving me an advantage in my adult life, have been eroded into nothingness by the passage of time. A decade of having the simplest of jokes explained to you just because the punchline wasn’t in English will do that to a person. I wonder now if instead of my fancy ICSE education I would have been better off in world where apathetic teachers ignore classes full of students and instead students autonomously educate themselves as they pass through the classes, leaving them free to pick up tips and techniques for survival instead of aceing an exam.

Here’s a word of advice to the next-generation of “global learners” currently gearing up for the real world. If you meet someone who pronounces robot as “Robert”, suppress the urge to laugh, and try to pay attention. They might not have gone to as fancy an institute as you, but they’re about to school you on life.