India has always been a land known for its emphasis on learning & the ‘guru shishya parampara’ was one of the key pillars of the learning structure of yore. The word ‘guru’ itself means ‘remover of darkness/ignorance’. In the ‘guru shishya parampara’ students or disciples left their homes and went to live with the guru in an ashram or ‘gurukul’. In the gurukul, they were not made to ‘study’. Rather, the emphasis was on all round development and refinement of the innate potential of the disciple. There were classroom sessions that focused on literacy, mathematics and related subjects. There was practical experience to be gained through physical labor and working with hands. There was emphasis on sports, and of course, becoming skilled in the art of warfare. The guru was treated at par with God and his will was every student’s command.
Contrast that with the state of education or learning now. The media has been full of stories about students killing principles, abusing teachers and rebelling against authority. Many social commentators have debated this issue and the common analysis seems to indicate that it is the students who are at fault – unrestricted exposure to multiple screens, busy parents, need for instant gratification, unwillingness to work hard are the ones cited usually. In addition to the above headlines, there are also cases of kids committing suicides due to inability to cope up in school, fear of academic failure and fear of not fitting in. There are multiple cases where parents have had to resort to legal course to ensure that schools do not discriminate against their children.
If schools exist to educate children, and parents also want that their kids grow up well…then the schools and parents must be partners, who come together to help a child blossom. But often, the relationship between schools and parents becomes adversarial, with the kid being in the eye of the storm. What has led to this complete breakdown?
There are many layers to this discussion, but the most glaring one is the stark commercialization of education. We do not have ‘educators’ in our country now, we have ‘businesses’. Schools pride themselves and market themselves on the quality of infrastructure they have – the hardware. But often, there is no focus or discussion on the software- the teachers, the people who will be the interface between a cold entity called a school and hundreds of young, impressionable children. A degree possibly qualifies a person as knowledgeable in a certain subject, but it is in no means a guarantee that the teacher has the basic traits of empathy, patience and understanding while dealing with many children- each of whom would be unique in his/her own way.
A child-teacher relationship is an unequal one, with the teacher being the superior entity in all ways- physically, emotionally, mentally and in the power hierarchy. Every time a news article comes up of a kid rebelling (in whatever form) against a teacher, we all need to take a step back and reflect…. why has the kid behaved in this manner? No child wants to be a social outcast or be labelled a juvenile offender. But what drove a kid to such an extreme that he slapped or threatened the teacher? Do we have the patience to go back in time and see whether the kid was having some problems which the school ignored? Could the threat be the child’s ultimate way of self-preservation in the face of constant barbs and insults that the school and teachers may have thrust upon him? For every kid who has threatened a teacher and got labelled as a juvenile offender, there would be thousands of silent others who have been ill-treated (physically or emotionally or both) by teachers through their formative years and who have been scarred for life.
This is not to say that all teachers lack empathy and patience, in fact there are many un-named, unknown, un-sung teachers and academicians who have played a positive role in their ward’s lives. All great personalities would remember those special teachers who influenced them when they were at their most impressionable age. But with the commercialization of education, teaching is getting reduced to ‘just another job’ rather than a calling of the higher order where one gets to nurture and shape the next generation of the country.
This commercialization of education may still have been acceptable if the schools followed the basic tenets of an ethical business – deliver the promised product or service as per the terms agreed upon. Unfortunately, many of the schools fall short on the desired delivery especially in case of kids who do not meet their rather narrow and unidimensional range of ‘acceptable behavior’. Kids are kids and come in all colors of the rainbow and more. But schools want only kids who conform to what is acceptable as per them – a physically active child, a shy child, an outspoken child, an experiential learner, a meek child…. all would get labelled as ‘hyperactive’, ‘sullen’, ‘rude’ without even a thought spared on how this would affect the child. Most kids look up to their teachers who are their first heroes. Facing ridicule and abuse from their heroes can and is detrimental to the child.
So, the next time we read a news about a kid hitting out at the teacher…maybe it is time to ask ourselves…what kind of an education system have we developed? It is well known that the current education system was designed to train assembly line workers – who had to follow orders, do a rote job and not challenge the system. The current reality of the world outside is different and many of our schools haven’t really kept pace with this changing reality. The emphasis on rote learning, conforming to narrow norms continues and, in the process, the child and his/her uniqueness are slowly being strangled. Many kids die a silent death many times over during their school years. Unfortunately, these deaths of their uniqueness, their self-confidence, their creativity, never makes it to the news headlines.
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Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta, currently she works in the corporate sector. She comes from an army background.