STEM THE ROT
If there is one topic constantly discussed and debated in private and public forums, commented upon or reported in the media, it is Corruption. Every political party in government states that eliminating corruption is on top of their agenda. The public are concerned for its impact on a citizen’s daily life is multidimensional. There is no one who is not affected by an illegal twist in day to day transactions.
There is scant satisfaction in the performance of government agencies when we read about top personalities being targeted by CBI for corruption. The word however has come to mean ”unaccountable wealth” avoidance of tax, and payments for favours granted.
Demonetisation was declared as one of the means to tackle black money and corruption. We read about huge amounts of cash in suitcases and cupboards uncovered in raids by tax officials and publicised in the media.
Despite all this there is a strange acceptance of corruption as pervasive and unavoidable. The fight against corruption one would say has to be tackled at every personal level, in every day dealings with officials and people in charge of institutions. If one is asked to pay a bribe, or “speed money’ for a service, one pays it with a sigh of resignation, because work must be done, small tasks accomplished. One pays to move a file from one official’s desk to the official one step higher in the approval process, or to avoid penalty for a misdeed.
However, this article is written by one who has spent a lifetime in the field of education to highlight the plight of parents seeking admission for their children into schools. Their desperation and the undoubted affect it has on the little ones who are innocent victims of this rampant commercialization of education, is a situation we do not collectively raise our voice against. The urgent need to get a child admitted to an educational institution makes it necessary to pay a “capitation fee” disguised in the word “donation” to the School Society or Trust. Even for four year olds seeking to enter nursery the going rate at an English medium school is several lakhs. Parents do not know what quality education is but a private English medium school is what every parent aspires for their wards. The managements of these elite private schools are only interested in fleecing parents who see in the schools a means of fulfillment of those dreams they have for their children. And parents are willing to pay a cash “donation” even if the additional monthly fees that are charged are hard to afford. The affluent parents who can afford to pay are pleased once the child has entry at the lowest level, for they believe this is an end to their worry about the child’s future course in education. The plight of parents has been portrayed in the film HINDI MEDIUM – and the film has been rated high because most people empathise with the characters in the film.
Once the child is admitted there is a regular demand for “fees” in some form or the other. There is an admission fee, development fee, tuition fee, computer fee, sports fee, smart classroom fee — as also periodically for school events, trips and excursions. Every year there is a steady increase in all these fees. No one asks what cash reserves the school has, nor do the parents’ groups get satisfactory explanations on why they are regularly asked to pay. Their child is a hostage in the system.
Even if money does not exchange hands, the management’s power of controlling access to a citizen’s right, is heady stuff. It appears this is why persons of high social standing see their “voluntary” work in management committees desirable for they are neither educators by profession nor interested in the classroom. They are there because they have the power to grant favours (read admission) for children of influential people. Every admission for the child of a government buaucrat, police official, income tax officer, or judicial magistrate is a quid pro quo. The principal is the really the principal “chamcha”, in sharing this position of influence. The common man has no chance. The name of the game is power, and when educators and concerned parents raise inconvenient questions, then there is window dressing and “successful” educational projects are showcased for proud and pleased parents. The current buzzword is “digitization” and children are now expected to purchase tablets “instead of heavy school bags of books”. However, concern about the child’s academic performance is raised only in the senior classes when Board exams draw near. This is when tuition becomes a necessary evil. Teachers find tuition for their students after school hours earns them more money than the VIIth Pay Commission salaries they demand and get from the school. Teaching shops make hay. By now it is Tutors for Tablets; tuitions are the answer for successful college entrance. The parents then dig in their pockets to pay the extra price for a prospective IIT / IIM/ medical college aspirant.
As a concerned educator, I am a lone dissenter because management has only self- interest, principals and teachers are comfortable in the way they have adjusted their ways to please management and perpetrate the system to their own advantage. And paying parents are relieved their children have been admitted to an English-medium school that they hope, ostrich-like, their children will somehow get through school. RTE parents are confused and dubious of the “Right to Education” promised by a democratic government and worry that their children cannot compete.
The misuse of power, and the suffering of a victim who seeks his or her rights – right to education, right to health services, a right to food and shelter – rarely gets redress. Seeking redress through the law courts means long years of waiting for justice, and equally expensive. For the powerful in educational management bodies can influence bureaucrats, the media and the judiciary. And above all, one who protests, or exposes corruption is condemned to a life of harassment. Whistleblowers are always threatened and always stand alone.
Gandhiji spoke his views in education when he said a child should learn the values of right thinking and honest actions, not receive education as a commercial product. No, the schools are not listening, because they are not comfortable with Gandhi’s truth. However they, and parents, should know that the greatest learning takes place when there is a measure of discomfort – when systems are challenged, when dissent is allowed, and when change becomes inevitable and has to happen. It is up to us sustain our efforts, for true learning never ceases.