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HindustanTimes Thu,23 Oct 2014

Book of social responsibility: Is encouraging altruistic behaviour enough?

Swati Kundra , Hindustan Times   September 08, 2013
First Published: 22:19 IST(8/9/2013) | Last Updated: 10:42 IST(14/9/2013)

School life is no longer about being confined to the classroom. Most schools, these days, say they are schools without walls. Their students spend their time contributing to the community, sometimes in the immediate vicinity of their institution or even further afield. The current wisdom is, therefore, this: leaders of tomorrow are not made simply by what they learn from textbooks but also by what they do outside in real life.

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A transition from an academics-only curriculum to one where students are familiarised with ground realities is certainly a step forward. Most schools are doing their bit to make students socially sensitive. From summer-time teaching of underprivileged kids to donating old books and clothes, students from well-to-do homes are being made to ‘feel’ the social divide and come up with altruistic responses. But is it enough and how far does that really go?

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Schools, however, are undeterred and routinely put their students through the social service drill. “For Class XII students, it is mandatory to devote five hours in community service in a year,” said  Mahima Kataria,16, headgirl, Salwan Public School, Gurgaon. The school has adopted a nearby slum, Chandan Nagar, and has taken up the task of educating its government school-going underprivileged children after school hours.

Apart from reserving seats for EWS students under the RTE, DAV Public School, Gurgaon, runs after school classes for another 400 students from poorer sections of society. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

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Sceptics, in fact, are calling this tokenism. Schools, on their part, feel that a spirit of philanthropy should be encouraged among students so that it becomes ‘normal’ for them and not a one-off affair under institutional supervision. “We are encouraged to take the initiative in charity fund raising. We happily donate our  old books, toys, clothes, stationary and other necessary items to our less fortunate counterparts,” said 14-year-old Ishita Kapoor of G D Goenka Public School, Dwarka. The school supports Goonj, an NGO working for the cause of underprivileged children in India.

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“Community development as a whole is possible only when it is imbued in children right from the beginning,” said Vineeta Mathur, supervisor, class VI-VII, Ryan International School, Ghaziabad. The school supports Bhagirathi, a school for

visually-impaired children, by selling their hand-made products such as candles, jute bags, diyas in the school premises, and also raises charity round-the-year for Banita Ashram, a Govindpuri-based orphanage.

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Students from the Humanities stream, who are given lessons in knitting and chocolate making as part of the curriculum, visit nearby Dasna jail and provide hands-on training to women prisoners, some of whom have children, in order to make them earn for themselves.

Schools in Noida are arming students with knowledge to ensure that they become aware citizens who are mindful of social issues. (Prem Bisht/HT photo)

All well and good, but are children across the socio-economic divide able to really engage with each other? Children from middle-class and upper middle-class homes are prisoners of their own class. Their increasing isolation from ground realities has made them incapable of understanding the shifting plates of society and its undercurrents. They fulfil their roles as students of good schools and understand that they have to do ‘their bit’ for society and that it can be done without risking any of their preconceived notions about the world.

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It’s about social service

The debate around the Right to Education (RTE) Act has further confused students. Should it have been done and is it a burden, given that many schools already had ‘pro-poor’ initiatives in operation? Several principals said there has been no roll-back of support from ongoing projects despite the RTE reservation rule for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). “Twenty-five percent quota has certainly mounted the burden not only on school authorities, but parents of regular students,” said Anita Makkar, principal, DAV Public School, Gurgaon. Around 400 EWS students are enrolled into regular morning classes at the school. Yet, the school has, indeed, shouldered another responsibility. Its students teach another 400 children from the poorer sections of society in the evening as an after-school activity.

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Suman Nath, principal, Tagore International School, East of Kailash, also confirmed the continuance of existing literacy and social service programmes.  “Due to the RTE, implementation of other important things does get delayed, but we have not shut down other initiatives.”

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