It looks like most people aren’t aware of the fact that primary school tuition fees for one year of LKG-UKG (oh sorry, KG-1, KG-2 according to latest American standards) at an average “middle class” private school in any major Indian city, especially Bangalore, could easily come to one to two lakhs (bus, uniform, events, random pulled-out-of-the-ass fees are extra)? No, not kidding. When I the other day casually mentioned about these high education costs in Bangalore on Twitter, I was met with a barrage of responses expressing disbelief, surprise, denial, and skepticism from those who do not live in major cities. I don’t blame them because when you look at it, it makes no goddamn sense! Most people reading this, if they didn’t pay any donations, wouldn’t have spent more than five to six lakhs for their entire education (school, college, professional) all put together! So, why on God’s (formerly) green earth would anyone want to pay a couple of lakhs for their little four-year-olds to learn ABCD and one-two-threes, when we ourselves had learned all that for practically free? I mean, what is the logic of charging close to a lakh for day care, for some songs and games for 3 hours a day? What bloody sense does this make? This begets a series of questions.
Why is education so expensive? Hell, why is everything in Bangalore so expensive? Where do people get all this money to spend? And why are they ready to spend so much?
As many would think, these overpriced schools are not those old prestigious establishments in vogue for decades. These are a new breed of “hi-tech”, “posh” glamorous, branded establishments, mostly operating as purely business ventures, owned by very rich and influential people. They can be called private branded corporate chain schools (PBCCS), claiming to be representative of the new-age corporate Indian. Yes, your school functions just like a corporate chain restaurant with branches all over the city, probably spending more on marketing than on teachers. These exist at many levels, catering to different classes of people as per their income levels. For a year of KG, middle-class chain schools charge 1-2 lakhs, upper-class schools charge 3-4 lakhs and super elite charge 5 lakhs and above. However, all these are averages and fees can vary slightly from parent to parent depending on their financial and societal status, influence, recommendations and so on, something like airline ticket prices. But even then, fees will always be over the top. And mind it, this is just Kindergarten. Expect an increase of around 20% a year as you go up. And no, this is not because there is any shortage of private schools. Putting aside the absolute commercialisation of education, this is very disturbing on many levels.
Once the initial shock of realising how much education costs passes, people ready themselves for the grind of putting aside around 15 to 20K every month on school fees, the source of said money turning into a permanent worry that will make them sick. I have seen people living threadbare existences just so they can keep paying school fees, people on the verge of nervous breakdowns worrying about how they will pay the next installment of school fees, friends dissolving into crying wrecks as they were suddenly asked to cough up 40K before the end of the week. And if you have any more than one kid, you are done for. While their home and car EMIs were enough of a Damocles sword hanging over their heads, school fees will convert that into a turbocharged chainsaw.
“So why can’t they put their kids in lesser expensive schools? Surely there have to be schools that do not charge as many fees as these corporate schools do!” Of course, they can. But this is the wrong question to ask. Have you ever considered why people accept these outrageous fees? These fees exist because there are people ready to pay them! Consider this. Whatsapp group conversations where members talk and compare fees they are paying at various Bangalore schools is a regular affair. People are seen bragging about how they pay in lakhs for their kids in LKG (oh OK, KG-1) and so on, how they paid “only” 60K, and it turned out it was 60K per term, and there are three terms. The way people were casually throwing around figures of lakhs they were blowing up on teaching their kids’ ABCD and 1-2-3s in itself tells about how the “shock” of these figures is limited to us peasants alone, that these high and mighty metropolitan city nivasis actually don’t mind or are even proud of paying such amounts, despite all the hardships it throws at them. Confused?
One of my neighbors, when I was staying in Bangalore, had their three-year-old kid enrolled in a playschool where “teaching” involved mostly songs and games and a bit of A B C D just for fun, for 4 hours a day. One day, out of the blue, they took the kid out of the playschool and put her in on of those corporate schools with a name reminiscent of a supersonic airliner. When queried asked about a reason for this move, the answer was: “They are spending too much time on games and play and not teaching anything, and this is making her lose interest in studies! What will be her future if she keeps playing?” The kid was three years old. All she knows and understands is how to play. So they shifted her from a 15K/year playschool to a 1 lakh/year one for the same thing. And you still think people have a problem with high fees? People want to spend money.
