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India’s other education crisis: The English Teacher

March 10, 2013
This is a guest post by ‘The English Teacher’
Here are some statistics detailing the current state of education in India. 4% of Indian children – eight million – never start school. 57%, 74 million, don’t complete primary school. 90% – 172 million children – don’t complete secondary school. To call the situation alarming is an understatement; we have in our country a full-blown disaster. 90% of our nation’s children are victims of this disaster, with barely 10% emerging as survivors. But how fortunate are the 10% really?I’ve been a teacher since 2010, a year after I graduated from university. I taught social studies for a while, pottered a bit in the areas of curriculum and school policy development for a while longer, and have, for the past two years, taught English to middle school students. If these terms – middle school, curriculum and school policy development seem a bit foreign to you, it’s because they are. I happen to work – or happened to, until very recently – in an international school.

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.

The overall aim of education has been time and again discussed by all sorts of lovely and interesting people, but I think nobody should have trouble with the very basic notion of the aim of education being the teaching of reading, writing, and mathematical skills, and the directing of children’s behaviour to socially acceptable standards. A lot of schools would change that last part and go with the value education shtick instead, but let’s not nitpick.

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.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2013 6:00 PM

    i agree with most of what the article says, but do not understand this, “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.” in the process of claiming rights and dignity of being a teacher, does the author indicate that being a servant is less important, less respectful and less dignified?

  2. March 10, 2013 6:05 PM

    Reblogged this on Title.

  3. March 10, 2013 6:12 PM

    Being a product of both Indian private school and international school, I can say that I’ve encountered all species of students and teachers. There is definite truth to the horrors mentioned in the article. But then again, the opposite is also true. The international curriculum is so far removed from the mugging and rutting routines of Indian private schools that it has to be commended. The way English is taught at the latter is equally lamentable. Reading is never encouraged, creativity and originality are firmly repressed and robotic sentimental bullshit is put on pedestals. The students of such a system are not beneficial of a good education either. They cannot speak English with any sort of fluency, their spellings are terrible and what’s worse is that a sizable chunk of this sample go on to study literature in Universities.

    My brother is appearing for his class 12 boards from a CBSE school and he tell me of this incident. While teaching a particular portion in class, the English teacher comes across the word “Intimidated”. No one in class knows what it means (granted this is a commerce class not humanities). The teacher opens her dictionary and reads out the meaning in a monotonic voice. Then she breaks up the pronunciation in three syllables and enunciates each part clearly. The students are asked to repeat this exercise three times till they get the hang of the word.

    In an Indian private school, we were learning Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant”. In the ninth grade when I switched to an international school I was still reading Wilde but this time it was “The Importance Of Being Earnest”.

    The attitude about education in this country is such that even the fateful 10% have it bad, on both sides of the track. But I also know of immensely ambitious pupils, whose potentials were fanned only because they were studying in an international curriculum. They have gone on to fantastic universities, written books before they were 25 and are very idealistic about the work they will do to better the country, especially the education system. Certain friends from my Indian school also have success stories that inspire me to up my game. The only thing common between these two breeds of people is that both adapted the education system to suit their needs rather than to become a simpering pawn in it. The day all students feel thus empowered will be a day when such scary statistics will not seem so scary anymore.

    • March 10, 2013 8:20 PM

      Well said. I like this train of thought.

    • Jyoti permalink
      March 11, 2013 10:29 AM

      I particularly liked the following in your reply:

      “The only thing common between these two breeds of people is that both adapted the education system to suit their needs rather than to become a simpering pawn in it. The day all students feel thus empowered will be a day when such scary statistics will not seem so scary anymore.”

      What you have said is absolutely right. Nothing yes nothing in this world can be completely and wholesomely as good as we would all want it to be. So the best way is to work out our own solutions of adapting to any system that is far from perfect. Unfortunately we go through our entire lives trying to find and balance what within the given framework of a system in every aspect of our lives, be it education, dealing with governmental organizations, or even our social lives for that matter!! Cribbing and carping does little and voices are never heard unless they are collective and can make a big noise!!

