Archive for May, 2012

Class(room) wars

Indian classroom

I, till the other day, felt that my primary school days were quite lacklustre and didn’t offer anything for me to feel proud about, but not anymore. There were some distinct features in the ambiance of that school which I always overlooked but struck me like a thunderbolt only when I looked deeper into the school system that my daughter is presently part of. The school where I went itself was not a great piece of architecture, to say the least.  With leaking roofs, uncemented floors and creaking doors, the building resembled more like an abandoned titled mansion of the nineteenth century than a functional school where everyday five hundred children assembled to pick-up elementary lessons in language, science and arithmetic. While the holes in the roof allowed copious amount of sun’s rays to penetrate into the classrooms throughout its day’s journey, in the long monsoon months of Kerala, they also let down sheets of water that wetted the books and cleaned the slates of the children sitting below with their umbrellas open.  The benches on which we sat were more like see-saws that, when the boy on the right got up, the one on the left invariably went down and the whole classroom was always rocking. Three pieces of black-painted wood was stuck together to form the blackboard and when the teacher found it hard to make her writing on the board legible, children found it easy to convert it into “fixed stumps” for a quick game of cricket. The classrooms were separated, not by brick walls but by thin sheets of garden-fence material which again spotted holes of various sizes all over it. Peeping through these holes, a child in class three can check-out what is in store for him a year ahead and the child in the other class can always recap what he studied the previous year. And when teachers let the children read their lessons themselves to indulge in an exchange of pleasantries with each other, the sounds from the classrooms mingled and reverberated as one great voice of learning.

But in this school the only common factor between myself and my friends were the books we carried and the uniforms we wore. Each of us came from different social background; our parents had varied levels of education and did different jobs, we practiced different faiths and our economic statuses were too disparate and why, even the languages that we spoke at our homes were not common.  Yet, in the school, we learnt the same lessons, shared the same facilities, played together and fought with each other without a thought of our obvious differences back home. While my father was with a reputed British tea company, Benny’s parents were teachers, Dinesh’s father a businessman and Rajendran’s mother worked as a maid in my house. And yet in school, all the four of us sat in the same bench.  Though most of us walked to our schools, Dinesh always got dropped in his father’s car and Benny accompanied his mother in the town bus. And each time I got a scolding from the teacher, my mother would invariably come to know of it, thanks to Rajendran’s mother.  Rajendran benefited much in his studies by being in the company of studious Benny and the rich Dinesh often shared chocolates with the rest of us. As we grew up, we took different paths in life and parted ways but wherever we are today and in whatever occupation, we all cherish a shared childhood.

As I look at my daughter’s class today, I am disappointed by the almost monolithic backgrounds of these students with variety and diversity, that was so much a given in my school days sadly missing. They all are children of the upper middle class families, their parents work for large corporations or multi-nationals, talk in a common anglicised lingo and live in high-rise apartments. Their world is occupied by TV sops, tinsel idols and a host of identical online activities and they all possess a common disinterestedness about the lives and struggles of the less fortunate. They live in their own cocoons in a world infested with facebook , twitter and i-store  where  the likes of Rajendran have no place.   In the scheme of things of these private schools, a decent education is the sole preserve of the economically advantaged children and if the parent belongs to the wrong side of the divide, it is almost blasphemous to aspire to send his ward to these glorified portals of learning.

That’s why the Government thought that it would be a great idea if twenty-five percent of the seats in these schools are reserved for children from economically weak families so that classrooms become more egalitarian and these children too can avail a modicum of quality education. The highest court of the land concurred with this ideal and now private run schools are legally obliged to set one-fourth of their seats for pupils from weak sessions of the society.This ruling is definitely not to the liking of either the school management or to the neo-rich parents. The schools complain that these children will not be able to do well because they don’t have a supportive environment back home and hence will bring down the over-all performance of the school.  And the parents say that in the company of the ill-behaved and slanging brats from the slums, their children will be spoilt beyond redemption and with hygiene standards among them being low, they argue that their children will even be put to health hazards. These arguments are marshalled with such force that they seem to acquire a legitimacy to keep the schools out of bounds for the poor.

This contracted thinking among the elite class betrays a mindset that revels on the status of exclusivity and believes that class destinations are their birth right and therefore need to be guarded zealously. For them, the ideals of inclusive society are more fit for academic discussions than for practical application and preservation of the status quo is the most desired goal.

Who will have the final say in this classroom war and  a share in the nation’s progress is now anybody’s guess.

Yours

Narayanan

May 23, 2012 at 11:45 pm 8 comments


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