Cost and Value of Education…

Born and raised in India May 1st was like any other day. That it was a holiday (International Labour day/Workers Day) was a bonus. Not that as kids we understood the reason or importance or paid any heed to it! We were just happy that it was a holiday in the sweltering heat of summer, also marking the beginning of long summer holidays. That blissful May 1st holiday continued through all our moves in various countries/continents until we reached the United States where May 1st, while not Labor Day or a holiday has an unusual importance of its own and is actually anything but an ordinary day.

May 1st gained a haloed prominence in my world as recently as 2015 when the daughter had to accept an offer from a college she thought would be best for her- academically, socially, monetarily giving her a safe, secure, grounded, valuable, far reaching, all encompassing, life enriching college education and experience, preparing her to face the world, all at the age of seventeen! I have not studied in the United States but I do not believe that the whole college application  experience even ten years back was as huge a business or lengthy stressful process as it is now. Right from childhood through, middle school and high school the children and parents seem to be preparing for that big day when the kids go off to college. 'We've decided to support you for the rest of your life. It's cheaper than sending you to college.'Parents I hear, start saving at birth or even when expecting a baby to pay those big bucks which may entail additional exorbitant college counselor fees. Like a friend said, “I told my son that after he gets into the college of his dream, he can frame the offer letter because we will be broke after paying the counselor!”

May 1st came and went but the stories continue… The son, a rising senior at high school regales us with who is headed where this fall, the happy surprises and the unexpected disappointments. We hear of the hits and we hear of the misses. We listen with acute interest and increasing alarm at the GPA cut offs in some of the California colleges, the University of California and Cal Poly have crossed a 4.0 GPA (un) officially.  We marvel at the kids getting sports scholarship or a full ride for academic excellence and are equally impressed with those who are foregoing a 70,000 per annum private education to head to community college thereby saving their parents and themselves huge amounts in debts. We are super impressed with the resume of the high school seniors, their grades, club activities, volunteer work, sports, music, oh they have to be such all rounders! Striving to accomplish a balanced portfolio I fear they are heading towards more confusion than solution, fitting their already packed schedule with more.  I so feel for them and despite being a woman, am outraged that competent male candidates may be overlooked with an encouragement and focus on women in STEM. A disgruntled parent wondered what more could her son have done beyond AP Calculus, AP Physics and more AP subjects, extra curricular activities to get into his dream college. I heard a parent talking about the loan they would need to fund their child’s education in a renowned east coast college and I heard about the kid who dropped out after all the application processes, just to take a break from the never ending rat race and back pack before heading to college next year. So long one has willing ears, the stories are never ending, scary, encouraging, horrifying, touching, inspiring, discouraging and more. I wonder at the aim, cost, outcome and the value of college education today. I confess that at times I am disheartened but at others I am left in awe listening to the kids sharing their experiences.


Having said that, my thoughts went to a village near Mumbai, India where yours truly has a little mango orchard taken care of by a couple with three children. I recall when the oldest daughter wished to study nursing, the dad, our caretaker threw a fit at the exorbitant cost and suggested she get married. We were delighted with her wishes and supported her education. A few months back when we heard that she had graduated  and begun her career as  a certified nurse I thought, now this is a valuable outcome of education without the lengthy performance of college prep to reach the grand finale of a dream job.  Her aim fulfilled, she the daughter of an uneducated farmer is working as a nurse at the age of 22. She aims to go further and our farmer is now looking out for his two other kids to follow her footsteps.

The next generation looks brighter already…

What are your thoughts on the current education scenario? Be it India, Singapore, the UAE or the USA, does the story change? How do countries like Canada, Australia have colleges accepting students based on high school scores only, without standardized tests? What in your thoughts would be the best scenario?


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'With the kids back home and unemployed, it's hard to believe I ever suffered from empty nest syndrome.'

If we were having coffee I would tell you about some interesting discoveries I made starting last weekend. To say that it has been a busy time would be an understatement but I must add that it was a good busy, if you know what I mean.

It is that time of the year when most college students are homeward bound, school students are preparing for final exams, some excited about graduation ceremonies and others looking forward to holidays. Our home has a combination of the above. The daughter came home from college and the son is preparing for final exams, final concert and checking boxes of things to be completed before exams begin.

