Category Archives: Education

BHU protest

Why are Indian educational institutions such Concentration Camps?

The recent protests by girls in Benares Hindu University, and the police crackdown on them, speaks volumes of the horrific tradition that Indian universities follow – that of locking women up ‘for their own safety’.

I once dated a girl from BHU for a while, and the stories of restrictions she narrated were horrific. Girl students must report back to their hostels by 6.30, walking with a man is frowned upon, wardens have to be informed for something as frivolous as collecting a parcel – it’s fucking ridiculous.

And this is true of campuses across the country. The one unifying factor of Indian higher education is the blanket of regressive rules and laws imposed on girls on campuses. These rules are set under flimsy pretences such as ‘avoiding indecency’, providing a ‘conducive atmosphere for studying’, and ‘avoiding distractions’. But if you scratch a little deeper, you’ll find all these reasons are a bunch of bullshit.

The restrictions are manifold.

In some universities, there are rules about dressing. If there are no uniforms prescribed, there are unwritten rules about students wearing jeans. Most colleges have separate seating for girls and boys, some even have restrictions on hanging out in the canteen together. Benares Hindu University, one of the oldest universities in the country, frowns upon a boy and a girl even walking together. As does Aligarh Muslim University. IIT Madras has rules regarding male-female interaction after certain hours of the day. In the IIT-churning coaching institutes in Andhra Pradesh, if you are caught speaking to a girl, a call is made to your parents!

In every university I visited in Gujarat, girls are locked up inside their hostels (sometimes as early as 7 PM). Boys are given an extension up to 9.30, after which a security guard takes over. The security guard is often the least qualified, yet wields the most power in such campuses.

I myself studied in a Boys’ Boarding school where even the attendants and cooks were male.  Interaction with the other gender was considered a primal sin. It is only when I left the school did I realise how much of a misfit I was. I couldn’t speak to girls, developing cold feet, fumbling around for words, something that took me years to undo.

I have often wondered why we need such restrictions on our educational institutions. I have spoken to the wardens, guards, and students; and most of them have reconciled to the fact that this is how things should be. This is how things were 50 years ago, and there is no point changing such stuff.

It’s all deeply regressive.

Firstly, the most common excuse given is that such rules are enforced to avoid distractions for the students. Scratch a little deeper, and what they’re actually saying is that if they keep the two genders away from each other, they will probably concentrate on their studies better.

It’s sad that even after 70 years of independence, we still behave as if education happens only inside classes. But ask any great, any topper, and they’ll tell you that the real education that an institution offers, is what you gain from the atmosphere. From talking, interacting, discussing, and debating. But like most things in India, we have 60 year olds deciding what is right for 20 year olds, and then shoving their crap down their throats.

Also, look a little deeper, and you will find that interactions with the other gender are frowned upon because primarily, the Indian society sees two people of opposite genders capable of just one act – sex. I have seen guards on campuses walk up to couples and question them about their motive. For all you know, they might have been friends just talking about a movie. Or even youngsters who want to fuck each other – what is the big deal?

For all our evolved thinking and Vasudaiva Kutumbakam (Universe is One Family) logic, we haven’t evolved enough to assume that a boy and a girl could do anything else but fuck. That is how we think. And that is why we impose such rules.

Thirdly, segregation never works. It is a stupid, short-cut of an approach, enforced by idiots who have no clue how the real world in 21st century works. Look at the state of women in our country today. Strangely, as we continue to raise our voice against rapes and molestations, we refuse to look beyond the reason for such incidents.

It is not as if Indian men suddenly starting raping women on the streets. This is a culmination of decades of upbringing that told Indian men that women were different, were weaker.

*

Which is where education plays such a vital role. Education makes you look at the other person with respect. An education brings out qualities in people that go beyond their looks or gender. It brings in mutual respect, equality and trust. The more you segregate students on the basis of gender, you are simply enforcing existing ideas – that every guy is a threat, every girl is vulnerable.

It is sad that even after all these years, our elders haven’t woken up to the reality of the world. That their idea of education is still one dimensional – get a degree, get a job. Everything else is a distraction.

Even though we all know that it is regressive, nobody raises their voice. We go about our lives, hiding in dark places, scrambling for cover when the guard appears, a whistle in mouth, a stick in hand.

We continue to let ourselves be shepherded around. Like cattle that need to be driven to our homes. Ironically, we are a nation that celebrates Devi the goddess. We celebrate with friends and family, with relatives and children. And yet, in real life, we want our women to be locked up, protected, their wings clipped.

