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Let’s not start off with negativity

india Updated: May 20, 2012 01:04 IST
Megha Dharnidharka
Megha Dharnidharka
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The new law that reserves 25% of seats in private schools for children from underprivileged backgrounds has the potential to be a blessing or a curse — and which way this goes will depend on how it is implemented.

Teachers and school authorities will need to be sensitised about the living conditions and ground realities of their new students. This will enable teachers to maintain their classroom culture without excluding underprivileged children.

School authorities will have to develop strategies to tackle indiscipline and bullying resulting from the integration.

I think students of private schools stand to gain the most from this assimilation. This move will help students interact with people from all walks of life, and will thus help them to become well-rounded adults.

Underprivileged children stand to be the greatest beneficiaries of this Act, but they too will have to overcome a large number of hurdles. Not only will they have to cope with high academic expectations, they will have to study in English, which is not their first language. This may make them feel isolated.

Chances are they will be held solely responsible for lowering academic standards and indiscipline in classrooms. In such a scenario, the attitudes of teachers and the school administration will play a vital role in integrating these students and making them feel a part of the institution.

Despite the numerous challenges, this directive has the potential to provide qualitative education to less privileged children, thereby reducing the socio-economic disparity in our country. In order to achieve smooth and successful integration, the government needs to clearly define the policies and guidelines that all schools need to adopt.

Also in the act…
While the clauses relating to underprivileged children are getting all the attention, the Act also features a number of other debate-worthy provisions that will affect our children — some, in a positive way, others, less so.

The clause that forbids the expulsion of students, for instance, is a good one. Yes, there is scope for this provision to lead to indiscipline, but it also acts as a safeguard to ensure that weak and under-performing students are not tossed out — and encourages teachers to use positive reinforcement to change behaviour.

The continuous evaluation system mandated in the Act, meanwhile, encourages learning over just memorising. It allows teachers to make evaluations creative and application-based, thereby engaging and comprehensively assessing children. Finally.

It also ensures that children study on a regular basis rather than suddenly finding themselves burdened with large chunks of syllabus.

The replacement of the marking system with grades similarly reduces competition while motivating progress.

Too many free passes
And then there is the provision that prohibits schools from failing students before Class 8. This provision is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

On the surface, it appears to reduce stress faced by children and create an atmosphere of learning.

In reality, it teaches children that hard work and success are not related. It helps children to slide through their formative years without any effort.

By not failing children in the lower classes, we stand to make them complacent. In the higher classes, they are likely to fare terribly — and be forced to deal, all at the once, with the stress of studying for an exam and ensuring a decent result.

Even just learning to deal with the ideas of success and failure will be harder. And they will have to learn, all at once, that failure has consequences.

(Megha Dharnidharka is studying for her Master’s degree in social work. She taught at NGO Akanksha for four months, working to impart education to underprivileged children)