The state of our schools

I visited my daughter’s home in November.  Right opposite her house is a building which is barely plastered from the outside, leave alone painted. Most of the window frames have no windows and the windows that exist are without panes. The lane it is situated in is barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other and that too with the drivers holding their breath and praying that they will not scrape the other car.

Early in the morning we were woken up to the sound of the entire school yelling out spellings in English. I walked onto the balcony to see what was happening and was aghast to see a teacher beat the living daylights out of a student. The child must have been barely ten years old. And then totally nonchalantly, the teacher walked up to the window and spat out a stream of paan juice on to the road below.  And the student was back in his seat making faces at the boy in front of him as if nothing had happened.

The next day was terribly cold and I could see the students sitting on the floor, shivering and huddling into thread bare sweaters.  All at once I felt helpless and angry. Angry because I’m sure it doesn’t cost all that much to get the windows fixed, yet if our schools are looked after, how will the officials make their money.  Helpless, because at that moment there was nothing that I could do.  More than that I didn’t know what to do.

Our schools never cease to amaze me.  Time and again they prove that education in India is only a farce.  It doesn’t matter whether it is a big school that is a part of a chain of schools all over India or a barely legal school run in a rundown building in a tiny obscure lane.

But even as I write this I wonder why I am so surprised. Wasn’t this the very reason we started Shiksha Power?  But then I am the eternal optimist who sees pots of gold at the end of every rainbow and silver linings behind every cloud.  Somewhere deep down there was still a hope that people who chose to be in the field of education are not so bad.  But now that I interact with schools on a regular basis, I am so glad that we have started Shiksha Power. There is such an urgent need to do something;   not just to bring about a change, but to revolutionise our views on education.

The system apart, it is the little things that give cause for worry.

Back in Thane, we have been visiting a lot of schools this week to conduct a few competitions for the students. We were at one of the so called “better schools”. We happened to be there when the assembly for the primary section was being conducted. After the prayers and invocations hymns were sung, one of the students read the news headlines for the day. The first headline he read was, “Delhi Police chief apologises for inaction over rape case.”  Both Anish and I looked at each other aghast. For heaven sakes, this is the primary section! The news is being read out to children who are between the ages of 5 to 10. Is this what their parents would want them to hear? And is it really relevant to them.

I can understand that the school wants to encourage the students to keep abreast with current news. But isn’t there anything in the newspaper that is more age appropriate? Isn’t there any happy news at all? Can’t we allow our kids to be kids for a little while longer? And what were the teachers or co-ordinators doing? Couldn’t they have guided the child on what news it was okay to read? If we are going to be surrounding our kids with so much unpleasantness so early in life it is no wonder that  another  headline in the day’s  paper reads, “ 1 in 10 students complain of aches and nausea, hinting at stress.”

The saddest part is that I’m sure that the teachers did not even realise what he had read or what impact it could have on young impressionable minds. And if this was the headlines read today, the same news has been making headlines for so many days now; which means that everyday someone has been reading out similar things and yet the teachers remain unaware.  And then ironically the assembly ends with Tagore’s poem , “Where the mind is without fear.”

This utter indifference on the part of the teachers and schools is scary. If they do not consciously decide what a child should learn and how he should learn, how can we groom leaders? How can we groom responsible citizens when the people responsible for their grooming are themselves so irresponsible?

The sheer enormity of the problem sometimes worries me, but if we do not make a start, we can never hope to change anything.  And so we move on with baby steps, hoping others join us on the way, bringing about a quiet revolution for the sake of the future of our kids; for the future of our country.

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