Sunday, April 2, 2017

Five Reasons on Why I can Relate to 'He Just Sued the Education System'! 

Over the time, I have become a social media recluse for various reasons. Call it the perils of multiple-tasking or whatever, but most of the videos, links, photos and motivational messages sent  to me end up getting cleanly ignored. And that is why on one early morning, many days after a well-meaning friend had shared it with me, seeing the video He just sued the school system turned out to be a revelatory experience.

I could relate to the video at various levels, because personally, it is an affirmation of what I had been experiencing/believing in. The education system in our country is something like the theatre of the absurd. People who matter know what is wrong, but various factors inhibit them from confronting the realities. In other words, we know what the problem is, because refuse to acknowledge and do something about it. Such a 'policy paralysis' often leads to the 'my way is the highway' approach on  various critical aspects regarding educational policy.

For instance, schools do not always encourage inputs/feedback from the parents. In fact, any intervention is seen as being antithetical to the school's 'vision'. For reasons related to privacy, I would not want to dwell into details, but the fact remains that schools do not encourage conversations across the stakeholders regarding syllabi, methodology of teaching etc, and so on. Statements like 'our teachers are trained by international boards' or 'have attended workshops' are enough to bully the them into 'wilful submission'. There was this rather frustrating conversation I once had with a teacher who kept  insisting that a kindergarten child should know how to pronounce the word 'embarrass' and other such complicated words even without comprehending the contextual meaning. This was because the 'other children in the class' are apparently 'able to' and she also darkly hinted at the possibility that if a child is not able to pronounce such words, probably the mother is not taking enough interest in the child's education. The teacher in question had clearly not heard of the concept of 'learning indicators' at various levels and 'differential learning', or her institution was encouraging her to restrict it to the fancy settings of 'workshops' and 'conferences'.

There is one more instance where schools discourage conversations. Processes and procedures are often opaque; this becomes very significant especially when parents are being made to shell out higher amounts of money for accessories like textbooks. I remember an email conversation that I had with a policy maker who was firmly convinced that the expensive foreign publications that they had chosen for their students was the best possible choice given the current scenario. What struck me the most was that the conversation did not acknowledge that they might be willing to reconsider/reevaluate/review their choices based on their experiences. My maid, who is fighting an almost losing battle to educate her children, tells me of instances when she has been issued threats that her children will not be able to write their exams if the 'exam fees' are not paid. And such information is not provided at the beginning of the academic year.

Very often, the teacher is held responsible for the failure of the system. However, as the video points out, much like the children, the teacher is also a victim. In our country, 'teaching' is seen as a convenient vocation for anybody who is not otherwise professionally competent.This may come across as a sweeping generalisation, but most of us who have had experience with the so-called 'international' and 'elite' schools who promise 'child-centered' learning methodologies, and a ' differentiated curriculum' in line with 'global standards' do not have teachers with even basic qualifications in education. How would such teachers understand various aspects involved in 'assessments', 'evaluation' and more importantly 'child psychology'? And this explains their treatment of children. More often than not, the child is seen as a 'client' who needs to be kept happy (parents must also be kept happy), or a 'product' that needs to be churned out from a factory. ('Poultry farm' would have been a more apt metaphor, but I fear to run into areas where angels fear to tread'!) Once,  I was trying to 'crowdsource' the content for an issue-based essay on the validity of praising positive actions as a strategy for teaching. Very astutely, my students pointed out how a false sense of achievement can actually prove to be a impediment on their journey of learning. (Thank heavens that their sense of perceptive insights are still intact!). While catering to learners as 'clients', schools almost inevitably adopt a strategy wherein all the stakeholders are kept happy. Or, depending on the kind of their 'philosophy' or 'vision', they go to the other extreme of treating children like 'robots' who successfully internalise procedures related to processing different sets of instructions with limited scope for innovative or lateral thinking.

Therefore, due to this institutions failure, the teacher almost always becomes the victim. Technological companies hire people with the minimum level of expertise (depending on their requirements) and then train them, as necessary. However, the minimum qualification for the teacher, as it exists in reality, is the ability to communicate. At lower levels of learning, where critical learning skills have to be built and consolidated, specialised qualifications are not even considered. In our system, anyone with a basic degree qualification and the ability to speak good English (maybe, throw in one or two unrecognised and unvalidated training courses) are considered to be good enough to teach. Once they join, teachers find that there there are limited incentives to at least try and enhance their skill set. I was speaking to this former teacher of an elite school a few weeks ago. Based on her personal experience, she had a rather interesting take on the situation - she is earning more from tuitions (one hour in the evening everyday, and she teachers kindergarten learners) than the eight-hour-a-day job that she had been doing. When the pay is low, and the working conditions are close to 'pathetic', there is limited motivation to think and strategise learning sessions from a different, more wholistic and a more relevant perspective. This outlook percolates into everyday modalities like creating materials (worksheets ridden with errors), lack of communication with the stakeholders, the tendency to form quick judgements about learner performance and of course, the lack of motivation to consider each learner as a unique individual.

Further,  in their efforts to fulfil the tag of a 'progressive approach to education', most schools invest in technology related aids and 'smart' classrooms. However, as any experienced educator would point out, such contraptions become effective only if the teacher perceptively understands how to utilise them. Otherwise, they remain emblematic symbols of 'futuristic schools'. Only that schools would be willing to invest in training their teachers in more effective methods of teaching.

So, in my opinion, it is a sense of obduracy and the unwillingness to accept a different point of view which is making educational institutions adopt their 'own' and often 'regressive' strategies to justify their existence. And we, as stakeholders, seem to be content. How else do we explain the fact that we continue to pay ridiculously astronomical amounts for  school education, with minimal intervention by the governments or the policy makers? How else do we explain the fact that today, education is becoming a corporate business with the primary goal being that of achievement in terms of marks and percentages rather than actual practical skills related to the subject(s)? Of late, while returning from work, I see two billboards of a prominent school which shows two blurbs. One blurb has 'London School of Economics' and the other has 'Tata Institute of Social Sciences'. And the message says something to the effect of whether we would want our children to go to the former or the latter institution. Implicit in this question is a challenge thrown - a challenge of standards that nobody will check or verify. And we seem to be buying such a specious argument just because the school's hoarding declares so.

Having said this, have I become cynical about our school education system? Strictly speaking, no. We may not be living in an alternative universe where we can actually put 'school education', as a person, into the witness box. Nevertheless, all around me, I see small changes in the air - people giving up their jobs to pursue full-time degrees in education, volunteering for educational initiatives etc. The other day I was speaking to a parent who was totally invested in her child's education. She was firmly convinced that she needed to distinguish between different types of critical reading skills before she attempted to teach her child reading comprehension. Such instances may be small signs, but significant nevertheless. They keep assuring me that while there are larger battles to be fought in a larger court, indeed there are smaller ones that can be won!


aparajita bhattacharjee said...

Good one...many issues touched upon..

C Savitha said...

Thank you Aparajitha. :-)