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Affluent Indians are doing everything to support extracurricular ambitions of their children

Many Indian parents are now leaving no stone unturned to get their kids the best possible training money can buy.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: May 12, 2019, 11.30 AM IST
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Parents
Affluent Indian Parents are doing everything to secure their Kids' futures.
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are particularly hectic in Dr Sheryl John Senthilnathan’s Powai household. The psychiatrist is up at 5 am so that she can bundle off her 10-year-old son, Ranit, to football coaching at 6:15 am and head to work two hours later, dropping her 5-year-old son to school on the way. Back by 2 pm, she’s out again by 4:15 pm to take her sons for their next round of football coaching, with Ranit attending FC Barcelona-affiliated Barca Academy in Andheri.

She usually waits at the grounds till the coaching is over at around 7 pm, before returning home. On Tuesdays, Ranit attends a creative writing class near his school while Thursdays are for piano lessons at home. Weekends usually mean football matches.

The week is no less frenetic at the Bengaluru household of Varsha Mahadevan and Parth Pandya, whose children, Nilay (7) and Aarush (10), take lessons in Hindustani vocals, the piano, badminton, chess and tennis, apart from swimming classes at their school. “Being a working parent, the schedules are tight,” admits Mahadevan, an associate vicepresident at a financial products startup.

The time spent ferrying wards from one class to another is just one part of the effort. The other is money. Mahadevan and her husband spend over Rs 3 lakh annually on their children’s pursuits outside school. The Senthilnathans shell out close to Rs 1.4 lakh a year.

This is apart from the expenses of sending Ranit to take part in international football tournaments — he has already played matches in Spain and in Singapore. Once he is older, the younger son too is likely to join the Barca Academy. “I don’t think I spent on my MBBS what I am spending on one year of my child’s football fees,” laughs John, speaking on phone from Mumbai.

Parents going all out to support the extracurricular interests of their children is not new. But many affluent Indian parents are now leaving no stone unturned to get their kids the best possible training money can buy, allowing them to benchmark themselves against global standards.

These children, who train for football in Europe and take golf lessons in Dubai, might be the first generation of Indians to be afforded such privileges. Thanks to this trend, many such fields might throw up unlikely Indian champions on the global stage in fields such as squash, golf or tennis.

While rising affluence has enabled parents to unconditionally support their children’s ambitions, many also calculate that achievements in these fields might eventually help bolster their chances at entering prestigious universities overseas.

Social critic and consultant Santosh Desai explains this further. “Earlier generations came from a legacy of anxiety and scarcity, when education was virtually the only path before you. There was a kind of universal standard that everyone followed,” he says.

Today, there is a loosening of that anxiety, where these successful parents believe one doesn’t have to be so narrowly focused on just the one kind of path. Moreover, there is a great value placed on these interests, which have attained a kind of social currency, says Desai. “Activities were earlier seen as a leakage from the primary activity (academics), with extra-curricular activities being stopped once you reach 9th and 10th grade.” This is no longer the case.

Santosh Desai
“Certainly in my generation the expectation was that everyone follows the path of the straight and narrow. Today, there is a loosening of that anxiety where you believe there are other kinds of avenues” Santosh Desai CEO, Futurebrands India, & social commentator.

This willingness to go the extra mile is perhaps best exemplified in the small but growing number of parents willing to spend a steep Rs 25-30 lakh a year for their children’s football training at European academies. A decade ago, this kind of commitment might have been unheard of but today, such options are no longer off the table.

Prashanth Alva and Jyothsna Shetty in Bengaluru are among those who did not baulk at the stiff price tag when the time came to send their 15-year-old son, Dhruv, to Intersoccer Madrid, an international football academy. “Of course, it’s a big risk and we have had to take some loans. But Dhruv had a real affinity for sports from the very beginning.

If you have that kind of kid in your family, you should probably go the extra mile to encourage them,” says the soft-spoken, bespectacled Alva, director of a technology firm. The IIT alumnus says growing up, he played a lot of sport in his colony in a town on the West Bengal-Bihar border, but never very seriously. “When Dhruv was here, he showed us he could spend five hours a day on football and still do very well in his studies. We thought we should give him this opportunity,” says Shetty, vice-president at a US-headquartered payment systems firm.

In Mumbai, so convinced is Raja S Rao about this trend gathering pace that he has quit his job in retail banking to set up a consultancy for parents seeking high-level football training abroad for their children. “It’s still very niche but it’s encouraging to see that parents are open to the idea.

Varsha Mahadevan + Parth Pandya, Bengaluru
Varsha Mahadevan + Parth Pandya, Bengaluru
“Every generation moves ahead. We’re trying to give our children opportunities that we think may help them grow better” Varsha Mahadevan
CHILDREN: Nilay, 7, & Aarush, 10 ACTIVITIES: Hindustani vocals, piano, badminton, chess, tennis ANNUAL SPEND: Nearly Rs 3 lakh


I usually suggest they start with shorter camps abroad and then take a decision,” he says. For Rao, the professional is personal: his only child, Rishon, is currently at the Fundacion Marcet, a football academy in Barcelona. “We wanted him to pursue a path he loved, not something he was pushed into,” says Rao, whose own father, a public sector bank employee, arm-twisted him to take up a career he had never been keen on. He says he has taken a mortgage loan to support his son’s dreams.