    • Jyoti permalink
      March 11, 2013 10:42 AM

      Well-expressed! However some suggestions to parents on how to deal with all this would have been very welcome. We all exist in a system that is far from ideal and the only way out is to find our own solutions to help us and our children, since we can do precious little to change it.

  4. Nisha Biswas permalink
    March 10, 2013 6:17 PM

    I am happy that Sunalini has brought this topic. In the present time, education is not learning, leaving aside application, but is fun. The more ‘masti’ one has, the better is the institution. Children are supposed to study least, have lot of ‘gr8 time’ and are required to learn the tricks of securing marks. Teachers are bonded labours, managing events day in and day out, teaching is the last thing that is expected. Therefore, whenever these event managers get time they do manage the course and see that the pupils secure gr8 marks.

    • Sunalini permalink*
      March 11, 2013 9:07 AM

      Nisha, thanks for your comment. A clarification – the post was not written by me, but by “The English Teacher”.

  5. NVS permalink
    March 10, 2013 6:28 PM

    Where have you got these stats from?

  6. Shuklaji permalink
    March 10, 2013 7:06 PM

    Thank you for an excellent commentary. I agree and I also see a similar trend in the numerous business schools across this country. What seems to have happened is that commercial interests have taken over education and so for the operators, its all about keeping the customers happy (and making a tidy profit, to boot). There are quite a few instances of corporations grumbling about the lack of skilled workers they can hire from in India and my own personal interaction with many of these so called MBAs and the sort also leads me to conclude that all is not well in this country.

  7. The English Teacher permalink
    March 10, 2013 8:02 PM

    The author of the piece here —

    Nadini: Of course not; I’ve always personally believed the help are as deserving of importance, dignity, and appreciation as anyone else who works hard to earn a living. In saying that we felt no better than servants, I meant to say we felt precisely the sort of *lack of* importance and dignity that is often afforded to the help by society.

    Rakhi: Me teaching, and my students learning English in the CIE framework was unadulterated brilliance, surpassing any of our Indian qualification boards by miles. The problem, and this is what my piece basically says, is that we never got to do much of it, really.

    NVS – the stats are from the Teach for India website.

  8. Uttara permalink
    March 10, 2013 8:06 PM

    This is a very interesting (and depressing) article. Thanks for posting it. I don’t know if it was written and posted in a hurry, but it would read better if the grammatical errors in it were corrected.

    • Sunalini Kumar permalink*
      March 11, 2013 9:15 AM

      Thanks Uttara. I have proofread again. Please point out any specific errors if you still notice them.

  9. Rajab permalink
    March 10, 2013 8:38 PM

    Well there is little that can be done even if you happen to be a university teacher.
    Well there is hiking up of marks becasue if you don;t the students will suffer as other universities hike the marks up and good universities keep to the standard and their students sometimes can not even apply for a job because they do not get 60%. I was surprised when two of my engineer colleagues one from Raipur in MP and the Other from Pune University had marks that were inversely proportional to their knowledge, skill and aptitude. The Pune university person could not apply to Wipro the Raipur person had more then 80% and was quite bad but she got into Wipro.
    Well the companies and the coporates do not want bright and intelligent people but the average and less than average. The same is true with colleges and Universities. I was also on a board to appoint English Teachers for a private institute. The best that i selected was not called for the job because they perceived her to be too good and hence felt would either leave or be very aggressive.

    • The English Teacher permalink
      March 12, 2013 6:23 PM

      Rajab, that’s pretty sad. I had a colleague who taught at a college for year in Mumbai and I was always given to understand from his experience that the situation you describe in your comment didn’t occur. Still, as far as I understand, given how college professors are salaried by the UGC and so on and so forth, you aren’t really under an obligation to inflate grades as you would, say, if you were a teacher at a school as I was?

