By Sheila Kumar
Highly intelligent. Quicksilver character. Maverick. Impassioned. Born educationist. All these words fit Devapriya Lahiri, former Headmaster of Lawrence School, Lovedale as well as Welhams Boys, Dehradun, to a T.
It has been an eventful, even chequered career for the educationist who has recently written his memoir, called "With A Little Help From My Friends". While the book makes for a very interesting and informative read, the real nuggets are the ideas Lahiri puts forth.
Need for reform. It is my considered belief that schools in India spend too much time looking at themselves. It`s all about better board exam results than the others, winning all the inter-school tournaments and other such accomplishments. While all these are certainly important, it is equally important, I feel, to teach children empathy, especially for those not as privileged as themselves. Schools must produce citizens who will not only have a burning desire to excel in whatever they do but also want to make a difference to the society around them.
To my mind, the most fundamental problem with our education system is the fact that we have completely lost sight of what schools are intended for. Today, schools are viewed as the primary feeder for a host of professional courses, mainly engineering, medicine, law and what-have-you. Whereas the original purpose of education was to open the mind and allow children to drink deeply at various fountains, what we have done today is to box them into compartments such as science, commerce, humanities, with absolutely no chance of any cross-pollination between them.
What this means is that children are being virtually asked to make career choices in Class 9! School education should really open up vistas and allow children to taste literature, math, science and poetry in equal proportion, and then arrive at a considered decision as to what they wish to pursue, they are forced to make choices with little or no knowledge of the delights that various disciplines offer. A school, to my mind, is not supposed to prepare a child for a specific career. A school is supposed to equip a child with the wherewithal to make the correct choice at the appropriate time. Sadly, schools today are not about education, they are about certification.
The public school system. Public schools, avers Lahiri, need to seriously reinvent themselves if they have to stay relevant. Public schools have the great advantage that they are ideally placed to break barriers and equip children with a variety of skills and opportunities which day schools are not in a position to offer. Also, in today’s world of increasing alienation, they are institutions that offer every child a level playing field where differences of class, caste, religion are of no consequence at all.
Unfortunately, these schools have not been able to seize upon this opportunity and provide the kind of leadership they should. Instead, they have been quite content to join the rat race. Ironically, even here they are left far behind. Starved of good faculty, cut off from the highly driven world of the tuition culture, they find themselves no match for their hard-nosed counterparts in the ruthless market place of education today. They are, as it were, caught between two worlds: their own tradition-bound one, which appears hopelessly anachronistic, and the supposedly brave new world.
Yet, given their resources and other strengths, they could easily be pioneering the changes that this country so badly needs. Their alumni, for instance, are almost all in positions of power and influence, and could easily be a great lobby for a revolution in education. Instead, their concerns seem to be for the most part, inward-looking and petty.
Parents. Parents don`t escape the harsh glare of the spotlight, either. ``One of the biggest impediments to the progress of our educational system is the lack of cooperation between parent and school. It is one of our biggest failures to not be able to evolve a culture of partnership between the two. In the old days, parents were quite content to literally hand over the child to the school, secure in the belief that the school would do its best with the child. This naivete had its own pitfalls.
Now the pendulum seems to have swung to the other extreme particularly with the media, ever anxious for a story, having jumped into the fray. TV channels are quick to pull the trigger and bring in panels of experts to pass judgment on what may have happened in a school, and the voices of the Principal or the teachers are completely lost in the din.
Too often, parents see their role vis- a- vis the school as one of `them` and `us.` … both parents and schools need to work very hard to build a partnership and eliminate the trust deficit if education is to be truly meaningful.
It is time that we, as a society, look carefully at the issue of what we expect school education to deliver. Do we want good citizens, rooted in solid values, with a worldview derived from a healthy exposure to a huge canvas of knowledge, or are we looking at a basic workforce, much as education did in the days of the Industrial Revolution?
With A Little Help From My Friends