Dev Lahiri’s book is a slim, easy read on the complex and multi-layered topic of school education in India. The author draws from his vast experience of over four decades as a teacher, principal and educator, both in India and abroad. The book is replete with real, and often funny anecdotes from his stint in various schools and his sense of humour and ‘joie de vivre’ come across in many parts of the book.
The author says that the purpose of schooling is varied––while some parents look at schooling as a status symbol and send their wards to the so called best schools, others want their children to follow in their footsteps and be like them. For the common man, sending his child to an English medium school is of utmost importance, irrespective of the quality, and the expectation is that this will automatically lead to a college degree and a secure job. In either scenario, rarely is the child’s interests or aptitude given much weightage.
The author is of the firm belief that one of the fundamental purposes of education should be to create good human beings who will make the world a better and happier place. In this connection, the onus of educating the heart and the soul, in addition to educating the mind, falls on the management and the teachers of the institution. Schools should ensure that students imbibe values such as kindness, sharing and caring, empathy and gender sensitivity, and this can happen only if the principal and the teachers are role models who ‘walk the talk’. Teachers must practice what they preach and lead by example––even if they positively impact the life of a single student, it is likely to have a multiplier effect. The author also talks about the leadership and management of schools and says that unless the principal shares the vision and the mission of the school management, and these are in sync with the expectations of parents, running the school could become an arduous task, since the day-to-day operations are mainly the responsibilities of the principal.
The book also touches upon topics like bullying and ragging, the advantages and drawbacks of day schools versus residential ones and the importance of sports and games as tools to teach life skills and a sense of bonding and camaraderie. The author puts across an interesting suggestion of having the school leaving exam after class XI and using class XII as a preparatory year for college. This year would be spent consolidating the basic understanding and interconnectedness of all subjects and honing the skills of students for self-study, critical thinking, problem solving and other essential skills.
In the chapter ‘Where Are We Heading?’ the author talks about the need for a lot of educational reform in our current system. He talks about teaching not being a first-choice profession for most, due to the low remuneration and suggests that there should be merit based service for teachers similar to the civil services. The attitude of our society towards the teaching profession needs to change and the remuneration should also increase significantly.
Briefly touching upon the Right to Education (RTE) Act, that says that 25% of students in a school must come from the poorer strata of society, Lahiri rightly says that though the government is supposed to pay the fees for these students, it is never the full amount as is paid by a regular student. This puts a monetary pressure on the schools that adhere to the RTE Act and cuts down on the budget for teachers salaries.
Quoting an article by Gurcharan Das, columnist and social commentator, the author suggests that it may be a good idea to open up schools to privatization and give them full freedom from affiliation to any Board as well as the freedom of deciding the fee structure, admission criteria and other details. All of this could be shared in a completely transparent manner so that parents would have all the information they need before they decide on a school for their child. This would lead to a healthy competition among all the private schools and may also result in affordable fees.
Since teachers are the bedrock of the entire education system they should have professional pride and foster creativity and open up opportunities for their students. Rote learning should be discouraged and parents should stop being obsessed with prestigious professional courses, and should instead get to know their child better to build a warm, trusting relationship.
As mentioned in the preface, the book does not claim to be a comprehensive study of the Indian education system. It does not cover the deeper implications and ramifications of the Right to Education (RTE) Act nor does it talk about the teaching-learning process in government schools.
Having been a teacher myself, I am in total agreement with the opinions expressed in the book and I am sure it will definitely strike a chord with educators and parents alike.
Asha Sharma lives in Bangalore and has been a school teacher for the past 13 years.