While the daughter is super organized to the point of exasperation, the son is super cool to take me to another level of exasperation. I do sound quite an exasperated mum! Before her exams began she called us on to make her to-do list which included ‘plan’ her packing, ‘organize’ storage in or around college, ‘sell’ books not required, bring back books mum might like to read, order cartons, when, what, how, where and why of vacating dorm room was strategically thought of, planned and executed. On Face Time conversations we were shown the sizes of cartons as she debated on what to store in the ones that were knee high as against those which reached mid thigh level. So yes, even the size of the cartons ordered for storage were given immense thought with height and weight considered. She was so meticulously organized that when I flew across the nation and reached her dorm with two empty suitcases I found four packed and sealed cartons waiting outside the room to be stored in my high school friend’s home. I can’t fathom till today how two girls sharing a tiny room managed to have six cartons  in storage and 4 check in suitcases each! Was there a bottomless pit hidden in a corner from where they magically kept producing fat books, thick notes, summer clothes, hangers, iron, iron board, huge boots, endless winter clothes and the list itself is endless! Her room mate’s parents were busy packing and taking boxes after boxes down to their car parked far away. And did I mention that it was raining and windy? I was super pleased that we were to move the next day, little knowing that Gods were laughing at our planning and us. 

By the time we moved the next day, most had already left and  I could park my rented SUV by the ramp with a few other parents. We all wore similar expressions which basically conveyed several degrees of ‘Oh My God!’ What have the kids accumulated! We smiled at each other, shaking our heads, rolling our eyes but nevertheless doing what needed to be done to get our kids home from college. Just as I was struggling down the ramp with a carton barely balanced between the daughter and me I saw this boy with a backpack and a guitar slung on his shoulders walking down the ramp whistling, pulling a medium sized suitcase. He too was headed home! And I smiled to myself as I visualized the son doing something similar when he would be in college. “Ummeed pe duniya kayam hain”- The world lives on hope is an old Indian saying…But then a friend burst my happy bubble saying that her son returned home twenty pounds excess baggage after availing of maximum storage facility. It dawned on me that it is not gender specific but person specific as to how much ‘stuff’ a student accumulates during a year in college.

865f0845b558686080ac054c63305e9dI did say that we were providing God with humor so while we didn’t get a rainy day during our move we were presented with high speed winds. My short mop of hair covered my entire face while I prayed that the wind would blow it away as I peered around to find the ramp to walk down without banging into another parent/child carrying another heavy load. We teach our kids ‘waste not, want not’ and the implications of that hit me hard in the form of an empty carton that the daughter refused to leave behind in recycling but keep in storage for future use. The large flattened empty carton I was holding on to with dear life in one hand while balancing somethings on the other became parallel to the road with the wind speed and the more I maneuvered the more out of control it went until it hit me on the face before bouncing off with a mind of its own on the road following another parent. The great big and small silly things we do for our children can be made into a best seller though on hindsight we are left with a lifetime of memories to laugh over, contemplate on and sometimes even share on blog posts….

Just as we teach about waste not want not, we teach few other things too, amongst them ‘do not talk to strangers and be punctual’ are quite common. So the daughter was taking me out for dinner and I was given the option to choose from five places around the campus, asked to look over the menu, given extensive description of each place and some of the favored dishes, ambience, time and cost. When I mindlessly chose one, I was asked why I preferred it over others! So I really perused over the menus extensively like I was going to write a thesis and chose one. As we walked to the lovely French restaurant we saw a dog walker with a cute friendly dog and I invariably got down on my knees to chat with the dog and we all got talking. After a lovely short conversation as we continued down the road, we saw another dog walker coming towards us and the daughter exclaimed, ‘now mommy, don’t talk to another stranger please else we will be late for our reservation.’

These little incidents make me I realize that life is a full circle. We try our best to raise our children to be good human beings and then dawns a day when we realize that the child has grown much and beyond our humble imagination and highest hopes giving parenting, love, adulthood and homecoming a whole new deep meaning…

Did you have these moments? What are the memorable moments of moving your child in or out of college/home?

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Welcome to college tourism…

And it is April. High school seniors know the result of their hard work of last several years and are wanting to test waters. Spring break is utilized for this purpose by most to visit colleges to aid in making that very important decision. Will it be a good fit? Good education, safe environment, access to good medical facility, healthy competition, great friendships, ample opportunities, variety of sports, internship possibilities, job prospects, campus interviews, dining hall and of course cost are just some of the factors that the student and parents look into deeply at this time of the year having done the preliminary round of the same prior to and at the time of application. I am told that there was a time when students applied to fewer colleges as compared to students today and rarely indulged in campus tours until the day they reached as freshmen, lock stock and barrel.

The scenario is very different now. The student is not just competing with the fellow classmates but with the whole wide world. The race is tougher with students from known and unknown, big cities to small villages staking everything to dream bigger and better. Be it Mexico or Morocco, Saudi Arabia or Singapore, Iceland or India, Cambodia or China, students flock from everywhere with aspirations in their heart and spring in their step to begin the fall semester.

