Where are the guardians?

Of late I have come across some news articles, which showed the lack of a strong support base in schools and how we have deviated from schools being centres of knowledge and excellence to political and religious entities. Whether it’s the recent case of a school in Assam imposing a Hijab dress code for girls or the political parties from the South raising a hue and cry over what they call the imposition of Hindi. Then there are institutes which charge a bomb just to get your kid into kindergarten. All in all, schools where we teach our younger generation the values of life have slowly become toxic, bigoted, political and most importantly business centres. How did we deviate so much?

I studied in a Roman Catholic school by the name St. Patrick’s High School at Secunderabad in the State of Telangana. The teachers in my school were one of the best and their dedication towards the welfare and well being of the students was above reproach. My school had everything. We had a huge cricket ground, tennis court, basketball court, playing arenas, galleries and even a computer centre, which was started immediately after Computers made their way into India. I am proud to say that I was one of the few students who got to learn programming languages like Gwbasic when in school way back in the year 1994.

We also had a library, a physics and chemistry laboratory, annual days, cultural festivals, science festivals, intra school sports events and many other extra curricular activities. As students we were encouraged to participate in as many events as possible and discover our talents by ourselves. We weren’t judged or discouraged. Education meant learning, discovering and understanding not marks, grades or money.

All this is not to say that everything was hunky dory. Infact I remember when I was in my 8th class, all the students of the school were distributed Bibles by the school management and Bible reading was made compulsory. Our school was trying to push a religious agenda on the young students and it was here that the strength and courage of our teachers stood up. Unlike today where there is a lot of media attention, the news hardly got out of our school.

But I still remember my Telugu language teacher Sri Suryanarayana Murthy Mavuduru Garu, who stood up to the school management and educated the students on the bigoted religious agenda being pushed by the school management. He could have been fired for what he was doing but he stood upto it and he also organised Bhagavad-Gita classes in West Marredpally community hall every Sunday morning for all those students, who were interested in learning the Gita. Many of us joined because we had a teacher, who did not ask us to hate the Bible or the religion but instead provided a deeper insight into what was happening and asked us to think for ourselves.

We were taught to distinguish between bigotry and secularism from a very young age and may be that helped us all into turning out to be individuals, who follow their own culture but respect other cultures as well. Not only that, as students we were encouraged to learn, explore, discover and think. We weren’t put in a class full of students forced to learn everything by rote, neither were we forced to follow the religious beliefs of our school. We were encouraged by our teachers to excel in whatever we chose to pursue. And that my dear friends is the root cause of all the problems facing the present generation of students.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE TEACHERS GONE?

Our Telugu language teachers were one of the best, right from my lower school Kusuma teacher to my High school Suryanarayana Murthy sir. In fact Suryanarayana sir made our Telugu classes fun and interesting. Even poems were made into these singing competitions, where students were encouraged to sing out the poems in their own way. I still remember the amazing way one of my classmate Vamsi sang a poem in front of the whole class encouraged by the way our own sir sang one poem. It was truly amazing. We were all so impressed by this talent in our friend.

In fact it wasn’t only our language teachers, most of my teachers from school were the best. They always encouraged, coaxed, cajoled and even beat us up when we strayed but always with the intention of making us learn and evolve into better human beings. Mario Joseph sir, our Mathematics teacher in High school used to have a day of every month just to give all the students of the class a caning on the backside. His only explanation was spare the rod spoil the child. It wasn’t indiscriminate hitting. It was more like a day of caning for the entire class. None were spared. Kept all of us on our toes and ensured that we were all on our best behaviour at all times because you never knew, when Mario sir was watching and you didn’t want to give him anymore reason to cane you harder. And he was an excellent Mathematics teacher. He made Math learning so simple and easy that even the dullest amongst us could grasp the subject without much difficulty.

Yes, we did have a couple of teachers who gave you low marks to get you into their tuition but that was the beauty of the school we learnt our life lessons at. We weren’t judged by the marks we got and that gave us all the confidence in the world. A system, which encourages a student to try his/her hand at various subjects and activities so that they can discover their true talent is, what is required for young minds.

