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  Opinion   Oped  17 Nov 2017  Ryan saga lessons: How schools must change

Ryan saga lessons: How schools must change

The writer is a veteran school educator based in Kolkata
Published : Nov 17, 2017, 12:27 am IST
Updated : Nov 17, 2017, 12:27 am IST

It is high time that the powers that be sat up and began overhauling our examination system.

Class 2 student Pradyuman Thakur was found with his throat slit in the washroom of Ryan International School on September 8. (Photo: File)
 Class 2 student Pradyuman Thakur was found with his throat slit in the washroom of Ryan International School on September 8. (Photo: File)

The first lesson we learned from the shocking Ryan International School incident was to keep the school safe from intruders, and from potential physical hazards. But Part 2 of the Ryan International School saga has just come to light. What is to be learnt from the latest chilling revelation? That is, if the CBI’s allegations are actually proved. We have become too used to botched-up cases, U-turns and see-saws in public matters to feel secure in the system anymore. So we have to wait and see whether there is a Part 3 to this saga.

Part 1 told us, as a result of local police investigations, the gory story of a bus conductor slitting the neck of a little boy, Pradyuman, in one of the school toilets. Now the CBI, whose responsibilities seem to be growing exponentially, has said the bus conductor was innocent and that a Class 11 boy from the same school had killed the child. Even if we take this as the truth temporarily, what new lessons should schools now learn?

We keep hearing of juvenile crimes of all kinds. These are usually explained in terms of factors such as covetousness, rivalry, romantic entanglements, uncontrollable anger, and so on. But never had we heard, till now, of such a bizarre reason for killing an innocent child — to force the school to postpone an examination and a scheduled parent-teacher meeting. How can a 16-year old boy cold-bloodedly plan such a sinister strategy for such seemingly innocuous reasons?

Of course, theories will now flow and psychologists will be sought out for their valuable inputs and many more psychometric tests will be developed, marketed and administered to hapless children. And why not? Just as the air is getting more and more polluted and lung diseases are increasing, parallelly there is a higher and higher demand for ENT and lung specialists. Similarly, with a fast-changing world,psycho-social disorders are increasing at an alarming rate among schoolchildren and this fact can be verified by psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors. More and more children are being prescribed psychiatric medication and/or recommended counselling sessions. Very soon, the demand for mental health and hygiene specialists may surpass the demand for teachers.

Now let’s move away from experts and specialists and reflect on certain basic but vital things that we are not doing right. We have not been learning lessons from life and experience. We are so busy trying to “go international” (or intensely “national”) that we are forgetting that our primary duty is to provide a safe, clean and happy environment to our children. Instead, we are constantly crunching numbers, changing textbooks and syllabuses and tampering with the curriculum. Anyway, even with all this frenzied activity, we are almost at the bottom of the heap in world rankings where the quality of education is concerned. As for sending all our children to school — that is still a distant dream. And we have no excuse for this poor showing. But we haven’t learnt a thing from these dismal failures. Like ill-programmed robots, we are going on doing more and more of the same and are inevitably coming to grief.

What exactly are the lessons that we should have learnt by now?

Simply, that too many tests and exams do not improve the quality of education. As has been said before, merely measuring a person repeatedly doesn’t increase his or her height. Besides, most of our exams are so content-based that the student feels bored and burdened. Yet as a people we have made a fetish of exams and exam results. Every single year the country is shocked, angered and grieved by the spate of exam-related suicides by schoolchildren. Yet we go on feting and parading board examination “toppers” who have largely spent their senior school years running from coaching centres to private tutors.

Where is the time to read for pleasure or the time to play for fun? These mindless examinations that start as early as the primary level and the deadly competition that goes with them are just poisoning young minds instead of producing thinkers, innovators, inventors or even happy, stable people. In order to give children a happier and relatively stress-free school life, it does not mean that studies or activities can’t be challenging. On the contrary, children flourish in a stimulating environment.

Moreover, there is no need to dilute standards to provide a healthy learning environment. It is the method of assessment that must be designed creatively and intelligently. But then there are too many complications and too many lobbies, and our children are caught in this web.

It is high time that the powers that be sat up and began overhauling our examination system. This single act will automatically bring about a salutary change in teaching and learning approaches across the land.

However, it is also imperative for parents to do their bit as well. They must choose between a happy, curious, stable child and a performing automaton whom they can boast about. We see more and more physically debilitated and mentally disturbed children in our schools every year, so let parents stop making absurd demands on their children that they should be superstars in every field. In fact, suddenly in the current scenario, ordinariness seems rather refreshing. Many an “ordinary” child has shown the world what he or she can achieve in time.

We have been used to children cheating in tests, changing their grades in their report cards and forging their guardians’ signatures to prevent “scenes” at home. And we have known for a while that children can take their own lives because of the dread that their poor exam results would disappoint, displease or disgrace their parents. Now we know that a child can also kill in order to manipulate these circumstances.

How many more wake-up calls do we need to get down to remedying matters?

Tags: ryan international school, pradyuman murder case, cbi