Tour companies have been in existence for years now, organizing holidays with attractions like white sand beach, snow capped mountains, skiing slopes, green meadows, historical appeal, adventure tourism and similar visual extravaganza. They evolved over a period of time and added spiritualism with self discovery tourism, yoga by the Himalayas, Monastery tourism, spa vacation and so on. Now the diversification has reached new heights with a new line of tourism added – college tourism which has huge following year after year at the same time every year.  Now travel to Europe has a little add on like discover UK universities. Traveling to the East coast? For a few thousand dollars include tour to engineering colleges or liberal art colleges or the dream college of your child.  The latest issue of The Economist has a story titled ‘The long march from China to the Ivies’ which explores the fact that students are groomed, tutored and tested from the age of 9 to 15 to get into the Big Eight. The bigger, wider and deeper the pockets are the more there is to tour, see, evaluate, tutor, mentor, prepare and apply.

We indulged in college visits too, and vouch by the ability of that student guided tour to give inklings to life on that campus providing a pathway in decision making to figure out the best fit with respect to feel of campus, dorm, dining, students, surroundings etc. I delighted in the similarities amidst the vast differences between the few campuses we visited that had nothing directly to do with the university itself but everything indirectly. Each of our student guides, male or female, facing us while walking backwards confidently as if they had eyes behind their heads talked of their college and campus life with much love. That love, enthusiasm, excitement and gratitude evident for their college were the remarkable similarities between all the tours. The most impressive features were not the grand buildings or the beautiful sprawling grounds or even the well equipped classrooms but the confidence, knowledge and attitude of the student tour guides for which each of the colleges were responsible.

cg49cb6ca4e18f00The daughter giggled as she read my draft about college tourism and thought that mom was very naive. Her take was that it is all a big marketing scheme which fools some while others gain important perspectives. I wondered if she too had turned into the cynical college student while I continue to look at the world with rose tinted glasses. But my concerns were wiped away by one phone call as I drove the son and hubby. The car speakers carried her voice loud and clear- ‘Hey mommy, what was the one thing I wished I had brought with me to college?’ and three of us answered together ‘your little red pillow!’

Yes, she was giving a tour to prospective students with parents and answering their endless queries including the above, happy and content where she was….just as they all become over a period of time. Parents, give them time and….rest assured!

Picture courtesy: Tom Falco Cartoons & Signe Wilkinson.

To be or not to be-A Well rounded child..

Honey, colleges are looking for well rounded kids! Are you sure you want to give up foreign language? And music, you need music. Don’t tell me you are giving up sports! And what about clubs?

Seems familiar? Those are today’s helicopter parents or Tiger Mums and Lion dads living their children’s life. I feel quite sorry for those currently in high school.  A gifted athlete is expected to ace chemistry/physics, study nothing but  AP Calculus BC as a senior, be proficient in at least one musical instrument, engage in clubs, volunteer regularly and maintain great grades. Oh I forgot speech, drama, debate and a lot more.

At around this time last year we were one of the parents whose kids were receiving those self explanatory envelopes from colleges- slim and small with apologetic best wishes or big and thick with congratulatory acceptance. The husband and I were driving the daughter and her friends to a school engagement. Now I am sure all will agree that listening to conversation in the car does not classify as eavesdropping so we couldn’t help but hear the animated discussion going on. ‘Oh I got accepted into some and rejected from a few’, ‘yet to hear from my dream college’, ‘really, you got into Berkeley’! ‘Oh, she walked into USC on a full ride and he has been recruited by Cal Tech’. ‘Her parents must have done something really right for her to be accepted into so many colleges’! Huh. Parents?

6a00d83451db8d69e201116895da84970c-1Since when did college become about parents? To cut the long four years of high school short, the kids are vying to be that well rounded, grounded child so much so that childhood is long forgotten and eventually lost. Politically correct behavior overrides honesty and innocence and by the time they are ready to fly the nest there is an acute case of apathy, cynicism and saturation- only to begin the next race  of employment by the best.

The car conversation set me thinking about the lack of simple random chats about anything and everything beyond the focus of school, grades, clubs internships and college. There seems to be an underlying  sense of rivalry, partly evident and partly hidden laced with jokes and general leg pulling and this is not limited to the teens. Mind it, parents are not too far behind, in fact in some cases they are the leaders of the pack generating and nurturing the current mindset.

There is a constant endeavor to build, develop, accentuate, elaborate, augment, enhance that resume, that long, exhaustive resume beginning as a naive teenager, consistently showcasing a well rounded hard working child with excellent GPA combined with super SAT/ACT scores along with excellent essays, an array of extra curricular activities in addition to magnificent community service and eye catching internships. Phew! Is that what high school is now about?  A child excelling in one particular aspect is compelled to embrace much more without actual inclination or enthusiasm just to showcase a balance. Is a nice kid with average aspirations,  simple ambitions and zero aggression a misfit in today’s world? Will the quiet kid get beaten at school, college, job interviews by the illustrative one?

What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of the well rounded child against a child following a singular self chosen path?