There are two counter-questions asked here: Maybe they pay such high fees for a better quality education? So what should this quality be? It is a feature of today’s globalized world that people are easily led to believe that shiny “facilities” mean “quality”. However, “quality” of schools always meant and will always mean only one thing: how good the teachers are. No amounts of AC classrooms, sophisticated furniture or fancy digital doodads can ever compensate for sub-standard teachers because the teacher is the heart and soul of a school, the very reason for its existence. The education imparted is only as good as how good the teacher and their selfless commitment towards the children they teach, is. But teachers of these PBCCSs are only corporate employees whose only thought commitment is towards their salary, and like any other corporate employee, think only of the next hike, jumping schools for that effect, rarely staying with one school for not more than a year, mostly even less. And what are the credentials of these teachers? Nobody knows. Who suffers? Who gets “quality education”? And surely there are lesser paying schools with better quality education? In fact, a smaller school with lesser “facilities” and glamor but better teachers will probably have better “quality” than these show-off schools, manned by real knowledgeable teachers who “became” teachers clearing real examinations.tweet
The other question is, “maybe they have the money for this“. Well, to answer this question, we need to first find the answer on why people are ready to pay so much money for what should’ve been much less, which will lead to the answer on why everything in Bangalore is so expensive and not just education.
Why Do People Pay 2 Lakhs as Fees for LKG-UKG?
Short answer: Peer pressure. Long answer: Bangalore’s (as opposed to Bengaluru’s) most visible demographic is its residents employed in new-age industries (IT, et al). This is a society built on vanity and show-off, where every decision you take is dictated by the drive to “show” others about how you are better than them, to put your “high class” and exclusivity on display, a world of appearances and deception, of smoke and mirrors or self-delusion and of a never-ending rat race. See, what is called this “Bangalore Corporate Life” is little else than an unending circlejerk of trying to outdo others on vanity, or as @CarDroidusMax would put it, wankery. In this world, you are expected to do and outdo everything your peers do, like buying apartments, frequently changing phones, cars, gadgets, furniture, watch latest English TV serials, go on “rides”, trips and foreign vacations, eat out at fancy hipster bars and breweries and of course send kids to PBCC schools, all suitably broadcasted on Facebook and Instagram, grinning all the way, even if you don’t want to or don’t like to. And all of this costs money. A hell lot of money.
So, why do it? Why not drop out? Well, if you do not keep up the fakery, you will no longer have a circle of fake friends and in turn will be cast out of most of your social circles. But isn’t that a good thing? As it turns out to be, for most people, it isn’t. See, it becomes a matter of survival. To keep up your fancy lifestyle in the decaying hellhole of a city you need to stay ahead of the curve and keep advancing your career. And it is nearly impossible to move in corporate circles without a strong network, to maintain and grow which you must keep up appearances and showcase yourself as a happy, rich and successful person with great connections. If you don’t you can lose out on that next onsite opportunity, salary hike, promotion, favorable recommendation and so on. And you cannot lose, because if you do, you will not only lose your income stream but will also be mercilessly cast aside, ruthlessly victimized and rebuked for being a “failure”, because bigger corporate bullshitter you are, the more “successful” you are in today’s world. To stay relevant in this toxic system, you have to hide the cracks on your face, tighten your belt, dig in your heels and grin and bear it while keeping up the pretense of success, wealth, the platitudes and fakery and joie de vivre, while trying to put one over other guy at the same time. Once you are in this maelstrom, it is almost impossible to get out even if you wanted to, because most of us really don’t know any other way to make a living, as we were brought up only to “get a job”. But still, dropping out is sometimes rewarding, as I have learned.
Do People Really Have So Much Money?