  10. Anton Maus permalink
    March 11, 2013 1:02 AM

    It’s disappointing when an article starts with bad arithmetic. If 4% of children is 8 million, 57% must be 114m, not 74m, etc.

    • The English Teacher permalink
      March 11, 2013 10:26 AM

      Perhaps that’s why I never became a maths or stats teacher :) The stats were taken from the Teach for India website, under their section called “India’s Education Crisis.”

  11. March 11, 2013 7:55 AM

    you sound like a old school pessimist. you need to open your mind, must watch for you – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

    • The English Teacher permalink
      March 11, 2013 11:02 AM

      I respectfully disagree. If anything, my students would tell you that my class was about the only one in which their creativity was actively encouraged and fostered, unless you count hours wasted on insipid drawing and redrawing vases in Art and the insipid chanting of shlokas in Music as particularly effective at encouraging kids to *create*. The very nature of my subject forces pupils to go beyond what they see on television and in movies and begin using their imaginations instead – to imply I encourage the killing of creativity through the abolition of strategies such as application-/activity-based learning is both unfair and uninformed.

      In the video link you posted, at around 3 minutes and 15 seconds, Sir Ken says, “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy – and we should treat it with the same status.” Well, there you go: if my piece sounds pessimistic, then it is pessimistic about the fact that *neither* literacy nor creativity is fostered in such environments — environments driven by management teams focused far more on earning profits than helping develop the potential (creative or literate) of pupils.

  12. zenedine permalink
    March 11, 2013 10:51 AM

    Obviously as anyone willing to see is aware there is a variety of educational institutions. Some are expected to reproduce the ruling classes, others the technically proficient but morally deficient middle classes and still others are geared towards producing obedient, mindless slaves for the machine. For instance, I went to a school where they taught us the joys of worshipping that foul banshee – the bharat mata. The point is not that the educational system in our country or any other doesn’t work – it works just fine, only it is anti-human and biocidal.

    • The English Teacher permalink
      March 12, 2013 6:26 PM

      Oorgh, the bharat mata propaganda. I sympathise with you there. I never quite bought it as a kid myself, and I’m afraid I couldn’t bring myself to indoctrinate my own students in it at the school I taught at. I’m not sure I’d call the education system of our country as anti-human – just very, very, very, warped.

  13. malasree basu permalink
    March 12, 2013 10:06 AM

    Sunalini,enjoyed reading your article,specially your comments about the paucity of time to do what one is eager to do and is [presumably]being paid for.However,would like to corroborate Rakhi’s comment .about ‘immensely ambitious pupils, whose potentials were fanned only because they were studying in an international curriculum.’I think the scope of IGCSE/IBDP is enormous;my only regret is that the ‘internationalism’ puts them beyond the reach of anyone not supremely wealthy/supremely brilliant.

  14. Sunalini permalink*
    March 12, 2013 10:21 AM

    Malashree, thanks for your comment. Again, to clarify, the post was not by me but by “The English Teacher”.

  15. March 12, 2013 10:26 AM

    I enjoyed reading your article. However I was wondering if there is any academic value in the ‘events’ and ‘megaevents’ that happen in schools. Not everything is learnt through the syllabus and in the classroom. Events are a space where necessary skills such as presentation, team work, creative thinking etc. are fostered. It is important for a child to learn maths and english but is there any way of integrating the ‘event’ and the ‘classroom’?

    • The English Teacher permalink
      March 12, 2013 6:34 PM

      There is. I should in fact say there *are*; there are several ways to teach students literate, creative, and life skills outside the classroom, and “events” are a great means to do so — provided they’re done in a manner that is meaningful and (dare I say) organised. An event that is analysed beforehand as to exactly *what* skills are meant to be developed through its execution is an event that will be exactly such a space as you described. Sadly, that is not how it actually happens – note the phenomenon of Somebody [higher up] Got an Idea About Something and Well [you've got to just do it.]