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Living in Pressure Cooker…

I had heard of college towns and when we moved to this little town in the San Francisco Bay area, I felt that we had reached a school town.   In a radius of a few miles we have five high schools, six middle schools, seven elementary schools and a community college. Would one like to guess what is common amidst most main streets? They all sport multiple huge neon sign boards advertising SAT tutorials, College credits classes, PSAT/SAT/ACT prep classes, Kumon, improve math, home work help, learn Spanish, learn Mandarin, learn English and  much more. Individuals and small companies specializing in training, reviewing, editing and in some instances helping to write college essays to make them outstanding amongst a million such essays are cropping up in every street corner and Skype lessons/guidance are common norm. Let alone high school kids, middle schoolers are seen adding ‘voluntary’ service hours methodically, with professional capabilities enough to shame a corporate honcho. Though I feel that there is nothing voluntary or service oriented in something done to gain hours or enhance resume. If a school doesn’t offer ‘enough’ AP classes, students add those by enrolling in community colleges, and I do wonder on how much is ‘enough’. It does appear that the aim of good education is now getting good grades and not acquiring balanced learning. Isn’t it ironical that most are concerned about being proficient test takers rather than proficient learners and accomplished doers! tests-human-resources-cartoon-400px

The daughter graduated from one of these so called immense pressure  high school and was accepted into some renowned colleges and not accepted in a few. The common factors were that both the acceptances and the non-acceptances letters sang accolades of her accomplishments and the only difference was the first sentence of congratulations, you are accepted or you are in! Do note that I didn’t use the word ‘rejection’ using ‘non-acceptance instead. Have you felt that the  use of negative words in current days are not acceptable? We have been rebuked for saying ‘rejection’ though the daughter was least affected. For sugar coating I even looked up synonyms for the word and wasn’t impressed with elimination, exclusion, repudiation, dismissal etc etc.

The son is currently in high school and struggling like most others,  just as the daughter did because good is not enough in a class where everyone is good, constantly striving to be better if not the best. March is the time for college acceptances /non acceptances, and exactly at this time last year one of our high school kid ran away from home. The school, students, community joined resources with the law enforcement agencies to find him. Two weeks back another one was reported missing. Both were found, under huge pressure probably taking a break from a world created by students like them and parents just like their’s. The schools per se should not be blamed because they are striving to build a whole child repeatedly giving presentations to the community, stressing on grades being part of growing up similar to sports, drama, music, clubs and socializing. Do you feel you are growing up in an environment of imbalance? Or your child is under pressure while sleep evades you?

Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. On that note I wish you all the geniuses out there, a great weekend…

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Education…Then and Now.

My husband raised in New Delhi completed twelve years of education from the same school before heading to an engineering college, while I studied in three different schools in three different cities of India before starting college. Our children have had the privilege of going to school in five cities, four countries and three continents and their education comprises of learning in private, public, British, Indian and American system of schooling.

Whether thirty years ago or now the basic subjects in school remain the same but the methodology has undergone a rapid change, evolving from its limited textbook exposure to a broader spectrum utilizing innovative tools making education not only interesting but also fun while adding to the challenge and value.

I compare my son’s exposure and learning of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in grade nine vastly different from how we learned. Today, he  doesn’t just read the story and answer questions as I did. To make the language of 1595 compatible to the understanding of teens in 2016 the teachers require the class to follow the annotations with writing excerpts of conversations in today’s slang, text language, even abbreviated text language with Benvolio called Benji, Mercutio – Marco and so on.

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My daughter’s international relations professor didn’t arrive for a class and the Teacher’s Assistants switched on the television for the waiting students declaring ‘today’s class is on CNN’. The professor was being interviewed on CNN live at that very moment and his views on the effect of Trump on International Relation was the topic and soon after the telecast he rushed into the class ready to begin the discussion. I love hearing the way education has evolved in every sphere, still laugh at my son’s first tryst with learning about maps and how to draw to scale in grade 4. His homework entailed drawing a map of his home, surroundings, route to school and time taken to reach school. The classwork contained whether the route was followed or were there diversions and the difference in time to reach destination with reasons. My boy biked to school that was less than a mile away and was on the same side of the road as our home so no rocket science there for absence of any other route. But his teacher did note the time he took varied and the reason was written with great honesty- “unscheduled return home due to an emergency bathroom visit”. While I was both embarrassed and amused he received an A + for meeting all the requirements. In high school my daughter’s class would write letters to the senator with current water contamination/ issues after they arrived at conclusions on experimenting and the beauty of it was that the senators would reply in details appreciating and thanking them for their efforts.

I never envisioned an education on these lines and the more I hear the more I wish to turn back the clock to be in school again studying in this marvelous environment. But then I open my eyes wider and look at all that being a high schooler or a college student entails and I sit back with a sigh of relief, happy to enjoy stories that my children share- of education how they get it.

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