Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The ABCs of Education

The classroom is a cemented structure, decent enough, but the setting indicates a slum or a rural village. There are no benches. The kids aged 4-6 years old are mostly unkempt, a couple of them in tattered clothes, their knees grazed with white plaster from the walls. They sit cross-legged on the floor balancing their slates and pieces of chalk pencils. Across from them, the teacher spells out the days of the week, names of fruits, etc. on the blackboard and the children neatly copy them down on their slate boards word for word. Sounds familiar? The scenario I am describing is that of a Youtube video which went viral a few months ago. 

I vaguely recall that when the video went public, a huge sect of viewers wholeheartedly engaged themselves in bashing the education system or the specific ‘teacher’ in question. Community based racism reared its ugly face yet again in stating that such events would only occur in places like Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. Some highly educated NRI individuals working white collar jobs scoffed at the way education was being conducted in India, thanking their stars that they had gotten out in time. The media, as has become the norm now, went about decapitating the efforts of the ‘teachers’ who despite their own failings, was up there, trying to show someone else the right way. As can be seen in the video, the media succeeds in making mincemeat of both the ‘teachers’. The effects of the video stayed with me for a long time, as I went about googling NGOs like TeachIndia, Teach For India, The Teach India Project etc that helped with empowering the underprivileged youth with education, providing them a chance at a decent life ahead. But I’ll shamelessly admit, that like any other passionate project where I have dived in with full enthusiasm, this one too got shelved aside due to the other myriad day to day responsibilities between handling work outside and within the home. I have long since learned that jumping in, holding my breath is not going to work. Instead testing the waters and easing myself in probably will. More than a year has passed since the video made the rounds on national television and social networking sites. Nothing has changed. My conscience continues to niggle at me. The budding list of questions within my head continues to grow. And with a renewed enthusiasm, albeit, slow and steady, having gained quite a bit of volunteering experience abroad, I explore the possibilities again. Amidst all of it, I ask; 1. Can we really blame the ‘teachers’ for imparting wrong education? What they’ve learnt is what they continue to teach. And what the tiny tots learn is what will get passed along later. A classic example of a vicious circle. Point is, how do you break it? 2. Per the State Government of Maharashtra mandate, a teacher spends the first two years as a ‘temporary’ where the pay is simply decided by the school, not by the government pay scales. Agreed, that there might be a minimum wage ruling, but on an average a high school teacher earns Rs. 4000 per month for the first two months. In the course of these two years if for any reason, he/she needs to quit the job and join elsewhere, the two year term gets reset. Once the two years are up, pay scales improve substantially. But for those two years or more, how is a school teacher expected to get by on such measly payments? The Indian society today is still largely a patriarchal society, where the primary bread earner is a man. Is it a surprise then that we do not see many men as school teachers? Man or woman, how would one be expected to run a household on Rs. 4000 a month? Shouldn’t the education department be looking into this? 3. The Teach for India initiative enlists young educated people as volunteer teachers, for a term of two years. Though I applaud the initiative, I wish there was a flexible term option too. Yes, the continuous change in teachers might tend to confuse children but then this would at least encourage more interested people to pitch in and might benefit in the long run. On similar lines are the CSR initiatives run by organizations where even full time employed individuals can do their bit, all for a good cause. Initiatives like online teaching for rural kids through Skype or other video conferencing are yet to take off in a big way but there are honest individuals trying their best in those areas as well. Progress is slow yet steady. The web can be a host of information but it can get overwhelming too. Where would we find the specifics about such programs? 4. As much as the media prides itself on coverage of such social issues, aren’t we entitled to follow ups? So, they chanced upon this school, there are many others like this one, even in urban cities. This school was shoved into the limelight but what happened next? Did it help? Did the situation improve? The much talked about show Satyamev Jayate took off to a dashing start, putting the spotlight on quite a few ‘accountability’ holders, demanding answers. There were promises of follow ups and to a certain extent, they were attempted too. But how does one keep up the momentum?

A cartoon downplays the Right to Education Act
Image source: cartoonistsatish.blogspot.com
5. As opposed to the ill-thought of 'Air hostess training program' for tribal girls which turned out be a complete disaster considering that they did not meet the criteria or even know spoken English, the RTE act was a very well meant, deserving initiative. We will need many such more in our quest. But how does one go around convincing children that education will help them in the long run? What about the ones like house-help or beggars on the street who do it for three square meals a day? Can you blame them for wanting short term benefits that quench their hunger today than long term ones? Just like community hours are assigned to juvenile delinquents in the US, I wish volunteering a certain number of hours annually is made a mandate to every citizen. After all, giving back to the community that set the base for where you are today, shouldn’t be that difficult should it? I am sure it would be a very humbling experience. Sometimes I wish I can just forget all of this and adopt the famous ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude. Life would be way easier. But that’s the thing, I can’t. I would love to hear your views!

20 comments:

  1. Very thoughtful post and valid questions...hope we can make a difference.

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    1. Thank you Janu. Like any other social effort, this one too would need every individual to step up. Sometimes force works better than voluntary actions unfortunately. Hence, the idea about the mandatory volunteering.

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  2. Very very thoughtful and thought-provoking post Deepa. Teaching needs passion and may be 10% of all the teachers in India irrespective of the location have it. The rest are doing it solely for their bread and there is no control system that makes sure that the right education gets imparted! Hopefully things will change for good.