  16. Chris permalink
    March 12, 2013 12:10 PM

    As a former English teacher myself, I can attest to the progressive degradation of school education that this post talks about. Leaving a coporate job, i joined a residential school in a hill station, hoping for the idyllic life of simple living, high thinking and time spent with children. Initially, i had four classes a day and ample time to think of, and prepare, some unconventional, collaborative ways of learning in and outside the classroom — activities aimed at getting them to read more, write more, and shake up their lazy ways of looking at the world and themselves.

    Within a month or so, i began to find my classes turn half-empty because students had to go prepare for some event or the other, and my classes were in demand (they wanted me to ‘donate’ my classes to them since English was an ‘easy’ subject from the exam point of view) from the ‘more important’ subject-teachers such as Physics and Maths teachers, who were also struggling to ‘complete the syllabus’ within the ever-shrinking hours of allotted teaching time. And my own responsibilities as a staffer began to expand beyond just teaching — to include other event-related responsibilities. Every minute of a student’s time was planned for — and their days were so structured that they hardly got any free time to do stuff on their own.

    And this was one of the more progressive schools in terms of flexibility — where teachers were treated relatively well, the students respected competent teachers, and you had the autonomy to try out different things. But the reality of being a school teacher was so different from what I had imagined (less work, less stress, more leisure, etc compared to the corporate life) that i eventually went back to corporate life. And I am saying this after having worked in what many consider to be almost a model school, where the students are largely well behaved and not the aggressively cocky, treat-teacher-like-waiter types that this post talks about (and which is a reality in many international schools).

    It is difficult not to be pessimistic about the future of education in this country, and the country itself, given that the elite 10% — the ones who can access the ‘best education’ that money can buy — are being ‘processed’ in these profit-obsessed quasi-corporate institutions. The only objective of schooling in this scenario is to give the kids of well heeled a passport to the elite colleges and universities, where too (like with the IIT and IIM-model), if you can pay, you will get the ‘accreditation’ that will qualify you for the best paying jobs in the world. And once you have basically bought your way through the ‘education system’, you can start crowing about ‘merit’ and a ‘meritocracy’ and how reservations are so unfair.

    Today, our education system seems to have abandoned all distinction between teaching and training, between teachers and tutors. What kind of an educational institution speaks of ‘deliverables’ for teachers? We all know where the term ‘deliverable’ (a contender, according to me, for the award of the ugliest word in the English language) comes from, don’t we?

    What we are witnessing today is the ‘management schoolization’ of all schools — from primary school onward. Pedagogy is out. What is in, is the optimal utilisation of available resources for efficient delivery of learning services geared towards maximisation of customer delight in order to boost profitability and growth.

    • The English Teacher permalink
      March 12, 2013 6:40 PM

      Chris, so glad to see there are other people out there who’ve experienced the same! I agree completely with what you’ve written (although essentially, you’ve agreed with whatever I’ve written first, haha), save for the bit about the reality of school teaching. Teaching is a terribly stressful job often filled with repetitive, largely boring tasks in the best of scenarios. The ideal situation is when in an ideal school with ideal managements, you mould your students to their ideal “best” and thus gain a sense of achievement and satisfaction that overrides the tedium of, say, notebook corrections and the high-strung hormonal misbehaviour of teenagers. Teaching is hard enough as it is *without* having to deal with the (now) added reality of organising and facilitating “masti time 24×7″ without any learning actually getting done.

  17. samatha permalink
    March 12, 2013 1:15 PM

    I do agree with few of the points mentioned by Sunalini, In India we need major reforms in education sector. A system has to be established so that there are checks and balances in our schools. we cannot have classrooms where no learning is happening. As i also work in school and read a lot of school diaries they look like event calenders. Children require sports day , science fairs , annual days etc but do we need convocations for Sr.kg ?? i don’t think so.

