Back to school

How many of you were actually taught to communicate effectively? Did you ever have a class between kindergarten and high school that taught you how to work through conflict? Or be a good listener? Or how to express empathy? I’m sure you didn’t. Me neither.

After a long gap of 54 years I am back to school, neither as a student nor as a teacher but as part of the management. In this half century the concept, approach, and process of education has undergone a sea change. Gone are the days when students walked longways to schools through country roads and fields in small groups, getting caned by teachers for reaching late, and sending children for tuitions /coaching was never an idea to parents. Till upper primary I attended government schools near my house but high school education was at a boys’ school run by the Catholic Church, two to three kilometers away. We walked all the way and on return stopped by the play ground for a game of football barefooted after keeping our bundled books and the tiffin box tightly held together by a thick rubber band along with the chappals, near the goal post, reaching home late invariably. We could wear any clothes we wanted as there was no uniform, and our footwear was mostly the thin hawai slippers. There was hardly anyone who were dropped off in cars or even two wheelers – almost everyone walked to school and back. We never knew the religion or caste of our friends, never bothered about the colour of their skin – it was just the way we were, the sap of life slowly rising up in our slim bodies.

I was lucky to be taught by some very memorable teachers. K.V.Chacko, my class teacher in 8th(for us Fourth Form) at the beginning itself had declared a prize for the best performing student which will be announced after the annual examinations.  He kept his word by religiously keeping a full record of all our test scores of the year and on the first day of the reopening day itself declared the final rankings where I stood first and that was the first ever recognition I received in my academic life. There I learnt the first life lesson too – perseverance pays and there are teachers who are fair and square with no manipulation or favouritism.  School was all drab and dreary with some delightful intermissions of language classes that I enjoyed. All the teachers were middle aged males and those were days when school teaching as a professional role for men was highly regarded unlike today. There was hardly any training in public speaking, debating, communication skills or value education. Perhaps that was true of every run of the mill school those days. How many of you were actually taught to communicate effectively? Did you ever have a class between kindergarten and high school that taught you how to work through conflict? Or be a good listener? Or how to express empathy? I’m sure you didn’t. Me neither.

Though there were some scholarship examinations as you go along, SSLC (for me it was the 11th year of school, though for some with us, it was 10th)was the ultimate touchstone of brilliance. We (the 1964 SSLC batch) were guinea pigs for many academic experiments. Till then examinations were descriptive and with us the pattern changed to multiple options, one word answers and short questions.Two batches of students were clubbed together to introduce ten plus two pattern. One year course of Pre-University was abolished and in came the Pre-Degree where one had to choose his group of optionals – Physics/ Chemistry/Mathematics(1st Group), Biology/Physics/Chemistry (2nd Group), and the Humanities (3rd Group). I was a resolute and introverted lad(but for my football) at school and had taken SSLC as a challenge always in competition with James and Chandrasekharan my arch rivals in every examination.My SSLC book, especially the marks of General Science and Mathematics, made my parents think that I am born to be a doctor. Though I feebly argued for Humanities group for Pre-Degree, it was arbitrarily pushed aside citing my excellent marks in Science and Maths, though I told them that scoring marks has nothing to do with one’s ultimate interests. Should parents make their children‘s decisions?  May be it depends on what and when they should allow kids to make their own decisions? Child rights were unknown then.Now my nine year old grandson jokingly hints at the “irresponsibility” of his parents, silently eloquent about his right to leisure and recreation.

In Kerala SSLC and Pre-Degree slowly gave way to ICSE and CBSE. There are even schools right herewith international syllabi like International Baccalaureate,Edexcel or Cambridge International Examinations.  Private schools sprang up like mushrooms dotting the entire geography of Kerala. Properly(and improperly) dressed children in uniforms with necktie, shoes and expensive school bags are a common sight everywhere. How can we tell a good school from a bad one? This really starts at the human level, but that’s a broader issue. Some institutions have made their mark, where the pupils, the teaching staff, the cleaning staff and the local community keep the school in high regard. What are the USPs of these institutions? Could be the excellent infrastructure, the enlightened managements, the values they hold on to, the well-educated parents, the dedicated faculty, the bright students and above all the X factor. Unlike olden days now students are neatly attired, dropped off in posh cars or by the school bus, picked up by parents either from the school or from the bus points,well-stocked canteens to cater as per taste with excellent opportunities to develop curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular talents. 

Let us educate our children to become responsible citizens, respect their surroundings and to tread lightly on the Earth. And above all make them aware of their rights – right to good education, right to good parentage, right to good environment and righto express themselves…..something unheard of in our school days. And let us not forget parents are the best teachers

Author: Mathew George

Another slipshod writer under the Sun

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