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Death of a principal | The Indian Express

Death of a principal | The Indian Express

Death of a principal

The murder in a school in Yamunanagar may have been an act of only an individual. Or it may not

Written by Dev Lahiri | Published: February 16, 2018 12:10 am
Death of a principal
We have entrusted our young, who live in, and are acutely aware of the rapidly changing world that they inhabit, to teachers who are by far, not teachers by choice but forced to take up the profession by circumstances. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

The murder of a school principal by a class 12 student in Haryana in January has strangely enough, gone under the media’s radar. Whilst I have no idea of the particular circumstances surrounding the case, apart from what has been rather sparsely reported, and therefore cannot comment on the “rights “ and “wrongs” of the case, as it were, to my mind the case raises some very important issues regarding our educational system.
The bottom line is that our educational system is designed on the age-old assumption that “I teach, and therefore you must learn”. It was well-suited for an “age of innocence” when implicit obedience to authority embodied by elders was the accepted norm. It is not suited to an age where technology has made information from all over the world, and indeed way beyond, available to all, including students, at the mere touch of a button. No longer can adults, including teachers claim to be the repository of all knowledge. The information revolution has made the young increasingly dissatisfied with a system that refuses to answer the hundreds of questions that comes to their minds when they are battered by the deluge of information (much of it, conflicting) that is being hurled at them.
Whilst nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify anyone picking up a gun and murdering an innocent person, the fact is that our educational system has created a situation where incidents of this nature are waiting to happen.
We have entrusted our young, who live in, and are acutely aware of the rapidly changing world that they inhabit, to teachers who are by far, not teachers by choice but forced to take up the profession by circumstances. To make matters worse, they are largely underpaid, and receive little or no training for this demanding job. Entrusted with teaching classes of up to as many as 60 students, they are for the most part, homemakers who commute to work each day under the most trying circumstances, and also have the onerous responsibility of running a home.
Soldiers are entrusted to the care of highly trained, highly motivated, and well-paid officers, as indeed is the workforce in a corporate organisation. Surely, our children, supposedly the future of our nation, deserve better?
Worse still, teachers work in a system that demands rote-learning, frowns upon the questioning mind, and sees its sole task as that of preparing students for success in the board examinations. The system is completely oblivious to the fact that the real world of work demands a whole set of skills which, teaching by rote, or even ensuring success in the board examinations, can never deliver.
Add to the fact that most teachers are not trained for their classroom responsibilities, they are not trained, and neither do they have the time to listen to a child crying out, as it were, for help. We are, therefore, sitting on a cauldron of discontent. And today, more than ever, young people need “hand-holding” to negotiate the minefield of conflicting information, of messages laden with apparently contradictory values, of highly dubious “role-models”, of the intense pressure of a highly competitive environment, both during and after school.
Parents, who, could have been a great asset, had they been able to forge a genuine partnership with the school, actually in many cases, become part of the problem. What we are seeing today sadly, is a growing lack of trust between school, student and parent.
Consider the following scenario. Rohan has just been admitted to a reputed secondary school in his city, after herculean efforts by his parents. The parents are convinced that Rohan is very bright (like most parents) and that he has a great talent for art. At the time of admission, however, there is no scope for any discussion between the parents and the school about their expectations of each other with regard to Rohan. The school, swamped by numbers, has no time, and the parents are so grateful for the admission that they feel reluctant to enter into any discussion.
Over a period of time, however, Rohan shows signs of struggling with the curriculum. He also loses all interest in art. Rohan’s parents are furious with his teachers, who, in turn blame Rohan’s “poor attitude”. Rohan is, therefore, roundly berated by both the parents and the teachers. The real reason for Rohan’s predicament is that he suffers from a learning disability, which no one has been able to spot. And the school does not have a counsellor to boot.
This situation of distrust between the three parties continues to grow. Rohan feels an increasing sense of loneliness and alienation, made worse by the constant teasing of his peers. A seething anger begins to grow. A slow fuse has been lit, and who knows how it will all end?
It is not within the purview of this article to suggest remedies. But placing CCTV cameras in the classrooms, as has been suggested in Delhi, is certainly not the answer. Will the cameras capture Rohan’s angst? What they will do, however, is to paint the school and the teachers as people who have to be “watched” constantly, and therefore, widen the chasm that already exists between school, parent and student. It will need much more than CCTV cameras to plug the rot, and unless that is done, the situation across the board will only deteriorate.
The horrific murder of a school principal was to some extent, the act of an individual, who, however momentarily, had lost his sense of balance. But at another level, all of us have to share the blame for creating a system and perhaps even a society, where the young feel a sense of alienation and disconnect. This particular principal as they say, was perhaps “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. If this terrible incident does not open our eyes, then this poor principal will have died in vain.
The writer is former headmaster of Lawrence School, Lovedale, and former principal, Welham Boys’ School, Dehradun
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