Even more ironically, the protests at BHU were against the molestations that took place on campus. In Modi’s constituency (Bhakts triggered! :D), students are lathi-charged when they protest sexual violence. It’s hilariously tragic. Dudes drive up to your campus and molest a few girls. The girls protest against this and get lathi-charged by the police in the night. Achhe din, achhe raat.

But don’t worry about that. We are getting Bullet trains, Demonetisation was a success, keep your women indoors, and link your Aadhar to PAN.

***

(Featured Image courtesy: NDTV)

“Aye, Shoo! Why are you talking?”

As a student in school, I was the Class Asshole.

The perennial backbencher, I would sleep, talk, or day dream. If it was Maths class, I was an ostrich, trying to bury my head between the others in class. If it was English, I was a meerkat, peering out of my hole, making some noise, grabbing attention. For the other subjects, I generally switched between ostrich, meerkat, and hippopotamus.

In our school, talking was a crime. I swear. Students would get report cards sent home with the remark – “He talks a lot” or “His marks will improve if he reduces his talking”. Once, my friend got a remark saying he was getting spoilt because he was talking to me.

The whole thing pissed me off. I mean, what is the big deal about talking?

But then, that was our school. Where talking was among many other grave crimes – entering another room, whistling, singing a film song, and reading a book.

Of all these, it was this big deal about talking that pissed me off the most. I mean, children are children. They will talk. And when the teachers would ask me ‘What do you have to talk so much about?’, I would feel like screaming, ‘I’m not a goddamn 40 year old, things still surprise me.’

There are a million things that a kid would want to talk about. How do you explain to him that Pythagoras’ 2500 year old theorem is more important than the hot girl in class? How are Harappan excavations ever going to be more important than his favourite cricketer – his personal hero?

So I kept on talking, and got thrashed like a carpet seller thrashes his carpets to clean them. I have had sticks broken on me, been pinched, slapped, boxed, and once, even been given a langdi by the hostel warden.

The sad part is, most people from my school still think greatly about the way we were brought up.

The sadder part is, I never really stopped talking.

The saddest part is, the teachers never got it, and went on thrashing.

**********************************

Now, life has this way of screwing you over in such a beautiful way that you can’t help smiling.

After all these years, after all these jobs, I teach school children in Kurnool. Classes 5 to 8.

And I have to deal with the exact, same issues that I faced when I was a student.

I never shout, or raise my hand. So I am the cool teacher.

I smile, I crack jokes, I encourage the silent students to speak, and spend half an hour before every class, thinking of the most interesting way to teach that particular concept. Through stories, quizzes, videos, or games. Also, every now and then, I give them two minutes to discuss, so that they can blurt out that thing that’s on top of their minds, and on the tips of their tongues.

And in spite of all this, I find that some of the kids aren’t interested. Some of them are talking to the person next to them, others are looking out of the window. Some are staring at me blankly, like the kid from Sixth Sense who sees dead people.

It drives me nuts. I am tempted to scream.

But it just needs a second to take me back to my own school days, and think about what I would have done. And I am calm as the Buddha all over again.

It has been five months now, and I can safely say that the students trust me a little now. They know I am never going to hit or shout at them, and this means they trust me a little bit. Over these months, there are two important things I have learnt.

1. Training and Sensitisation: In most schools, teachers are selected on the basis of their academic qualifications. But like Kapil Dev was miserable as the Indian coach, a great student is never going to guarantee a great teacher.

Even after securing the job, the teacher is never trained. Which means that in the first few years, there is some josh to be a good teacher. But without any sensitisation, after a point, the kids seem like ten year old tadpoles who can be made to toe the line by raising your voice. The ones that don’t, can be tamed by delivering a nice, tight slap. After a point, they stop seeming like children – with individual needs and concerns, and they seem more like a herd of sheep.

2. Assholes make better teachers: Most of the teachers in schools are the studious sort. The ones who never broke a rule, never spoke out of turn, and turned in shiny report cards at the end of every test.

How will these people ever know what it means to have something to say in class while the teacher is talking? How will they ever realise that for the kid, there are more things going on in the mind than angles and triangles? These teachers have lived such a life of discipline that they will never be able to empathise with the ones who are not reflections of their own ten year old selves. And that’s why, assholes make better teachers.

***********************************

So now, when a kid talks in class, I don’t say, “Aye, shoo! Why are you talking?”

I know why the kid is talking.

I try to beat the thought in his head, by putting in a more interesting one. And if I fail, it’s ok. I understand.