Now the situation is totally different, either we have teachers who are interested in money and prefer corporate schools and their rote design or those few remaining, who still work for the benefit of the children, are brow beaten by the parents into conforming to the new normal. There is a real dearth of quality education in our schools and that is seen in the gradual decay of our education systems. Yes, we are producing Engineers, Doctors and so on and so forth by the millions but most of them don’t even have the minimum requisite skills to survive let alone succeed. We are letting political discourse decide, whether a kid should learn Hindi or not.

Is it so wrong to learn a third language? How can it be imposition if it helps the kid into becoming multilingual? I mean I was literally forced into learning Tamil in Chennai during my graduation years to survive there. Isn’t that imposition then? I already knew my mother tongue Telugu along with English and Hindi, which I learnt in school. Now I was being forced to learn a completely alien language just to survive after i grew up!!! How can that be fair? But I did not feel it as an imposition as I was equipped to learn new languages and it excited me to learn another language because as kids in school we were encouraged to learn new things. Knowledge was like an ocean and one should always yearn to learn more was the mantra we grew up with.

Now look at the situation. You are discouraging students from learning a new language because it doesn’t fit your narrow political agenda. Even a veteran like Kamal Hassan, who earned big bucks making Hindi movies doesn’t want Hindi imposition. Look at the hypocrisy in that. None of these so called protectors of heritage and culture can actually explain the harm in learning another language. Their argument is that local languages will cease to exist. They mean to say that if a kid learns Hindi, he will suddenly stop speaking with his Mother and the rest of the community in his mother tongue. If that isn’t absurd, I don’t know what is?

And what do they mean by imposing Hindi? Every language has it’s own beauty and heritage. No one language is above the other. But to say that India shouldn’t have one unifying language that is understood and spoken by all is an argument I don’t understand. I mean most of India speaks in Hindi except for Tamilnadu and to some extent Kerala from the Southern states. And when did anyone say that all the other regional languages of each of the states will be barred and will no longer be taught?

And to say that Hindi should not be a unifying language of the country is like saying every state should have it’s own National Anthem in it’s own native tongue! Why should only one State bag the honour of writing our National song? That is the sort of hare brained argument politicians will be coming up with if this sort of blatant disregard for Unity is not nipped in the bud. If any of these people who speak against the alleged imposition of Hindi can tell me what is wrong in allowing the kids to become multilingual, I am all ears! Yes there is Unity in diversity and we proudly beat our chests about the Unity in our diversity. But when someone says let there be a unifying language for the entire country we point at our diversity to say no to Unity? How can that be? How can that be? The Unity that comes with our diversity also requires a unifying language for effective interaction and communication. When people can understand each other better is when people can appreciate the diversity in each other’s cultures and that is what helps in unity. Not stereotypes created by the media outlets and politicians.

As I said when religion and politics enter our schools, it’s the guardians of these institutions who have to stand up to such narrow minded bigoted individuals. And those guardians are our teachers. When teachers are devalued and the quality of teachers is laughable, they can’t be the guardians of these institutions nor can they be the custodians of the students welfare. And that makes schools breeding grounds for incomplete and useless education. Students are dumbed down and are raised into becoming bigoted individuals without any room for temperance and reason. That is why we need teachers who are strong, dedicated and above all the true guardians of our education system, who don’t allow politics and religion to play a role in shaping of young minds.

I would like to end this article by thanking each and everyone of my teachers, who stood like a rock behind us and encouraged and molded us into becoming all-rounders in real life. Especially I would like to thank Sri Suryanarayana Murthy sir for making our classes fun and knowledgeable and making us understand the significance of thinking on our own. Just so everyone knows, the imposition of Bible study for all was quickly discarded by the management, after all the students protested along with the teachers, who quickly saw the wrong in it and were brave enough to raise their voice against it. We didn’t need the media or Bajrang Dal to tell us what was right or wrong as our teachers were strong enough to defend us and make us learn to differentiate between right and wrong. Jai Hind.

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