Dr Sheryl John Senthilnathan
Dr Sheryl John + Dr Senthilnathan Mohanasundaram, Mumbai
“We want to expose them to as many different things when they are younger, and then they can choose what they like” Dr Sheryl John Senthilnathan
CHILDREN: Ranit, 10; Joshua, 5 ACTIVITIES: Football, piano & creative writing ANNUAL SPEND: Rs 1.38 lakh


Nor is this trend confined to the metropolises. In Coimbatore, surgical oncologist Dr M Vimalakannan is exploring how to send his 16-year-old son to Europe for football. “My aim is not to make him a football star or anything. Whether he wants to be a full-time footballer or coach or anything else is up to him,” says Vimalakannan, who rationalises that he would have had to spend a similar amount for a medical or engineering degree in India.

While the children train in the hope of getting selected to play for a European club one day, other options include taking up coaching, sports management or getting admission at US universities with football scholarships and playing major league soccer. “We joke that the last resort would be to play for China, which is investing heavily in football,” says Alva.

Sunanda Das, who runs the Indian franchise of Boca Juniors Football School in Bengaluru, says he has seen a big shift in parents’ mindsets when it comes to investing in such classes. “I usually see two kinds of parents: one, who do not want to have any regret later and the other, who are convinced of their children’s potential.” Das and his team currently train close to 500 students across 12 centres in the city, with 80 in the elite programme. While the standard programme costs Rs 4,800 a month, the 11-month elite programme, if you qualify for it, would be around Rs 1.5 lakh.

Dance, Drama, Music
Football is just one of the many extra-curricular activities that parents are investing heavily in. Ballet, shooting, golf, tennis and robotics are some of the others and many children begin by doing a combination of these or others. “A student of mine will typically be doing at least four activities. They then figure out where their passion lies,” says pianist and teacher Jovina Smith.

On a Thursday evening at the Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet in Ulsoor, Bengaluru, 12-year-old Maya is getting ready for her weekly jazz class, her hair pulled back in a tight bun. She has been studying ballet at the same academy since she was six, and is part of the foundation’sjunior dance company.

“I knew I wanted to be a dancer since I was 10,” she says confidently, before rushing off to class. In addition to ballet and jazz, she learns the harmonium, the tabla, Hindustani classical music (vocals), craft and embroidery, and swimming. It helps that she does not attend regular school. “We ask her every year if she wants to go, but she says no,” says her mother, Shilpa Paralkar, a writer and former advertising executive.

Shilpa Paralkar + Haridas, Bengaluru
Shilpa Paralkar + Haridas, Bengaluru
“We wanted to keep her away from the computer and video games as a means of entertainment, which is unfortunately how urban living is these days” - Shilpa Paralkar
CHILDREN: Maya*, 12 ACTIVITIES: Hindustani vocals, harmonium, tabla, craft and embroidery, swimming, ballet, jazz dance ANNUAL SPEND: Rs 1.17 lakh


The activities have thus been chosen with care. “We thought learning a classical art form is an extremely strong foundation for her growth as a person. Unlike other things that children are exposed to today, which provide instant gratification, classical forms of art make one understand that you have to work to get something right and build upon it,” says Paralkar. The arts, she believes, will also teach their daughter empathy.

Astha Jain + Rishab Jain, Noida
Astha Jain + Rishab Jain, Noida
CHILDREN: Arya & Avika, 5 ACTIVITIES: Ballet, piano, western dance ANNUAL SPEND: Rs 2.4 lakh
“I’m a strong believer in the importance of these activities. It helps them broaden their horizons and pick up other skills” - Astha Jain


Mahadevan shares similar views. “Music classes are a vivid demonstration of what perseverance can bring, which is hard to teach in the real world otherwise. These days, so many things are easy to come by,” says the 40-year-old. She also believes a child has to have avenues to express themselves in different ways, hence the multiple activities.

In Noida, Astha and Rishab Jain have enrolled their twin 5-year-old daughters, Arya and Avika, at Elan Ballet and Think Right classes, billed as “India’s first right-brain education programme”. Their piano and Western dance classes were put on hold when they joined school this year. “I’m a strong believer in the importance of these activities. It helps broaden their horizons and pick up other skills,” says Astha Jain, a company secretary.

Parents
Prashanth Alva + Jyothsna Shetty, Bengaluru

CHILDREN: Dhruv Alva, 16; Diya Alva ACTIVITIES: Football, piano, swimming, rock climbing ANNUAL SPEND: Rs 30 lakh for Dhruv’s football training at Intersoccer Madrid; more than Rs 3.5 lakh a year before that on football, piano and other activities.