    Some schools to get admissions etc do a lot of events and activities to showcase to parents.But every day i interact with parents they inform me how other schools are doing events and activities where parents can see their children perform and their photographs and videos are posted on Facebook. Also how it improves the confidence of children and stage performance skills.

    Only schools which are dedicated to learning and overall development of children can create and work with a plan which balances learning and extra curricular activities. Also i wish more and more parents ask for curriculum expectations for the academic year and evaluate children’s learning along with the concerned teachers.

    This will empower parents to ask for relevant education for their children. The day parents ask for proper learning, schools will have to deliver the learning. As long as events are the only means of evaluating schools nothing much can be achieved.

    This will help the schools as well as parents to understand that school is not just about fun but learning which is achieved by a lot of hard work from school management, teachers, parents and children.

    As a person in education sector for last 5 years met some really wonderful teachers and management who give learning a lot of importance and work really hard to make sure that children in the school are progressing in their learning year on year. Its a small percentage but i think it would be possible for individuals who have awareness , passion and intelligence to bring about this change. I am seeing it done in a few schools on a daily basis . so the battle is not lost yet .

    • The English Teacher permalink
      March 12, 2013 6:43 PM

      Thank you for your comment! As Sunalini’s pointed out a few times before here in the comments, the article was written by me, a twentysomething semi-former-English teacher in Mumbai. :) I get what you’re saying, but as I read your comment and find myself wishing the “small percentage” that you talk about can make a bigger impact, I know that managements (how I hate that word) know the money lies in putting on a show (or twenty), and educators such as my own mentor, a very senior school principal, are simply not listened to.

  18. March 12, 2013 2:54 PM

    “As someone who has come fresh out of this system of education, let me attempt to provide some perspective from the other side of the fence.
    What does happen in an international school, though, is a very strange thing called event management.”

    You call it event management. I call it learning outside the classroom. Sure, I remember various events taking up more than their fair share of time, and causing a lot of cancelled classes and organized disarray. But what I also vividly remember is the sheer joy of being able to take charge and lead activities — the freedom to implement so many ideas that swam in our otherwise fettered heads. Admittedly, this enthusiasm harangued our poor teachers, forcing them to conduct extra classes after school or on weekends to complete the syllabus, but our teachers were good sports. They understood how much it meant to us, and they were more than happy to take one for the team, as were we.

    “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?).”

    Honestly, I was never really a dedicated MUNer as I had a vast plethora of other interests. But from whatever experience I do have with MUNs, I must raise my voice in shrill protest. Social Studies in the classroom mainly involved borrowing notes from the class nerd the day before the test and committing to memory the important facts, vomiting them out the next day, rinse and then repeat. MUNs made us want to learn. Oh the horror if someone asked me about my country’s GDP or nuclear policy and I was ignorant. Debating and public speaking became second nature to me after attending a few MUNs.

    “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?”

    Yes, we could spell better and speak better! All the business events taught us how to make a business plan, how to account for production and manufacturing costs, how to calculate our profit margins. Yes they taught us to do sums better than word problems ever could. These are just two small examples of activities we were involved in. School concerts, plays, fundraising activities — they formed a significant part of my schooling.

    “So long as the kid comes home happy and unburdened with homework – the wallet stays open.”

    I’m not sure if this is universal, so I can only speak for myself. My parents wanted me to come back with homework, lest I spent hours in front of the idiot box or the computer. I also believe that parents are the staunchest supporters of their children’s education. If I was really being babied at school, my parents would step up and speak to the administrators. Making my life easier at school would not change how life is in the world, and I’d like to think this is a point most parents would want to drive home.

    “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.”

    This amount of cynicism really scares me. Perhaps you are justified based on your own experiences. But I know that my own teachers and most of my friends’ teachers believed in us. They knew we were smart kids with the potential to do anything we set our minds to. We got the best of both worlds—learning from dedicated teachers who did more than just tolerate us, and the opportunity to participate in a whole bunch of fun ‘megaevents’.

