India’s other education crisis: The English Teacher
When you hear “international school” you may imagine any number of a range of things – let me tell you right off, though, that we aren’t talking top range international school here. As far as school infrastructure goes, my former place of work is a damned sight better than any of the schools the 90% go to in our country, but as far as international schools go, mine lay in the majority of them that are just coming up in the country, especially in Mumbai. The sort that’s less than ten years old and an educational disaster zone of its own kind.
Naturally, since that is the aim of education, you assume two things happen in a school – international or not – at the end of the day:
(1) Teachers teach children how to read, write, and count, and try to help them become better people; and
(2) Children, well… read, write, count, and try to behave like reasonable human beings.
The reality is, however, that very little of any of this actually happens.
What does happen in an international school, though, is a very strange thing called event management.
The number of events that occur in a mid-range international school is phenomenal. Let’s take my former workplace, for instance. There are three units a year, roughly stretching over a period of three months, which works out to roughly 50 days excluding weekends and the average number of public holidays per month. In each unit you’ve got around 10 of these events that renders entire days non-instructional (days you can’t get any teaching done). Additionally, you’ve got about about 5 other events that pop up that neither you nor the children were previously informed about because Somebody Got An Idea About Something From Somewhere and Well. That’s 15 non-instructional days out of 50, which leaves you 35, essentially a month of teaching time in a three-month period.
But that’s not the end of it. You’ve got other things called megaevents, such as a school business festival, or a Model United Nations that mysteriously involves every student from Grade 6 to Grade 12, or a history exhibition extravaganza that teachers must eventmanage (or is it megaeventmanage?). That’s 15 days worth of instruction time you lose (and that’s if you’re exceptional at managing your time). You’re left with twenty days to teach a portion of syllabus meant for three months — and don’t take that estimate on the surface – a day is really an hour (surely you didn’t think you teach a class the whole day), and that’s 20 hours to teach a portion designed for 50. And if you fall ill – as surely you must? Maybe 15 hours to teach something designed for 50.
“Our students have fun as they learn”, cry most mid-range international schools. Lovely – but what are they learning exactly? Can they spell any better than they could? Can they do sums any better? Are they at the very least, better people?
Good God no. So desperately unused to being taught anything are children in these schools that the mere issue of homework causes revolt. So devoid of a sensible teacher-student dynamic are children that very little respect is paid to the overworked woman or man standing in front of them, willing them to read, write, speak better. As a teacher in one of these schools, you are no better than a clown: you are there to entertain. Often, students that began their requests to me with a “I want” faced a tart quip from me wishing to know whether I was their waiter. The reality is not far from that. My colleagues and I likened ourselves to servants — yet, worse off than servants: at least the bai can up and demand her wages and tell the malkin to sod off.
The parents don’t seem to care, but it doesn’t matter. To the management of the school – by law, officially required to be a not-for-profit Trust, but in reality, as corporate a machine as any old MNC – the Parent represents a couple of lakhs a year. The Parent is essentially the Customer, and the thing about the Customer you have to remember is… well, you know how it goes. So long as the kid comes home happy and unburdened with homework – the wallet stays open. So long as the kid is allowed to participate in everything (yes, even sports days entail every single student racing, with no concept of qualifying rounds or competition) and everybody gets a prize, the annual increase in fees is only superficially grumbled about.
Surely they fail in exams, you may say. They don’t. Grades can be inflated until they reach their board years — or there’s the old dumb-down-the-question-paper trick. What are coordinators for, but to tell you how to do it, anyway?
As for the boards, there are means and ways. It’s unsurprising that an examinations system that allows students to take board exams (a) in their own school and (b) without the supervision of officials from the qualification board is rife with anecdotes of malpractice and corruption – from the schools’ end, mind, not even the children. They’re almost too dim to copy without help. And what parent would object to a system where their children are guaranteed A* grades in the boards at no extra cost than the school fees? In fact, if you had a particularly business-oriented sort of mind, wouldn’t you expect that service if you were shelling out lakhs to a school of all the things?
This is the other education crisis in India. The crisis where a lot of children – privileged ones, fortunate ones, those among the 10% that have survived the other disaster – are growing up uneducated. The children in these schools can barely write, read, or speak English to acceptable standards. (And because you can’t really copy 450-word essays in an exam, unsurprisingly, this is where they fare the worst in their boards — every year school principals ring each other to cluck and fuss at English results.)
They can’t read, they can’t write, they can’t speak. Their maths skills are poor. Their behaviour is appalling — they are a generation of wilfully disobedient, self-centred, badly socialised children who are taught that cheating is perfectly normal, justifiable, even. These are the x-percent of the 10% who currently stand to inherit the country.
One can argue that these students may not represent the majority of those in private schools out there; one can also argue that this may be a crisis of only a small section of our society. But this is the section of our society that dominates all others; this is the ruling class. As a teacher, looking at the development of those at present most likely to rise to positions of power, I shudder to think of where we all are headed under them. God save us all.