Because, as a student in school, I was the Class Asshole.

civics text book

HOW CIVICS BECAME HISTORY

Back in school, every subject would have its own set of ardent followers. Students who loved the subject, did the home work, and went about their roles as students dutifully.

Maths and Science was lapped up by the brilliant, the rankers – the ‘Ramu is a Good Boy’ prototypes who studied well and made parents proud and neighbours envious. The arty-farty group of the class would read English and languages. The geeks in class would love Computer Science.

Amidst all this, if there was one subject that no one truly gave a fuck about, it was Social Science.

If all the subjects were houses in Hogwarts, Social Sciences would be the Hufflepuff among them. There, but unnoticeable.

I think it also had a lot to do with the teachers who taught Social Studies. Maths teachers were strict, English teachers were sweet. Science teachers were Dr. Jekyll at times and Mr. Hyde at others. Social Studies teachers had nothing distinct about them. They would walk into class, do their work, and step out, all the while carrying an air of detached enlightenment.

And that’s really sad. Because Social Studies could easily be the most interesting subject taught at school. The sheer range that could be brought into it is vast, and could sensitise children to so many ideas at an early age.

But then, there is the NCERT. The National Council for Educational Research and Training, the body in charge of publishing stunningly boring books that reduce the most exciting years of a country’s history into dreary, brown pages of text, accompanied by a barely visible, grainy image.

It didn’t help, either, that the subject in itself was fragmented into three bits – each with their own set of weird teachers.

HISTORY:

If one were to make a history text book, there couldn’t be a better country than India to do it on. Home to the oldest inhabited city in the world, India has been the home to many civilisations, trades, wars, kings, queens, and their tombs.

There were gory wars, triumphant monuments, philosophical inscriptions, and so much more. The people friendly measures by Akbar, the brave wars by Shivaji, and the brutality of Alauddin Khilji could have been the stuff of exciting novels. Instead, they were reduced to mere pages of a book. Taught by a teacher who seemed to walking in her sleep and talking in her sleep.

In the later years, there were the World Wars, and India’s Nationalist movement. Again, apart from glorification of a few of our leaders, there wasn’t much context to put the facts into. No wonder then that these facts were merely reduced to something you mugged up for the exam.

GEOGRAPHY:

Now, with geography, we don’t have much choice. I mean, there is only one earth, and there are seven continents, and some 30 odd states in our country.

Working within these barriers, the NCERT came out with another outstandingly mind-numbing book. If we want to avoid alien invasion, all we need to do is release a Class 6 Geography Text Book into outer space. If an alien ship comes across the book, they’ll realise there is no point in attacking this planet.

Surprisingly, I remember only two words from all the Geography I learnt at school – Black Soil and Alluvial Soil. I can’t remember anything else that I learnt in Geography. Also, the fact that we had a teacher who would often mistake us for yaks and bring out his cane and whack the hell out of us, didn’t help my learning process.

CIVICS:

In my opinion the most important of all the three subjects, but it was given the least importance in our curriculum.

The amount of footage that Civics got was laughable. 10 marks out of 100, and 4 out of 25 in Unit Tests.

Seriously, who is going to study for a subject that counts for 10 marks at the end of the year?

Even if you skipped all the classes, did none of the assignments, didn’t attend any Unit Tests, and knew absolutely zilch about the subject, what do you lose? 10 marks. Big Fucking Deal.

I felt sorry for the Civics teachers sometimes. I always imagined that the Physics and Maths teachers must be sniggering at the Civics teachers behind their backs.

So, at the end of it, Social Studies became a subject to display your mugging skills. How much raw data you could swallow, and then how much of it you could spew on the paper. There was no analytical skills involved, no new skills taught, no real world connections to make. Nothing.

Zilch. Shunya. Nil.

Which is not to say that we fared badly at these subjects. Oh no, sir. We mugged up, stuffing ourselves with information of all sorts. And we puked it out magnificently, out surpassing each other, adding another 90 marks to our Final Percentage – that cruel determinant of everything our lives would be after that.

*******

Now, when I look at myself, and others from my generation, I realise how wrong it all was.

I don’t speak in Sankrit these days. I don’t count more than three digit numbers. I know nothing of the Periodic Table and show my little finger and leave the room when Science is being talked about. I do use English though, for my writing.

We have distorted notions of history, know practically nothing about other states and cultures, leave alone other countries and continents. We know very little about the electoral system, or what our roles as citizens are, and how we could make use of civic resources available to us.

If only Social Studies was taught better, it would have made my life so much richer.

Spare the rod, save a child

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?