    • The English Teacher permalink
      March 12, 2013 7:21 PM

      Nikhita, thank you for your comment – varying perspectives is what makes life, commentary, and debate enjoyable, and I appreciate you taking the time to write in as detailed a manner as you have. However, I am very tempted to believe that your case is quite possibly the exception, rather than the rule.

      As a teacher, teaching outside the classroom differs from “event management” in several different ways. If I had to create an activity to teach outside the classroom (and I have, every second week of term during the past two years), I would need to decide in advance: first, what skills I intend to teach, second, how best to teach these skills across a wide range of learning abilities, and third, how exactly I can assess whether (and/or to what extent) these skills have been learnt after the activity has ended. As a coordinator, I would do pretty much the same if I had to organise an activity for larger grade groups.

      What I would decidedly *not* do is, upon hearing a rival school is organising an event, impose half-baked, badly-researched, illogical and warped versions of such an event that I am aware my students (already heavily behind on their literacy skills) are simply not ready to take on. More so when my decision to impose such an event nobody is prepared for or can safely accommodate in teaching/learning schedules (including all the possible weekends in the year) is driven by my knowledge that management would reap actual material profit in the bigger picture.

      MUNs and business events can be great places to build all the skills you described, I agree. That you were able to reap benefits from yours – kudos to you (and your teachers!). But when you’ve got ninth graders who read at a fifth grade level and write at the sixth, you’re teaching nothing. I’m a heavy believer in the school of thought that a teacher needs to himself be creative and innovative and constantly change and adapt to get his students to learn the best they can, to the best extent they can. But again, that’s just it – as a teacher, my job is to teach. Not to entertain. Yes, I may choose to teach in an entertaining manner – and the first word my students use to describe me is “fun – but I am not an entertainer.

      I think I can safely assume you are an adult, Nikhita, and perhaps that’s where the difference lies in your experience of the international school scene. In my piece I describe the reality of what’s happening right now. Quite literally, the cliche of “as we speak.” Perhaps you had a better time because it *was* a better time. My most senior mentors in education tell me things have changed drastically over the past ten years most particularly. Perhaps as a child you went not to a mediocre mid-range international school such as what I describe, but to the better established ones with a history and sense of security that does not require them to be all shine and no substance in front of prospective parents.

      I do take issue with one point you’ve made. My piece may well be cynical of the system – I’ll grant you that. But of my students? Since when did the description of behaviour elicit a value judgement against the descriptor?

      I believe every child has the potential to achieve the best within the framework of what life has dealt them. I believe every child can eventually be taught to read, write, speak, and listen effectively, albeit to varying degrees. I believe every child can learn to control their impulses and behave appropriately in a range of social scenarios. Yes, even the “wilfully disobedient, self centred, and badly socialised.” Doesn’t that make me quite the opposite?

    • The English Teacher permalink
      March 12, 2013 7:23 PM

      My apologies; Nikitha*

      • March 12, 2013 11:50 PM

        Well to clear up a few things, I am technically an adult but I finished school four years ago (I feel so old!). I’m not sure how much things have changed since then, but I can’t help but hope they haven’t. Because personally I wouldn’t change a thing.

        My school wasn’t that old either, about ten years old by the time I joined I suppose. But I will definitely accede to your point about schools becoming corporate machines. Education is essentially a business now, much more so than it was earlier. The enormously skewed teacher-student ratio hasn’t helped either.

        As to your last point, well that was uncalled for. I guess I got caught up in my righteousness, my apologies. An interesting article, altogether.

  19. Avinash permalink
    March 12, 2013 11:19 PM

    @ The English Teacher, this one would of interest to you (and similar to the condition in India):

    English language and higher education

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/519700/english-language-and-higher-education/

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