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?    

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