Three months into my new job as a trainer at a government school in New Delhi, and I am actually living the plight of government schools that I had only heard so much about. Certainly it is a government set-up and the work culture and attitude is very different from a corporate house or an NGO, but I am sorry to share some of the facts that make my head and heart ache- to see what a significant system such as basic education is doing to our present and future.
The new session has just started and that has given me a better chance to interact with the staff, principal(s) and the children. As one of the vocational subject trainers, I have been termed as ‘guest faculty’ at the school, and the treatment I receive is very far from what a ‘guest’ would usually be treated as. I ‘help’ in doing many menial jobs such as counting (read verifying) marks given by teachers to students, sitting with teachers to ‘help’ them tally marks, scoresheets, grades, etc., getting classrooms emptied, getting a teacher/student for the Principal, taking attendance for a class teacher who is absent. Out of all these, the one that is most common and that I dread is having to go to a class as a replacement for an absent teacher. This is called ‘absentee’ class.
I used to think that the news about absenteeism of teachers at government schools was exaggerated, but really, it is for real here. Every single day there are so many teachers who do not turn up for their classes, that either we go to (sometimes classes are combined because both class teachers are absent) or have nobody inside. Children obviously make noise and have a gala time in the absence of a figure in the class on those days. At times, I wonder what could be the reason/s they are not able to come to school so often.
On my first day, I was shocked to see the pitiful state the school was in. I don’t mean the building, in fact, the school building is rather big and spacious and has a decent school ground as well (this one being a model school). But there is a lack of classrooms nonetheless. Students are made to sit in the corridors, in the open, or even taken to the ground because there aren’t enough classrooms for classes to be taken in.
Recently, we’ve been declared a model school (meaning we have received funds to expand the school premises, include better facilities and training for improved learning; considered prestigious to be nominated as one) and so parts of the building are being run down and reconstructed to add more classrooms. I hear that the project was not completed last summer and is being done so now. Currently, the building is technically a construction site, a hazardous area with rooms covered in dust and leaking ceilings. Ceiling fans look clean and new, but many of them are out of order. Children complain how hot and difficult it gets to sit without fans. During winters, the challenge was that window panes and glasses were all broken (they still are), and as the chilly air would gush in, it was saddening to see little hands and legs shiver as they wrote.
And recently, what with the extreme heat and early rise in temperatures in Delhi, in one of my classes out in the corridor, a girl got heatstroke. As her classmates complained to me about the lack of a proper class or fans outside, all I could ask them to do was complain to their class teacher. The class teacher, equally helpless asked them to rearrange their desks further into the shade and sit. I dread being in the place of a class teacher and having to say that to little children. There are such cases throughout the day, where children get heatstroke and leave for home. Hence, I am not surprised when children do not turn up the next day for school.
As a child, I used to love Library periods because we were allowed to choose a book of our choice and take it home to read. Due to the lack of a computer set, the librarian is not able to feed the data in a system and thus unable to issue books to the children. At one such class, I witnessed how one book, chosen by the librarian was handed to the class, and they would come up and read one by one, paragraphs to the class. How boring! No wonder they sit and chat instead.
The building walls have pretty posters that talk about hygiene and water, but the school doesn’t even have a tap or source for drinking water! We carry our own from home, but once it is over, it becomes a problem. Some of my colleagues have started carrying two bottles to work. I wonder if the children are too, since the heat is only getting worse. A colleague said that the taps downstairs are only for washing hands, not drinkable.
Every year the newspapers record the number of death of girl students at government schools who kill themselves or fall sick because they are not able to relieve themselves when at school. Many schools do not even have toilets. I have not been inside the children’s toilets yet, but I wouldn’t imagine them to be better than the staff toilet. The staff toilet that I use is kept up by one lady cleaner who is always complaining about how much work she has to get done alone, for such little pay. Frankly speaking, it is not possible for one person to look at toilets, rooms, labs, stairs, etc. together daily and maintain hygiene. Why don’t they hire more staff?! The toilets get dirty and stinky during the day, and as a matter of fact, even staff hold on to their bladders for as long as they can because of this very small reason. Often, we run out of water as well.
To say the least, I neither have a B.Ed degree nor am I a PGT (Post Graduate Trainer) or TGT (Trained Graduate trainer). I have a post graduation degree and have some valuable years of industry experience in the area of my expertise. I felt underqualified the first week, amongst staff who had these teaching qualifications. Today however, I look at some of these teachers who are supposed to be experts in their areas of study, and at those who have undergone training to deal with young children, who have been made aware of the various innovative and interactive ways of teaching students, and feel extremely disappointed, because none of what they know is ever applied to their classes. Some even come ill-prepared for classes.
