Sunday, July 31, 2016

How Teachers Violate Children Privacy in Schools

It's been five years that I am teaching in this school, located in rural Bengal.  Like my last post on The Question of Reservation in Schools, this time around I want to focus on something I feel deeply about: the issue of children privacy. In my years of experience if there is anything I have noted, it is how grossly teachers take on the mantle of invading their privacy and grossly abusing them to no end.

Let me put forth my case with a classic example of this privacy invasion. This is standard VIII, sometime after the lunch break. Students are already a little relaxed. For many, the school is as good as over because they are mainly here for some food on the plate in the afternoon. By the way, there are kids here and there who report to school even in high fever. The moment the lunch at the mid-day meal scheme is over, they want to go home because frankly they are too sick to continue. Teachers ask the same question to them on every occasion: why did you come to school if you are so sick? Well teacher, ask yourself if you have no other food than what you get in school.

Anyway, coming back to the example, eaten and relaxed, most students tend to drift away from lessons being taught. So this kid is doodling something on the back pages of the open copy in front. The teacher spots the inattentive student and hauls him up. It is not just about a rebuke to make the kid pay attention. It is more about, what are you writing at the back of the copy? Show me the copy.

The kid is aghast and penitent, mostly nervous. Any punishment is okay, but to reveal the contents of the back pages will burn him alive. The kid defends and begs with most sincerity. But the teacher has already scented blood and curiosity gets the better of her. With no mercy whatever, she gets other kids sitting around to forcibly yank the copy out of the offending kid's protection. The kid is no match for four of his friends acting on behalf of the teacher. The copy is duly yanked and handed over to the teacher.

The teacher gleefully, not visibly though, flips to the back and discovers the name of a girl doodled on the page. The teacher, of course, knew all along what she might find. She immediately reads out the name, shaming and scorching the kid. The girl's name doodled may well be in the same class. The teacher doesn't really care. In one stroke, she shames both and walks off with the copy to the staffroom.

In the staffroom, with a big smile on her face, she plonks the open back page right in the middle of the table. She declares in a booming voice: look what XYZ has written! Several cheerful teachers mill around, reading and guffawing. In ten minutes flat, almost every present teacher knows that XYZ has doodled the name of a crush and who that crush is. Mission accomplished, the teacher who has provided this fodder for gossip takes on the high moral position of self-righteousness to lecture on the sorry state of affairs among kids, even in standard VIII. Others dutifully nod their heads in vociferous agreement.

There are so many things wrong here, on so many levels. To begin with, adolescents have crushes, they doodle and they feel the world for the little flame burning in their heart. Is that so new for teachers to understand? Did not the teachers themselves doodle some name on the back pages at some time in their school or college? What if their teachers had heartlessly yanked off their copies and made them the butt of jokes for the entire school?

I strongly believe that children have equal rights to privacy as adults have. I wouldn't want anyone to browse through my phone. So what gives me the right to browse through the personal scribbles of a kid? True, as a teacher, I can rebuke a kid for not paying attention in class. I can make the kid give up the copy and then return it when the class is over. I cannot shuffle through personal scribbles to dig dirt and smear kids. This affects them irreversibly. It pains them like nothing else.

Unless it is done with the exact intent of hurting and paining the kid, the teacher had no other reason to make a public spectacle of personal space. When I shared this idea with some teachers, some agreed but most didn't! I was so surprised that teachers take the moral ground so easily, completely forgetting that this is not about YOU! It is about the kids and their welfare and their upbringing. Invading a child's privacy to bring out dirt may make you feel responsible and alert, but it is actually not that, is it? What you are doing is showing off how vigilant you are, kids be damned and privacy rights be damned.

I rest my case here. If you feel differently, do chime in and I will gladly discuss this with you.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Question of Reservation in School Classrooms

After years, my professional writing assignments are not so crammed anymore! It may be a blessing in disguise but this disguise rather not be too difficult to shake off. After all, these writings pay for my annual vacation. 

However, I call it a blessing primarily because I now have some time to write for myself. After brainstorming for a couple of days, I decided on this topic. This has been on my mind for some time now and the only constraint in penning it down was time. Anyway, introductions aside, here's cut to the chase.

Make no mistake thinking that the question of reservation, with all its connotations, rises up at the threshold of leaving school and entering the next phase of education. Or, later on during job interviews in the public sector. This is very much a question on the table, the proverbial elephant in the room, in school classrooms, right from the primary stage.

I have never studied in classrooms where caste or religious distinctions were made, save for the fact that Christian students headed for Catechism class, while we went to the Moral Science class and Christian students could live in the school hostel. This is where it ended. They, or anyone else, received no additional benefit, at least in full view of others in the classroom.

This sense of parity is totally disturbed in state-aided schools, as I discovered to my horror when I started teaching in one. Even children as young as Standard V know that there are some money grants exclusive to others while they are deprived. The uniforms of some boys after Standard VIII are paid for by the state while many others of their male friends have to make do with the old set or pester their parents for new ones. 

You cannot rationalize this at all, simply because you cannot approach this problem from the mindset of a teenagers years away from attaining intellectual or emotional maturity. There is only a binary thought: he gets it, I don't. The reason is clearly announced in open classroom by a teacher or an attendant: SC/ST students are made to stand up and be counted. Or, some announcements are addressed directly to them so that they may report to the offices of the school with the necessary documentation for some grant or the other.

What this discrimination does is manifold. For starters, students, each one of them, know those of their ilk and the 'other'. Those who get the benefits are not spared, either. They are often taunted for the extra privileges. While the 'get's eye the 'not-get's with jealousy and derision, the 'not-get's look on the 'get's with suspicion and fear. It is a strange dynamic equation that sets in, disturbing everything in its wake.

What's worse is that schools make no bones about keeping a lid on this discrimination. It happens out in the open, with no regard for children's feelings. All talk of child-centric education and what not drops out of the window the very instant this discrimination is made in handing out benefits. I don't want to get into the politics of whether some students, on the basis of caste or religion, should receive additional benefits. All I propose it that it happen in a guarded way, so that other children do not feel deprived. 

Children, instead of being sensitized about the question of reservation, are conditioned to use them as a tool, either to defend or to attack. No wonder they are so insecure about this question, no matter which side of the equation. Students who get the benefits already know they can look forward to it before they reach the stage of receiving reservations in higher education. Students who won't get them also know that their lot is deprived, often not making an effort to even take a shot at it.

In schools set in challenging socio-economic backgrounds, almost every student could do with a new set of uniforms or grants. It is rather cruel to differentiate between students when they are totally on the same page. How can you offer a plate of food to one hungry child while another starved child looks on?