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    1. Unfortunately for the ones who have the passion, the whole 'bread' thing comes into play and we lose some there too. I wish there was a drastic change in the system, the payroll, the respect and the entire profession itself that calls out to interested ones without any other worry!

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  3. Mmm! I'd wish to add the fact that social respect for teachers is on the decline too! No money, no social respect and we still expect good teachers?? Why should (s)he not join a BPO instead? Oh! We celebrate teacher's day and all that but would a parent consider a teacher as a fit bridegroom for her daughter?

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    1. Very true Suresh. The society by large needs to change the way it views the profession but that's not going to happen without any hard changes brought about in the education department. I wish that happens sooner rather than later!

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  4. Teaching profession is the most important responsibility position to motivate and guide the student in a right way, So they have to change and they have come with passion. Everything is in our hand.

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    1. Is passion the only thing required? In an emotional sense yes, but practically, don't they need to run their homes and live with enough respect so as not to be considered any less than others? As Suresh has put it above, given the current scenario, would a parent consider a teacher as a fit bridegroom for her daughter? Even if he is passionate enough, but doesn't earn enough or isn't respected enough to run a household decently well, then what's the point?

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  5. I like your idea of making community service mandatory right from school. Many people will learn to think about the less fortunate amongst us.

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    1. :) Thanks VK. The next problem would be who would bell the cat and Oh, don't even get me started on how long it takes to get policy changes in place, that is, if they get approved in the first place. Maybe by the time my grandchildren hit their teens!

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  6. My wife is a teacher in one of the top schools in NCR. Leave aside the quality of teachers and the environment provided by the schools in the rural area, many of the best schools are shabby and money minded in their approach.
    A lot of public schools do not care about how good or bad the students are doing and there is no regulatory body to control them.

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    1. I have also known of schools and colleges which have regulatory boards but who also know how to get around inspections and audits without really enforcing too much. Plastering, painting, renovation etc happens a couple days before the audits ensuring extreme adherence to standards. The fact that the schools are in worse shape than before in a couple of months is never looked at. Regulatory boards need to conduct surprise visits too, but then we come back to the deadly corruption which is turning out to be the root cause of every evil. I salute your wife and have utmost respect for the profession. I am not saying that running schools is not a business, at the end of the day, everything is a business. But for the amount of money being pulled in, the corresponding level of service should be reflected. Anything less is a shame. And to ask for more money under the table, that's absolutely shameless.

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  7. In our days, there was something called NSS in colleges, where students took up such projects at grassroot levels, not high profile stuff, but basic things. This also earned them grades in their exams. Today volunteering has become another profession and so falls into some structure. I don't know, but I feel that some measure of spontaneity is lost in all this. Have you heard of the 'each one teach one' programme? Or even the SSA which was launched with such fanfare in the early 90s. Had the momentum been maintained much headway could have been made. But Deepa, all these programmes can succeed only if there is some compassion for the underprivileged. Look at what happened in the school in Bangalore to the kids admitted on the RTE quota. It is so visible and too disturbing. I can understand how you feel -- oh to be insensitive and not suffer!

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    1. I remember that, I don't think I was ever a part of that, I have no clue why, but I remember being enamored by those cadets, we used to love to listen to everything that they did! Yes, volunteering has also gone commercial today, companies go in for CSR because they're required to, few individuals and organizations do it out of an allegiance to society and I salute those who do! Yes, quite a few initiatives take off with grandeur but lose steam somewhere along the way. We have got to find a way to keep the momentum going! I will have to read up on the Bangalore school and RTE quote story.

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  8. Deepa your points are all valid. I also feel for teachers who are expected to do so much at such paltry salaries. I also feel for the underprivileged who are struggling to have access to good education. I feel for people in our strata who pay through our noses and yet do not get good teaching. Private education has become commerce. Government is handling education very poorly though it has the resources, but the implementation is very poor and there is corruption as well. And, I like the idea of mandatory community service. Sometimes, when you are made to do certain things and see situations from close quarters, you do end up understanding much more.

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    1. Thanks Rachna. Yes, my heart bleeds for those genuinely passionate about learning and teaching and unable to have the means/resources to do the same. I am not completely against private education being commerce, what I do hate is the amount of money charged per student doesn't seem to reflect in the service provided. Yes, completely agree that the government needs to take some harsh steps to improve the situation, more initiatives like RTE need to be kicked off but connected points need to be taken care of as well.

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  9. Like everyone says, our system is like this corrupt to the core, "Hope the system changes some day". I am also gonna tell the same thing "Wish the system changes some day" coz I have lost hopes. I wish some day this post would be an example of how Indian education system 'was'.

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    1. True, corruption is really the root of all evil. The day this bane is eliminated, most of the country's problems would get resolved. Thank you for the vote of confidence!

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  10. Teaching is the last profession to be opted for these days. Reasons: (1) there's no money in it; (2) no respectability since that comes with money today; (3) too many obligations demanded by the management.

    The profession ends up getting people who are not meant for it!

    Teaching is an art, not a technique. The people who possess that art are not attracted to the profession...

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    1. Completely agree with the points you have stated. I have met people in the teaching industry who claim to skip chapters simply because they know that the children go in for private tuitions. That kind of attitude scares me. We need to be able to attract passionate teachers back to the profession.

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