It is a very common misconception that Bangalore “IT” people take home money in gunny bags. It could’ve been, once upon a time, but not anymore, not since 2008. How many “IT people from Bangalore” have you seen making investments of land and such, like NRIs for instance, in the past decade? Sure, some might have the money, but most don’t and live on revolving credit of loans and credit cards. That is right. All that money they spend on 2 lakh LKGs is not even theirs but only borrowed cash, to keep up fake appearances. After a decade of slogging in IT, they are desperate to show something for it, to prove how “successful” they are. And what says success more than bragging that you are spending a couple of lakhs on school? But most of today’s “IT people” have nothing to show about their life but debt and disease, and hence paint a world of fakery around their empty, sad lives, seeing which the world goes “OMG! Look at all the rich, cool and awesome Bangalore IT guy doing all these expensive, cool and awesome things!” The 2 lakh-school is just a part of that picture.
To know more, read this: The State of the Indian Software Industry
Maybe parents also spend so much to cover their guilt of being unable to spend time with their kids, or as payment to keep kids out of their hair. And since they have already kept IIT/USA as the target for their kids to reach, they have to be taught in western ways, and expensive=more quality, right? And most of these “IT people” all consider themselves European/Western in thought, talk, and deed and spare no effort to establish their “westernness” by rejecting anything they think the “average Indian does, like paying fixed prices. To conform to modern ways, you have to pay as per “market dynamics” like any developed economy, no matter what the amount is, like cool app cabs and airline ticket prices. They probably would faint if they were told that in reality, European schools are completely free, tax-payer funded and a Universe better than these wank schools. And of course, the racist pricks that the average “educated” middle class Indian is, they obviously want their kids to be surrounded by their “own kind”.tweet
To make all this happen, they overwork, forget about living life, live hand-to-mouth or even starve themselves for all those bragworthy shiny bits, forgetting about their lives and its pleasures. Yes, they are the Urban Poor, family edition. So, for many people the “Hey I pay 2 lakhs for my kid school, how much do you pay?” gives them much more pleasure than an orgasm, worth all the #urbanpoor they are. Makes sense? No, it does not.
And shrewd businessmen, seeing the opportunity in all this wankery exploit it to the hilt and milk these wannabes for all they are worth, for which they happily oblige and excrete all the money necessary. The end result is that these people with all their fakery and throwing money everywhere for wankery end up pushing prices up for everything from property to vegetables and autorickshaws. The high living costs in Bangalore is the price we pay for the perception they have created of immense wealth in IT, wealth they don’t have and even if they do, isn’t even real. And when they spend all this money they don’t have for all their show off, a large majority is priced out of the system, people like me who can’t afford all that shit. If I can’t afford it, imagine what hope the real poor people of India have. And what is most incredible in all this, is that all these parents are highly educated with a lot of global exposure and all that. Remember that neighbor guy? IIT, Intel, travels abroad some 4-5 times a year.
Just Another Brick in the Wall
And the sheer stupidity of people when it comes to child-rearing is mind-numbing. Today, there are “Pre-KG Prep schools” available for even ONE-year-olds, which exist because there is a demand for them. Sorry if I am kind of behind the curve, but what in freak’s sake will a one-year-old study?? Then there are “techno” schools that offer IIT coaching classes from standard 4 (oops, Grade four) itself. Holy shit. Pretty soon embryos will be given preparatory lessons via ultrasound so they can straightaway delve into Fourier Transforms right out of the womb. Parents push their children so much because they want their kids to achieve what they could not, for the promise of which they are ready to spend whatever is asked of them, especially in Metros where competition is fierce. Have you ever wondered if your child and their health can handle all these stress levels and pressure inflicted upon them? Did you know that there are Paediatric Cardiologists? (No kidding, I can refer one if you want). Yeah, exactly. Do you really want to slaughter your child’s childhood and their life for the sake of your bloody wankery? Do you really think it is necessary to spend lakhs for your kid to learn the ABCDs you learned practically for free? I don’t think so. And don’t forget that even with that all the lakhs and crores you spend on schools with fancy whiteboards and swipe-in smartphone notifications, you will still only get kids schooled in the colonial method designed to produce submissive peons and clerks. But hey, what will the Menons think if you put your kid in that little school no one has ever heard about?
And this, my friends, is why people spend lakhs on their kids’ LKG-UKG education.
Addendum: Here is the now-famous viral photograph showing the 2 lakh fees structure for LKG at one of Bangalore’s most prestigious schools. This is less, actually. Many private schools are now in the 3 lakh+ bracket.tweet