When I left my first school after class 10 to join a Kendriya Vidyalaya (Central School), I had no idea what I was getting into. At best, I’d been a reluctant student and I figured that my indifference to academics stemmed from the fact that so many of the subjects that I’d studied were not of my choice. I was terrified of math and science gave me nightmares. So when I joined KV, I assumed the going would be easy from now on. After all, I was studying Humanities…I loved stuff like history, geography and economics, ergo I’d enjoy studying it all.
Well, I wasn’t wrong. I loved academia. I stayed up till late in the night studying and having the time of my life. But what I hadn’t counted on was the school itself. What a nightmare! Firstly, it was more a fish market than anything else. My old school (Prakash Higher Secondary School a.k.a PHSS for convenience) had the air of a chapel..quiet and decorous. Sure it was not as big as KV and did not have all the infrastructure that the latter had to offer, but the students were infinitely better. More serious, more intellectual and more non-violent. Yes Reader, the last two words are ‘non-violent’. For judge of my horror and dismay, when I learned that this new school of mine had thugs and goons as its students – people who did not thinking twice before pasting another person one on the nose! Fist fights and blood shed (minor) were a regular feature of school life. ( I saw a classmate being dragged off by one of his ‘enemies’ and being pounded into a pulp. I was scarred for life). The motto of this school apparently was ‘Anything Goes.’
Speaking of schools, there was an article in today’s Times of India, Mumbai edition, about the poor performance of state-run schools in Maharashtra. The following are the statistics provided by the newspaper
6.5 lakh class-I students in Maharashtra didn’t understand the meaning of the English sentence: “Show me your pencil.”
5.6 lakh class-II students could not read the number ‘8’ in English.
In class III, 5.8 lakh students could not fill in the blank between the alphabet ‘d’ and the alphabet ‘g’ (‘d____g’).
While I know what Mark Twain said about statistics, I don’t think this news report is very wide off the mark. When I was in class XII, my classmates had trouble framing even simple sentences in English. The problem to a large extent lay with the teaching methodology. In many schools, English is almost always taught in Hindi. While students are encouraged to answer questions in English, they’re never taught to think in English. Also, students are not encouraged to read much. The exam-driven academic culture ingrains it in students that any reading, apart from that directly related to studies, is frivolous. How then will students learn English? Not every word in the dictionary, not every turn of phrase can be taught in the classroom. I remember in my first school we had a ‘library period’ in which we were all supposed to take books from the library and read. Many so-called studious pupils got those classes cancelled because they thought it would be better to study and to finish homework during that class than to ‘waste’ it reading books! The logic defied me.
Of course, there are those who wonder why we should read ‘foreign literature’ in an ‘alien language’. But that is fodder for another post!