I’m feeling a bit hot under the collar at the moment. This is partly due to being eight months’ pregnant but also because I’m fretting about schooling for my child. You may think my child is a teenager about to choose her school subjects or a six year old learning the fundamentals of her ABCs. But no, she is 2 and a half and more concerned with building sandcastles than building her vocabulary.
So why am I so worried? Well, the worry is forced upon you when you are pregnant (yes when you child is still in the womb!) by forthright strangers who ask if you’ve put your boy or girl down at any schools yet. Seriously, what?! Yes, you heard right – you used to be able to register unborn children for junior and high school but now most schools require birth certificates, which does make a lot more sense.
Now I’m aware that the above refers specifically to private schooling. You can’t pre-register children at government schools, instead you have to fall within the catchment area (depending on where you live) and then you have to muscle your way in when the times comes to register. But if you, like me, don’t know what suburb (let alone what city) you’ll be living in by the time your child is six years old, this makes things a bit difficult.
So, like a good parent should, I diligently sent off multiple applications for junior school, to schools in some Joburg areas, as well as a few other provinces to hedge my bets. There, done and dusted I thought. It then dawned on me that she’d need a playgroup when she turned two, so I found a lovely one near my office and thought that was that.
I was naive, that’s for sure. Being a first time Mom, and one of the first in my group of friends to become a parent, I innocently thought that we’d find a local pre-primary school the year before and that would be that. No sirree. It turns out that getting into a pre-primary school, like anything else in Joburg, is highly competitive. There is such a demand that waiting lists are scores long and if you don’t register your little one in their first year of birth, or know someone who knows someone, you may not get into one at all.
I find this ridiculous. Not only that I’m struggling to get my child into a school but also that I feel like a bad mother – it’s just another thing to feel guilty about. And why am I letting society make me all anxious? We have got so competitive about child-rearing that we feel like our child is disadvantaged if they don’t have their pick of pre-primary schools, where let’s be honest, all they mostly do is pick their noses and eat soggy sandwiches. Do they even need pre-primary? I went twice a week to pre-primary school and all I did was play with dollys and have a crush on a young boy called Michael. And I’ve turned out okay.
I tend to agree with A.A. Gill in this brilliant article, where he writes that schools are ruining our kids. He bemoans how he had to worry about getting his children into the “only pre-school that is the feeder for that other school that is the fast track to the only school that is going to give your child half a chance of getting into that university that will lead to a life worth living.” Haha – I’m sure there are many of us that can identify.
So I’m going to try ignore the hype, not participate in the gossip at the school gates and just find a place where my child is happy, can learn and grow, but most importantly where she can play and be a child. A good education is vital, especially in this country where our government doesn’t have much of a reputation for excellence in that regard, but I never want to lose perspective. When A.A. Gill writes “that education is really about the fear and guilt of parents projected onto their children” it makes me want to quit the whole schooling marathon all together. But of course, I won’t do that. For my children’s sake, I’ll run the marathon – I just won’t be right at the front.