Time to examine our schools

Yogesh Khosla
We are very careful and selective while buying tomatoes and bananas and don’t allow a single bad piece. Do we examine our children’s schools- where their life and career is being made, with equal diligence?

At a time when our children are preparing for examinations, let us subject our schools to a simple examination. Are our schools- Govt. or private, state board or CBSE, rural or urban, providing the quality education which is their mandate? Readers, as parents and grandparents, are the examiners in this small exercise and are invited to evaluate their children’ or grandchildren’ schools. Assessment is to be done by answering a large number of simple questions, on five parameters, which are contemporary and recommended by the experts. Please take feedback from your children and grandchildren to answer these questions.
Does your child enjoy going to school?
Children love to go to school if they are cared, loved and given attention to. Teaching and learning of subjects comes later after a strong loving bond, based on mutual trust and respect, has been formed between the teacher and the taught. Look at your child. Does your child look forward to school? Does she feel happy when a holiday is suddenly declared?  Has schooling made her dull and withdrawn and physically weak? Is school a burden on the child? Are you happy with the overall school environment and its ambience?  Are you satisfied with the attitude of the teachers? Is your child valued and respected by her teachers- whatever be her academic performance?
Is your child becoming intelligent?
Intelligence doesn’t mean high scores in the school/board exams. Intelligence means to acquire the ability to understand the world, to learn the skills to solve the problems of life and to become capable of earning a respectable living. Let’s start from pre primary level. Has your child’s kindergarten school started giving assignments requiring writing before the age of six? Do you know that starting of formal education at pre primary level, is extremely injurious to her mental and physical health? Is the school teaching mathematical tables and writing of complex Hindi words (with matras) before class II when they are not ready? In the higher classes, is the focus on understanding of basic concepts as is required or on rote learning? Does the school encourage critical thinking and questioning, which makes children really intelligent? Instead of helping children to construct knowledge, does the school force ready-to-eat, half digested material down their throats? Is the child able to do home work/ assignments happily on her own what an average child should be able to do? Do you send your children for private tuition and spend extra money to get what the school is supposed to provide? Is your child afraid of tests and examinations? Is this fear normal? Is your child developing phobia for interesting subjects like mathematics? Does fear and phobias help in the development of intelligence?
Does the school provide training in social and emotional learning?
Education, to be considered holistic and meaningful, needs to include two pillars (out of four recommended by the International Commission) namely “Learning to be” and “learning to Live together” as their goals. After all, what’s the meaning of life without good mental health which leads to peace, happiness and satisfying relationships. Schools have the responsibility of providing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Life Skills training. Ask yourself these questions. Is the school helping your child to learn how to control impulsive anger? Is the school helping your child to acquire high self esteem? Is she learning to be assertive and knows how to say NO? Does the school teach her skills to develop and maintain satisfying interpersonal relationships? Is your child learning the art and skill of coping with stress? Has the school appointed a trained psychological counselor to help children as recommended by the National Curriculum Framework-2005? Has the school made efforts to give exposure and elementary training to all teachers so that they can help in SEL?
Is Sports an important part of school curriculum?
Recent important proposal of Sachin Tendulkar to give all children the “Right to Play”, has gone unnoticed. Sachin’s proposal of making it obligatory on the society and the Govt. to provide facilities for outdoor play, especially team sports, has enormous educational value. Sports not only give physical exercise but teach our children important lessons in team work, discipline, healthy competition, coping up with failure et al. Numerous studies now show that sports have many other benefits like increasing self-esteem, improving attention, overcoming depression and even for the treatment of ADHD. A childhood without play is like trees in autumn and birds in a cage.
Does your child’s school provide grounds for football, hockey and cricket, tracks for races and courts for badminton, volleyball? If the school doesn’t have its own grounds, has it made alternative arrangements in the community? Does the school provide coaches and trainers for above sports? Is it OK to sacrifice our children’ “Rights To Play” because it is not protected under law?
Is your child’s school safe?
When we send our children to school and they board the school bus, their safety and security is the responsibility of the school. Here is a checklist to examine safety measures provided by your child’s school:
Does the school have CCTV cameras at important places?
Is the entry of strangers restricted in the school?
Do the school buses strictly follow Supreme Court guidelines?
Is the ban on corporal punishment strictly implemented?
What mechanism has the school developed for preventing and checking sexual harassment?
What is the anti bullying policy of the school? Bullying of children by physically stronger peers or by older students is common in all parts of the world. Confidence and self esteem of victims of bullying, is totally shattered. Good schools have zero tolerance for bullying.
Five parameters given above are not idealistic, but based on children’ real needs and rights. Questions we have posed here reflect the recommendations of various expert commissions and global goals. Let us also keep in mind that Right to Education (RTE) is a misnomer. On closer reading of the Act, we find that our children have actually been given the Right to Quality Education (RTQE) with no discrimination against children of weaker sections or disadvantaged groups. We all need to join hands to ensure that our children get their rights. Posterity will not forgive us if we are afraid of asking uncomfortable questions regarding the needs and rights of our children.
(The author is former Principal)