“Dhruv had a real affinity for sports from the very beginning. If you have that kind of kid in your family, you should go the extra mile to encourage them” Prashanth Alva

Children

Ritika Chandra, who runs Elan Ballet, says today’s parents are well-travelled, very aware and hence very encouraging of these pursuits. “They are willing to support their children’s training as long as they are enjoying it.” Professional ballet classes for children over eight years comes up to around Rs 70,000 a year on training alone. But as they grow older, parents prefer that their children focus on fewer activities over a longer period of time so that they achieve some level of expertise in those, says Rekha Krishnan, head of senior school at New Delhi’s Vasant Valley School.

Bonus: Admissions Cred And if a student is applying to universities abroad, it helps to show achievements outside academics, say experts. “It’s competitive out there to get into colleges, as we are well aware.

There is certainly an element of wanting to show you have had a multifaceted experience,” says Kate Potts, marketing and communications manager at The International School Bangalore (TISB).

Around 75% of TISB students go overseas for college degrees.

Principal
“The gamechanger is that parents now are looking beyond the 3Rs to the 4Cs: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication. They want education plus” Shashi Banerjee Principal, Shiv Nadar School, Noida

With this in mind, more parents are also sending their wards to attend summer programmes abroad to hone their skills in their chosen area. These courses, which are typically 3-4 weeks, offer expert coaching and exposure to the global standards of that activity.

Students are opting for summer coaching classes in sports like football, tennis and golf, or humanities-related activities such as filmmaking, theatre, creative writing and sculpture, usually in the US or the UK. Typically, each course costs Rs 2-3 lakh, with some even going up to Rs 6 lakh. Attending summer courses abroad are relatively helpful when it comes to college admissions abroad, as it demonstrates engagement at the highest level in that particular field, says Nicholas Henderson, co-founder of New Delhi-based education consultancy Essai. “If you’ve done soccer for four years in India and two international summer programmes, that simply demonstrates the depth of your interest in soccer, for instance. Universities want to see kids who demonstrate a consistent and coherent passion for their field.”

This is more of a reflection of the vacuum in the Indian education system, which focuses disproportionately on academics at the cost of opportunities in sports and fields like the performing arts. “In India, it’s very difficult to demonstrate your talent and passion for a subject that’s not related to science, debating, or a handful of other academic specialisations.

Activities

So some students find it beneficial to pursue these opportunities overseas during their summer breaks,” Henderson adds. Internationally-affiliated programmes help, too. “Learning ballet has definitely carried weightage in the applications of our students who have gone abroad.

We often help them make audition videos,” says Devang Bhanushali, executive director of the Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet in Bengaluru, affiliated to the UK’s Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing.

Some schools have responded to the trend by offering a number of activities. TISB, for instance, offers 45 activities on campus. “There is a lot of demand, so we supply it,” says Potts.

Today’s parents want “educationplus”, agrees Shashi Banerjee, principal, Shiv Nadar School, Noida. “There is an aspiration to get education in its finest form. Beyond the 3 Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic), parents look for the 4Cs — critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration.”
Rekha Krishnan
“Parents want to give their child a more fulfilling and enriching experience, help them learn everything they possibly can. They feel a child’s time can be spent more fruitfully rather than just at home with the help” Rekha Krishnan Head of senior school, Vasant Valley, New Delhi

Driving this trend is the increasing purchasing power that comes with the expansion of the middle and wealthy classes. A report by Boston Consulting Group released earlier this year pointed out that between 2008 and 2018, the number of hoseholds earning abobe Rs 20 lakh had tripled to 9 million. Another by credit Suisse, revealed that the number of millionaires had gone up to 3.4 lakh, in 2000.

At the heart of his parents' desire to give their children, the chancwes they never had, in the hope they can live the life they can aspire to.

"Every generation moves ahead. trying to give our children the opportunities we think might help them grow says Mahadevan."

Football Frenzy

The growing interest in football in India, fuelled by the popularity of the premier leagues, is in turn nurturing another trend: Indian youngsters heading to Europe to train at elite football academies there. These could be year-long courses, which cost between Rs 25 lakh andRs 30 lakh, or shorter summer courses, to get a taste of what’s on offer.

To start with, various clubs — from FC Barcelona to Paris St Germain to Boca — have set up franchises of training academies here, with foreign coaches.

These cost anything betweenRs 500 a session toRs 1.5 lakh a year for specialised coaching. In a bid to fulfil their dream of playing for a league abroad, some of the children at these academies are now going abroad for their training, despite the hefty price tag.

“This kind of support would be unheard of earlier,” says Sunanda Das, executive director of Club Atletico Boca Juniors Football School in India. Das himself quit his corporate career as a CA when he turned 50 to open the school, which will start a residential programme next year in line with parents’ demand. The academies affiliated to foreign clubs in India are also seeing higher enrollments.

“Parents want their children to learn football with an internationally proven methodology and philosophy,” says Rahil Kapadia, regional manager of Conscient Football, which runs training schools affiliated to FC Barcelona. Every week, 700 players train at the Mumbai branches of Barça Academy (formerly known as FCBEscola), 1,000 in Delhi and 500 in Bengaluru. Every generation moves ahead. trying to give our children the opportunities we think might help them grow, says Mahadevan.


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