Teaching is, in fact, a life-long learning profession where the educators need to challenge themselves to learn more and push the students to remain up-to-date and abreast with knowledge too. It appears to me here though, that teachers stop at where they learned. Very few even use technology as a tool to support their imparting of knowledge. And at a time when technology is taking the world by storm, majority of the educators do not even know the basics such as MS Word, Excel, how to create a presentation slide, or how audio-visual works on a laptop, simply because they don’t want to un-learn and re-learn. Instead, they will look for the likes of myself (younger teachers/trainers) to do their work such as feeding in data on a spreadsheet or uploading marks and sending it to the Board.
Yoga and games periods should be looked forward to the most for that is all the students get in the name of an extra co-curricular activity, and especially at a time when we are focussing on ‘all work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy’ more than ever before. To my dismay, the day I went looking for these teachers (the yoga enthusiast in me was curious to see who they were), both teachers were taking their classes inside the classroom! When I asked them why they weren’t taken outside for activities, they simply said that they like to do it inside the classrooms instead of in the heat outside. To add to that, I’m sorry to say but, out of all the staff I have met, these two are the most unfit, who find difficulty even in climbing the stairs.
A few years ago, there was an alarming record of young students who committed suicide due to the failure to clear examinations. Since then, the then government started the non-detention policy which allows students to be promoted irrespective of their performance till the eight standard. As a result, students have stopped working hard, or even studying at all, for they know that eventually they will be promoted. Similarly, parents are happy enough to know that their child’s year is not wasted at least by getting promoted promptly. But what this also means is that, by the time the student comes to the ninth standard, there is a high chance the he/she knows nothing. Some don’t even know their ABCs! So, obviously when they reach the ninth standard, they suddenly face the pressure of difficult subjects and eventually fail. Since the non-detention policy is no longer applicable, they are allowed to try and pass twice, after which they are expelled. Many students actually wait for the day of their expulsion because they simply don’t want to continue studying.
With the new session, many teachers have been transferred, many ended their contracts. This has led to shortage of staff until the ”system’ figures out when to send new and more staff. This has also led us to teach subjects that we aren’t even qualified for. I have been asked to teach English to the newly admitted young sixth standard children for a few months until they get their teacher. Now just because I can read and write in English does not necessarily mean I can teach the subject. With much hesitance I went to tell the Principals that it was unfair on the children, and that they deserve someone more qualified in ‘the’ subject, someone with a B.Ed and PGT or TGT in English. As expected, I was instead asked to cooperate for a few months, and why would they listen to me alone, because the rest of the teachers were quietly accepting similar treatments. Similarly, there are teachers who have been given other subjects too; a Home Science qualified teacher is teaching Hindi, a Social Science teacher is teaching Science. They all said the same thing, ‘this is how it is here’, when I asked them why they would not say no?
When I discussed this with another fellow much elder staff member, she replied by just saying that we have sold off education and we simply have no respect left in what we do any more. She added, “how many people will you try to explain things to, and at what levels?” I can’t argue that.
We used to have Value Education as a subject in school, and I always wondered what was the point, for didn’t charity begin at home?
Spoilt by the system, students obviously also develop the wrong attitude towards education as a whole. They do not feel the need to be educated; for them it is just about passing the exams. Students expect to be passed effortlessly; they ask teachers to write answers for them instead, and teachers (on the advise of the principal) in fact does so, lest they fail again. They talk very rudely, have no discipline and even pass comments or abuse teachers secretly (I only pretend not to hear. It’s like getting bullied!). The way they talk and walk, is well, uncouth. Classes are always noisy as they shout and call at one another, yelling each others’ names.
There is an interesting trend that goes on in the school building- everyone walks in twos. I am always approached by two to go to the toilet, get chalk, go give books to a teacher, etc. I ask them how both need to go to the toilet at the same time, and all I get is a giggle. So I asked another colleague who tells me that once there was an incident wherein a child got locked inside, when on her own and couldn’t get out. Since then, students have been advised to go to the toilets in twos. Well, I don’t think that was the solution to the situation, but the way I look at it is that, instead of teaching children to walk head held high, independently, we’re asking them to always rely on a friend even to go to the toilet.
Then, I was appalled during the exam month as I saw how students cheat and copy from each other, simply to pass. It almost made me cry. My colleague said to me that marks mean nothing in life, so you should let them cheat and pass. I agree, marks may not mean much later in life, but what about values? Aren’t we encouraging them to grow up and cheat their families, friends, partners, colleagues and who knows even steal and rob?
