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Case Analysis: Where Is This Heading?
Mahi Iyer’s ruminations are in the space of ethics and humanness, a zone that the well adjusted hesitate to tread, writes G. Gautama
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The reminiscences in this case study could be a very current entry from the diary of a conscientious teacher who is not afraid of asking difficult questions.
Several aspects mentioned in this case study bear scrutiny. I will dwell on two: Success and failure are embedded in the matrix of schooling as we see it. Can a school and teachers, located in the position of social institutions, find another definition? One which answers the societal needs, without creating the opposites, success and failure? Form lays a dispassionate hand on the transactions in any institution. Once the form is set, the rest seems to be like the unfolding patterns of a kaleidoscope. Usually form changes slowly, imperceptibly, but rarely also dramatically, disruptively!
The form of education has undergone a change over the past 200 years. Looking back, this seems dramatic. Society has changed, the way things were done changed, agriculture changed, homes changed and artefacts that inhabit homes changed. Possibly when we read the phrase ‘schools as sellers of education’, we feel a discomfort. Has education become a commodity, to be bought, and sold? And as parent, teacher, head of school, Board member, we reflect, if this is what we are working for? And possibly, the niggling question, “I thought, I was working for an institution and I find myself suddenly working for a profit-making entity!
I thought, I was building character, but looked at another way, I am selling marks. I thought, I was preparing citizens with a conscience and ethical human beings. The educated, successful people seem to often abandon ethics and decent behaviour! How did I suddenly find myself in the middle of this bad dream?
As a parent, in the era of consumer protection, WTO, quality education is what I want for my child. But how do I recognise quality, except through marks, admission to college, and a ‘successful’ career? Is that the contract between school and parent — “School will deliver your child into the conveyor belt of ‘upward mobility’ through the predictable route of ‘good’ college and ‘good’ job?” And should that not happen, as per the promised script, there are the predictable lines from school. “Many have gone ahead, so something must be wrong with your child!” Or, statements like, “Of course, you probably could not get your child to study at home!”
The form plays itself out, and much like the product we purchase, a heartlessness creeps in. You and I may not cry over a pen that is lost or a mobile phone that breaks down. Both are sold items. But when a child steps out of the system, we are distressed. We are lost, do not fathom what went wrong, and why!
Society fails its children when it demands that they join the rat race. This is where dreams die! Words fail when the big message is fear of failure! Schools, parents and teachers fail the next generation every time they value what the student does, and not what the person is!
Unfortunately, children have bought into the metaphor of being ‘customers’. They are the consumers whom the market has created and developed. They become all too early the clones of adults — quickly growing into calculation, measurement, entitlement and impatient fault finding.
Through this metamorphosis of schools into shops that sell success and happiness, much has happened to the teacher, institutional space and the students. The institution has to take a position — should we make profit?
What else beyond survival are we concerned with? And what shall we do, in the face of the changes sweeping the globe?
Teachers must ruminate if they are merely daily wage earners, factory workers or aspiring managers? Or are they artisans, practising their art? Surely, they would have asked themselves in the middle of a class on Economics, Mathematics or English Grammar, “What am I doing? Have I become human resource for the institution, to receive stipulated wages and then to deliver the subject, extra curriculars, social occasions and, of course, examination results?” Is this my dream?
Once upon a time, buried in the sensibility of this land is the notion that knowledge is not to be sold, but given as one gives alms — vidya danam! The selling of knowledge, making it a commodity, makes the teacher and the educational institution enter a new space. As Mahi Iyer in this case study ruminates, “And how did it matter if Physics came in handy to break a lock and Chemistry to end a life cleverly? How did it matter if Math helped analyse how to hack accounts and plot a clever system?” And surely the inner corollary “Is this what I sold my services for?”
Mahi’s ruminations are in the space of ethics and humanness, a zone that the well adjusted hesitate to tread. Entering this zone, one meets questions whose answers are difficult to find. One finds questions and more questions, and sometimes a growing panic.
All one’s certainties seem shaky and the way ahead unclear. Is it true that, as Mahi says, “...we are all play acting. We pretend we have a great role to play in bringing up society?”
I have heard teachers voices asking — Is it possible to live with truth? If I do not celebrate the bright child am I letting him / her down? If I don’t celebrate the child who is not so bright academically, am I letting him / her down? I have seen worship of success in the eyes of teachers!
Nothing succeeds like success. It is a rare teacher who does not fall for the big salaried alumnus, and equally cherishes a student who may be pursuing an uncertain path!
If for an institution, the child / student does not matter, but only the money and the structure, should it be called one? If for parent, the child is a way to fulfil his / her dreams, and avoid anxieties, is that affection? If education is to be purchased, does it merit the name? Surely for a student, carefully taught to question and think for oneself, there must be space to explore, to find out and to discover one’s passion.
If society cannot provide this, it will be a poorer society. If the teacher can only work his / her craft, tethered to reward, punishment, under the industrial yoke in the marketplace, something precious is lost, for the teacher and for the young who are taught! And if the students are schooled from the cradle through media advertisements, the mouthpiece of the marketplace, with images, feelings and judgements into becoming good consumers, seeking entitled pleasure and satisfaction, a precious opportunity is lost.
It is interesting that Mahi also ruminates over choice of subjects and expresses a view of the CBSE exam format. I find the line “...and at the end of 12 years, these little kids will be extruded and ready for input into IIT, Medicine or IIM...” poignant, begging the question, “Is this the purpose education?”Parents do need to ask themselves what they will cherish their young for?
Recently a 12 year old told me, “I am happy this term.” When I asked further a fascinating story unfolded. This student had had a ‘thoughtful vacation’ reflecting on her problems with friends, anger, sadness, seeking approval in the eyes of peers, and the futility of asking people to answer her questions. “I do not want to ask anyone. If you ask a question regarding a problem to another, they will give you advice and suggestions and you will still be where you were.” She cried a lot, all alone, stayed with her feelings and thoughts, and then could say, “I had been so mean to my friends and they had been mean to me. I can now be part of any group and also be alone. I do not worry about what people will think of me. I do not spend much time in front of the mirror. I am able to pay attention to my studies.”
The girl can observe herself and others, understand life and its complexities, be completely truthful and has the courage to find out the truth for herself. Would a parent, teacher, head teacher, value this happiness? Could it be called success?
Also Read: Case Study | Analysis by Pranita Lele
The writer is the Director-Secretary of the Palar Centre for Learning (PCFL - KFI) comprising Pathashaala school, Outreach programmes and a Krishnamurti study centre. He was Principal of The School, KFI from 1991-2009