A few five year olds are waiting for their class to begin. They are chanting the class prayer before the period starts, and the teacher is lighting an agarbathi for the alter. Suddenly, the teacher notices that one of the kids in the first row opens one eye to look around. Immediately, the agarbathi is poked into his cheek. The child is scarred for life and years later, no one tells believes him when he says that it is actually a small dimple!
Like most of my generation, getting punished was a part and parcel of education. More so in my case as I studied in a spiritual school. Very early in life, we were taught about good and bad. About rewards in heaven and punishments in hell.
So when there is a lot of debate on the recent suicide committed by a child at a school in Kolkata, I was talking about it with people around me. My sister used to go to a tuition master and he was popular among parents because he used to hit his students. He used to go to Puri once in a while so he could a special variety of thin canes that were very effective. The parents would ask the teacher to resort to force if the student was lagging.
It worked for us. We listened to what the teacher had to say, did our homework in time. We thought thrice before breaking a rule, and had immense respect (and fear) for our teachers.
Look at the other extreme of the spectrum – the system of education in other countries, like the US. There, the teacher cannot touch the students. The standard of education is much lower than the standard in India. The children are worse behaved, and there have been numerous instances when children carry guns to school and begin shooting people.
Are we better off? Is it because we were scared of our teachers and this fear helped us in not committing mistakes? Most of the elders I have spoken to feel that this is indeed the case. One teacher also said that it is easy for us to sit and discuss morality in our homes, but a teacher who has to control a set of 35 young imps running about here and there, cannot do it by cajoling and coaxing.
However, there is a thin line between what is acceptable and what is ethical. Just because it is common does not mean that it is right.
Twisting a child’s ears, or rapping him on the knuckle might seem alright once in a while. But for a child who is not good at studies, it happens everyday, in every period. Not only is his self-esteem at its lowest because of the incessant pressure put on him by his parents, teachers, and peers, the beating adds to his complex.
And we are talking about children who are about ten years old. An age where academic proficiency does not mean success in life, and failure does not mean a child is doomed. Most of the time, the children who are hit are weak in studies. They are the silent, introvert children who are also bullied in class. The stronger, more popular children think that since the teachers are hitting them, it must be alright for them to do so too. The child gets drawn into a shell, and before he has even matured, he has become a shy, reserved young man.
Also, we have grown up in cities and towns, where we had to go to school no matter how strict the teacher was. But in rural areas, if the teacher hits the students too much, the child drops out of school. Is it really the way this is to be done?
If we think about our school days, each of us will remember this one teacher who was the most loved among the students. She was kind (and mostly taught English), she never hit anyone, and yet everyone listened to her when she spoke. We had one teacher like that. Her name was Loka mam.
Loka mam was my first English teacher. She never shouted at anyone, leave alone hitting. She was kind, always smiling, and always spent more time with the weaker children, rather than boost the ego of the children good at studies. If a child wasnt great at studies, but had a good handwriting, she would point it out to the entire class. She had a large repertoire of stories, and in free classes, we would ask her to tell us those stories.
She taught me in class 1, and then again in class 5. By then, I had developed a reputation of being a pest. But I was good at English and was developing an interest in the subject. Loka mam did encourage me in class. She introduced me to crosswords, and suggested books I could read during holidays. But she never tolerated my indiscipline. I remember one incident when I was caught in a huge fiasco and her class was going on when I was called to the Principal’s room. After her class, she came to ask what had happened. When I told her, she just looked at me, and I could see her disappointment. Since then, it was the look on her face that made me feel guilty. I made it a point to behave in her class, and generally avoided getting into trouble when she was around.
I have seen many teachers since and none of them, no matter how strict they were, never seemed to have as much control over the class as her. I sometimes think what was it that made all of us listen to her. We were never scared of her, she seemed incapable of hitting anyone. Why then did we behave? Why was English our favourite subject?
It was because with her, we saw that she wanted to teach us. She loved talking to each and every student, she wanted each and every child to do well. Children can be called immature, but even the most heartless child would not want to trouble such a person.
So do we really need caning?