DESCHOOLING SOCIETY

Published: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 07:47

Is our political and business elite only interested in the selective factory production of the typical ‘yes, sir-no, sir’ types in India’s schools?

Hartman de Souza Cavorem, Quepem (South Goa) 

It is nothing short of disgraceful that a tired central government and its HRD minister, and an equally lacklustre opposition, chose such hasty capitulation. In doing so, they gave not only credibility but even veracity to the absurd demand that a cartoon drawn in 1949 be called in to question when this country’s first government, unlike what we see today, was perhaps at its most passionate, most open and possibly most honest; and, lest we forget, at a time when the press and radio in India were probably at their most idealistic. 

Be sure that historians, not even ten years hence, will look back at both periods, one adventurous enough to engage with all the trials and tribulations facing a new nation, the other a collusion of  elected representatives across the ideological spectrum who consciously lowered standards of quality that can only be disassociated from democratic practice to our collective loss. No guessing where the derision, fully deserved, will fly at.

In such unhappy assay, it seems easy and predictable to hang such shameful complicity on the peg of cultural intolerance that seems to be slowly but surely creeping into our everyday discourse, but, strange though it may seem, this is by no means the real transgression. 

Quite a few of our elected representatives laboured the point that they were protecting students in high school. This is bigotry at its worst, and must be condemned outright. It is time we nail these platitudes offered by those in Parliament for what they really are, namely, the further narrowing down of the pitifully poor horizon already on offer to those in high school; and, more important, the primary agenda of the political and industrial elite in their short-term race for profits — one of which doesn’t want younger people to think too much, while the other would like to see them tailored and schooled to make up the numbers of a compliant and willing “service industry”. The “Yes, Sir-No, Sir” types...
This is really serious. As Professor Emeritus Yashpal, who knows a thing or two about education, succinctly put it to a newspaper on May 16, 2012, “It is criminal what the government is doing. How can they remove cartoons? What about academic freedom? I would say children can even go to court against this” (emphasis mine). 

It is his closing remark, namely, children moving the courts against this that ought to make us feel both sad and angry, if not bitter, and force those who purport to steer us, to hang their heads in shame — because the fact of the matter is that in no school or home in this country have children been empowered to even think of taking the government to court.

This country’s politicians may have been shrewd in lowering the voting age to 18, and parents may even have applauded from the sidelines because both sides know that nowhere in this country, not in school and certainly not at home, are young people aged 15 to 17 included in a democratic process that will tutor them to speak their mind, against authority if need be, in order to exercise their franchise critically. The way most adults want it, they bark, those younger are supposed to back off. 

As a retired teacher who was sacked from  two schools for gross impertinence, I can only repeat a demand I have long made. Right from the time a child is in school, teachers tick, evaluate, mark and grade the child, and as is the fashion nowadays, even write a half-page narrative outlining the child’s strengths and stressing areas that need additional work and rigour. They do this with great zeal — and fair enough, some may say — but then, how many schools do you know that allow if not encourage students to appraise and value their teachers? Suggest this in a classroom and students’ eyes light up; tell it to your colleagues in the staff room and they’ll draw the blinds around theirs. 

Why is this right only given to students at the IITs and posh management institutes? Is it because such institutions charge hefty fees, implying thereby that some students can buy the right to evaluate their teachers? 

Just five years back in Pune the joke was that the only exercise Classes IX and X students got was walking or cycling from one tuition class to the other. These days, they make this journey on scooters, while those in Classes VI, VII and VIII do the walking and cycling, as they, too, under parental pressure, gear up for the board finals a few years earlier — such is the pressure. Now you even get special tuition classes for young kids to prepare them for the KG entrance exam. 

Now you even get special tuition classes for young kids to prepare them for the KG entrance exam

It’s getting worse by the day for young people in this country lucky enough to get 15 years of schooling before they graduate with a degree or diploma. From the time they finish their primary education — mercifully, still less demeaning to a child — they are caught in a pincer grip between their parents on one side, themselves products of learning by rote, and admirably schooled in not rocking the boat, and their schools on the other, more than nine-tenths of them ensnared by the conveyor belt they have made of learning. The end result is a population of young people that may have been successfully neutralised if not just downright neutered. 

Nowhere is this more discernible than in the Classes XI and XII that our elected representatives have sought to protect. When those who thought through the change from 11 years of schooling and four years of undergraduate study to 10 years of school, two years of higher secondary and three years of college, they did so envisaging a bridge between school and college that would be dynamic enough to provide a holistic foundation for the specialised college courses to follow. 

In hoping thus, they bestowed a needed faith in this special category of students, who are at an age when their hormones have broken through the skin, when they are primed to take on authority for the sake of taking on authority and where it is expected, for the future health and well-being of society, teachers and curriculam will channelise this creatively — as one does with kindling to start off a fire. 

Instead, what they were given was a perverse state of limbo, made to regurgitate the syllabi of the last year of school over two years, with some additional feed, and then, as we all know only too well, three years of college where they get to chew some of the old cud, with some more feed that only brings them full circle to the uselessness of education in this country. What do I say about my old college that now offers a BA in mass communications, where students can elaborate an answer mentioning all the salient points to be borne in mind when writing a feature and then graduate with 90 per cent without ever having written a single feature? 

Confirmed cynic I may be, but I am also tarred with a stubborn streak of optimism: I continue to hope that some young persons blessed with outspoken teachers perhaps, aided by forthright lawyers who themselves had the nutty professors our system craves in order to renew itself, will heed Yashpal’s words and haul the government to court for a much-needed rap on its knuckles. 

Before that happens, every one of our elected representatives who thumped their chests to pass this retrogressive stricture, would do well to read the honourable PM Bakhshi’s compilation of The Constitution of India (Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, ninth edition, 2009) which costs a negligible Rs 170. Or, like me, they can steal it from a lawyer.

In no school or home in this country have children been empowered to even think of taking the government to court 

I draw their attention specifically to Article 51A: listing the fundamental duties of a citizen of India. Given the dubious roles some of them appear to have played in selling our forests and land to the highest bidder, they may not find it surprising that this section on fundamental duties has been most invoked in litigation concerning the environment (page 92), although I would prefer to point their consideration to the next page — headlined, in bold, “Striving towards excellence”. 

Reference is made to a case in which the Allahabad High Court (1988) quashed a notification issued under the land acquisition Act as mala fide. The high court discussed the significance of Article 51A (g) and pointed out that a new chapter had been inserted in the Constitution to regulate behaviour and to bring about excellence. 

“Article 51A is in a positive form with a view to striving towards excellence,” continues the noting. “People should not conduct themselves in a blameworthy manner. ‘Excellence’ means surpassing merit, virtue, honest performance. Constitutional lawgivers have provided that the citizens of this great nation shall perform their duties in an excellent way rather than perform them half-heartedly (emphasis mine); the performance of these duties falls within the constitution law.” 

If he were to read that, I suspect Dr BR Ambedkar would know exactly what I mean… and grin. 

Hartman de Souza is an eminent journalist, theatre activist and teacher based in Goa

Is our political and business elite only interested in the selective factory production of the typical ‘yes, sir-no, sir’ types in India’s schools?
Hartman de Souza Cavorem, Quepem (South Goa) 

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