“Never! I would never send my daughter to a Convent School! I’ve heard they teach them English prayers there and force them to recite them every morning. My poor Muslim daughter will become a Christian before my eyes and it will be too late to fix the mess then,” protested my educated and ‘liberal’ aunt from ‘abroad’. “Your father is a damn fool for sending you to a Catholic school. I would have stopped him if I had known what he was planning inside that crazy little head of his.”
“But Aunty, I am still a practicing Muslim and I pray my Namaz daily, in Arabic, mind you. The Prayers we recited in the morning assembly were simply a ‘thank you’ to God for His bounties,” I reasoned, but it fell on deaf ears.
We live in an Islamic country. Maybe it’s because our ancestors had to fight and sacrifice lives for this piece of land, or maybe it’s just some inherent insecurity that makes us so possessive of our religion, but us Pakistanis are very touchy about Islam. When it comes to handing over the reins to a non Muslim, it rarely ever works out! Take my aunt for example; she lives in London, a country run by non Muslims for non Muslims, and she still believes that her daughter will be negatively influenced if she goes to a Convent school in Pakistan. It doesn’t make any sense! Her daughter has studied in London all her life and she’s still a Muslim, but going to a Convent will change her!
I am glad my parents thought differently. They were so excited when I got my admission in a Convent school that they distributed sweets to the entire neighborhood! Were they not ‘good’ Muslims? They most definitely were! It was just that they saw the Convent for what it really was. A great educational institute where they not only impart knowledge, but also shape us to become fine young ladies. At my school where I spent 13 years of my life with the same bunch of 70 girls, I was moulded into someone I am proud to be today.
My school taught me discipline, my teachers stressed on perfection, we were taught the importance of keeping clean, smelling nice and even looking presentable, we always walked in a straight line, no one dared to forget their homework, we tried to remain silent during class, and we found some very incredible friends. The 13 years I spent in my Convent were the best years of my life! I focused on things that actually mattered back then. People mattered, relationships mattered, parents and teachers were our idols, and the rest of the crap did not matter! Had I been in a co-ed run by anyone other than a nun, I would probably not have had such a happy, un-biased childhood.
I say unbiased because from day one we were taught tolerance for other religions. Being Catholic, the nuns never disrespected Islam, instead they made sure we knew more about our own religions. Parsis, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus; we were all part of one team in school. It was here that I formed friendships that will last me a lifetime. I know that we are all dispersed over the globe now, and we barely meet each other, but when we do, it’s like we were never apart! Those are the kind of friends you can always count on because they have been moulded by the same principles as you! Differences in religion, caste, color, or wealth, never mattered. These were all things we learned about once we left school.
Being an all girls’ school we enjoyed things that kids in other schools could not. We went out of town, out of city and even out of country for our school trips. I don’t think my parents would have been too comfortable sending me for these week long trips had I been in a co-ed school. But I was in a Convent where the girls were more like sisters and it was almost like a crazy family vacation!
We had Special Canteens which were like huge bake sales with brownies, games, lasagne, and mini burgers for sale. We would collect money in these bake sales and give them to charity. Every Thursday was Social Service Day which meant we would put in a percentage of our weekly pocket money in a box for charity. Helping others, sacrificing your wants for the need of others was something that was emphasized on since kindergarten. Concerts, Farewell parties, Plays, Speech Competitions, dance practices, Throwball and Netball practicies were a few other things that kept us entertained and connected.
For those parents who think Convent schools are overrated and they will brainwash their daughters into becoming snobby little liberal-thinking crack pots, think about what these new private schools are teaching your kids. Teachers are afraid of parents, kids are customers and customer is king, school excursions revolve around trips to the cinema or flower shows or a factory, kids are taught only to get straight A’s and compete to be the best! But what about character building lessons? What about singing classes where they teach you harmony and the value of teamwork? What about Activity lessons where they teach you how to fold napkins and pack a suitcase? No one teaches them this anymore. Except an all-girls’ school, or a Convent!
So, aunty, think about what kind of future you want for your daughter. You come from a very different generation where parents and teachers were respected and idolized. But kids today are independent, with more access to information than we ever had. There are many schools in Karachi and they all guarantee their students excellent grades, but you need to ask yourself if good grades trump good character. Religious differences are not a major issue if you’re living in an Islamic country, because even a Convent school teaches its students Islamiyat!
So what’s it going to be? Good grades and a spoilt brat or good grades and a refined young lady?