Students who fail are asked to reappear for subject papers till they pass, and teachers need to continuously follow-up with them, and even call them from home to come and re-write the paper. It’s funny how the school goes to such extents to get uninterested students to pass. Truth be told, the government’s directions sets all on a spree, but I’m not sure if the direction is the ‘right’ way after all. But I get it. Principals don’t want students to fail because the process of sending failed students’ details and the documentation thereof is tedious; teachers don’t want them to fail because it is a pain to follow-up and call them, prepare question papers so many times; parents don’t want them to fail because what will happen to the little money they were getting in the name of free education; but does the student realise any of that? Nope, for everybody else’s worry is not for the student’s education, but towards fulfilling the system they have been asked to follow strictly.
And of course, the workplace here too has its shares of favouritism, beauracracy and corruption. There is subtle work politics and egoism here as well, which is inevitable in today’s time anywhere, which I am fine with as long as the show goes on. However, it annoys me to see why decisions are compromised in the name of ego and bias.
While regular teachers get paid on time with their perks, part-time, contract and guest teachers have not been getting paid on time despite protests. In fact, their examination to become a permanent regular teacher has not been conducted for quite a few years. It is as though the system is not willing to even give them a chance. These guest teachers are hoping that this year, when quite a few teachers will be retiring, vacancies will be created and finally their examination date to become permanent will be out.
As management, we need powerful people who can make good decisions and not just someone who can throw around his/her authority and power whichever way they want. We need good managers. Have you ever thought how different the education system would be if we had MBAs on the seats of the Principals? I think it could be slightly better.
Punctuality, promptness, respect and discipline cannot be forced, just as how we cannot force it on children. These will come when the staff themselves will also feel motivated in their jobs, instead of being micro-managed or treated as students themselves.
Once, my young colleague nudged me, trying to hint to me that the Principal is inside our staff room and I should stand. Not that she would have noticed me anyway, but even though my colleague finds that I may be asking for trouble, I find it unacceptable to simply stand for someone of an authoritative figure, who ‘demands’ respect than ‘earns’ it. And come on, we’re not her students! You may ridicule me for trying to get some corporate treatment in a government school (thanks to my varied experiences), but tell me, is it really too much to ask? Is it really more than the cost of the children’s lives we have in our hands, and their futures?
I’d only heard about the ‘chalta hai’ attitude of a government set-up before, but to be in it now is certainly a reaffirmation. The problem is that each party here, the management, educators and students all know that it is a government set-up where things are ‘supposed’ to be slack. Teachers aren’t serious about teaching, it’s supposed to be an easy job. I was once told about a teacher who went to teach Maths to a class just 15 days before the exams! For a subject as Maths that children deem as most difficult! Eventually, that term every one of them failed in the subject.
Students know why they are here; parents can’t afford a better education and they can’t expect anything to be any better. Once, a student told me, “This is how things are in a govt. school, ma’am. We’d fail if we don’t go for our extra tuitions.” My younger colleagues who are fresh graduates also in fact want to stick to the usual way of things and teaching; they in fact ask me to take things slow and rather focus on ‘building rapport’ with other staff and principal. Perhaps, what we really need is a better HRD system for the education sector, so that only those who are really interested in the profession of teaching, and who feel for children are hired, instead of those that are only looking for a substitute to earning money or an easy job. Not every youth of this ‘new generation’ has the same attitude in life, some still like the ‘chalta hai’ attitude.
I am not sure if it can be generalised, or only my school has these problems, but it is a sad state of affairs and a pity indeed. We are playing with little lives and their futures here. What I see from the new children who have been admitted this session is that, they have been sent to good public schools till the fifth standard, and do in fact have quite an impressive base in English. For reasons many, now that they have been sent here, to a nearby government school, they are actually in a worse place, for this is the state here.
Government school education was not always like this though, and perhaps this is why it’s distressful state means more to me today. We’ve had ministers and great officers that have made a mark in history, who were educated in government schools. Then why is it now, that instead of progressing ahead, that we are in a pathetic situation instead? Do we have just the politicians to blame?
I’m not aware of the system in other private/public schools, and you may criticise me about how long I would hang in here, and perhaps you’re right for even if I wanted to, for the exact reasons here, I wouldn’t be allowed or be able to continue. You may even say, it’s easy to just write, talk and state what goes on, and we’re all just talking anyway, what with all those schemes and missions the government throws at us every other day just to show that a lot is being done for education.
It all looks like a stage, right?… But I’m playing my part, are you?