ByÂ Deborah Dutta:
I straightened my eye-glasses, which were frequently slipping down my nose-ridge due to all the sweat trickling down my face, uncomfortably down my chest and back. But the guard wouldn’t budge. “Madam, jab tak woh hume nahi bolti, hum aapko andar nahi aane denge.” I was flabbergasted. This wasn’t an attempt to barge into the PM’s office; I was just trying to talk to a school-coordinator! The guard initially insisted that I explain to him the reason for wanting to meet the principal. I duly agreed and explained the purpose of visit which basically involved a short survey to be conducted in a classroom for academic purposes.
I don’t believe in brands, but seeing his expression turn from being disinterested to mildly suspicious, I flashed my ID card to indicate the ‘prestigious’ institution I belong to, but to no avail– the word “survey” had done all the damage possible. He coldly passed me the telecom to first talk to the Principal’s PA who initially slammed the phone while I was completing a sentence. Believing this to be an honest mistake I tried again only to be told that I should write an email to which they might respond. All this without me being able to enter the gates of what now seemed a fortress (and we talk about schools that should look inviting to children!).
Dejected, but not bitter enough, I tried a couple of other schools but the response was amazingly uniform. In the best scenario, I was escorted till the Vice Principal’s room, who then told me in person that they don’t allow “surveys” as if the word left a distinctly bad taste in her mouth. My attempts to prod for reasons were as futile as my attempts to conduct the survey itself. No amount of assurances or evidences about my credibility or the questionnaire worked. This was turning out to be an embarrassing exercise to say the least and I felt my sympathies for those wandering sales people increased manifold for I felt no better! Here I was, naively expecting schools to be open about gaining new insights about their students as surveys can potentially lead to, but quite on the contrary I was facing resistance as if unearthing some great conspiracy.
What is one to understand in the light of such matters? Are these sporadic incidences or do they reflect the general tendency people have towards filling questionnaires, the feeling growing exponentially with size of the institution? In any case, it is surely a sad affair if independent researchers get stuck at the initial level of data collection and seems to signify a need for practicing educators to understand and appreciate the relevance of data-collecting tools. I write this with hope that others don’t have to resort to going from door-to-door to get a few sheets filled up!