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Losing Patience: Why It”s High Time That Talent Took To Teaching

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By Rahul Panda:

A couple of months ago Madhu, one of my fifth grade students, complained: “Sir, he teases me all the time. You should do something about it.” I suggested that the best way Madhu could deal with the said tease was to ignore him. People say mean things to illicit such reactions, I told Madhu, in terms he could comprehend. “But, Sir. He does it all the time,” Madhu persisted. “Just keep ignoring him,” I said pseudo-sagely, “what do you have to lose?” Without a moment’s hesitation Madhu replied, “Sir, I am losing patience.”

For a while I thought this dialogue qualified as standard fodder for a humour column in Reader’s Digest. However, over a period of time, Madhu’s retort compelled me to contemplate something deeper: the ductility of Indian tolerance and patience. How far are we, as a people, willing to stretch ourselves to ignore or bear injustice before we snap?

If contemporary events are any indication, it can be safely assumed that people’s forbearance and fortitude has reached the yield-point. Be it the mass mobilisation against corruption, the Maoists-led tribal agitation, the assault on the Minister of Agriculture, or the numerous farmer suicides across the country — one gets the impression that something is snapping. The mood is also reflected globally. Take the Occupy Wall Street protests or the so-called Arab Spring for instance. What’s bothersome is this: we seem to have developed an immense capacity to look the other way when it comes to the issue of children’s education.

How has the free, compulsory and nearly meaningless (if not entirely useless) education provided in government schools failed to stir the collective conscience? Perhaps because the establishment has done just about enough to string people along. The midday meal scheme is, to put it mildly, a devious masterstroke. For (the government may argue) what use is teaching a kid who doesn’t even get two square meals a day? Fair point, I concede. But a counter to that would be: what use is feeding a kid once a day without teaching him anything and eventually leaving him to fend for himself with little education and no skills to find meaningful employment? A classic case of feed a fish or teach to fish. In the case of government schools however, even the quality of the fish is suspect.

The more germane question is: although freebies like midday meals, free uniforms and books may have increased the levels of enrollment and retention in schools to an extent, have they actually improved levels of academic achievement? The answer is, unfortunately, a resounding, reverberating no. How can children learn when no one’s really teaching?

Why does this no fail to incite the youth’s ire? It is because educational inequity has always been a subliminal issue. And that could be attributed to the fact that its effect cannot be readily quantified. We don’t know what loss the nation incurred when a primary school teacher in rural Bihar wrote “Mego”on the blackboard and then pronounced it as “Mango” for the class to repeat after her. With their low motivation levels, inadequate skills, methodologies borrowed from the Old Testament and one-tattered-size-fits-all approach teachers in schools -public and private alike- are failing our students, and miserably so.

The scale of the problem of educational inequity in the country is too immense to wrap one’s wits around. To say the least, and at the risk of sounding tedious, it’s a no brainer that it has now become imperative for the country’s top bananas (if I may be allowed that expression) to come forth to try and solve it. We need more people teaching in classrooms than the ill-informed yet enthusiastic crowd that spilled onto the streets during the anti-graft campaign. And even then we’d fall short by a huge margin.

Even as I write this I am conscious of the twin pitfalls: romanticism and idealism. One must have very little time for people who keep branding various movements the next “freedom struggle”. Also, let us not delude ourselves into believing that a small group of people-no matter how spirited and efficient- can solve this problem. It would not only require the participation of our best minds but also a consecrated effort on the part of the government. But to get the conversation started on a national scale we need to first build that critical mass of leaders who can help facilitate that dialogue. We need serious contributors to this growing force. On a micro scale, this is a war that can only be won by winning the everyday battles that play out in classrooms. Battles against vacant stares and absenteeism; against non-cooperative school managements; against parents who believe that teachers are akin to babysitters and schools facilities meant to lock their children up for a few hours every day.

Why then would anyone with a privileged education (read- in their right minds) disrupt the flow of their career – blooming or thriving -to get into something this demanding? For want of a better answer I can only quote the Finish saying: Because only dead fish swim with the flow. Have I been too strident or is it just my impatience asserting itself?

Rahul Panda is currently a Teach For India Fellow. Prior to joining the Fellowship program, he was working as a Business System Analyst in TCS.

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  1. praveen

    Its high time that the best involve in this transformation.Nicely written & captivating.
    Govt. is going to propose many Bills related to education – don’t know how would it affect the plight of education in India.For the passionate ones who want to see a change better keep a look on the policies.

  2. Atul Mishra

    Congratulations to Rahul Panda for the nicely worded article. Its not that the youth (or for that matter, the educated) is not aware of this problem, but we lack solutions. The youth of this country is unable to find a leader (like an Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev or Irom Sharmila) behind whom they can queue up with practically nothing to lose. As rightly pointed out, this situation demands a deep sense of responsibility towards the society we live in.

    I believe there are only two ways such a situation can be addressed:

    1. The qualified volunteer to render their services.
    2. Government shifts its focus from increasing literacy rate to providing quality education.

    It is unlikely that the number of people who shall volunteer shall be sufficient to make a marked difference. However, if there are incentives designed in public policies then the cause stands a chance.

    The popular media can lend its helping hand. Teach for India is doing a commendable job but the task is too monumental.

    The sooner we start the better.

  3. Divya Saxena

    I totally agree with you Rahul! Educational inequity has indeed been a “subliminal issue” and to some extent it is motivated by a conscious desire on the part of individuals and society alike. In a developing economy like ours where employment opportunities are so limited, these inequalities come as a welcome scenario to many. And the worst part is that we cannot blame people for having such debased views! Who wouldn’t like to enjoy ‘privileges’?
    I believe that as the employment and economic conditions turn favourable, institutions like education will gain ground and authority simultaneously. Already NGO’s like TFI are making a huge difference, hopefully this new year brings with itself reasons for celebrations rather than “impatience” and vexation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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