Why are students committing suicides in temples of learning--educational institutes--where they go to learn life skills and not to sacrifice themselves? I feel something is seriously amiss with the way we are communicating and transferring education to our students. It needs urgent systems correction.
Education for me is about caring and enriched communication. Reading a book is a direct communication between the author and the reader. A newspaper is a communication between the editor or a reporter and the curious reader. A television show or a panel discussion is education when it transmits views for better communication and making society aware. A priest or a spiritual speaker is there to lift spirits. There are umpteen modes of learning. It all depends on the content, frequency and method of communication.
Our ancient wisdom was transmitted painstakingly through the oral word and recorded on dried leaves. It was about transferring wisdom from the teacher to the taught. This is how the world got the Upanishads and Vedas. Even group meditation in total silence is transmitting education. But what is unique in our ancient education handed to us through scriptures is that there was an uplifting dialogue between the giver and the receiver with humanity as the beneficiary. The Gita is a dialogue between Lord Krishna and the warrior pupil Arjun.
What about our current-day education? How is it being transmitted? Is it becoming one-sided? Does it call for participative learning? Is it about the limited course material or does it include its application in life? Does it provide for a regular dialogue between teachers and students? Is it a conversation that ensures consistent growth, instilling thirst to learn more, seek more, share more, give more, grow more, think more in life skills? Not only to agitate or strike more.
What kind of binding communicating systems do we have in our educational institutes, which ensure early prevention as against post-mortems, police cases or judicial inquiries? Why must students come to a stage where they want ouster of their own teachers? Or how do we explain the recent suicides by students in learning institutes?
Something is missing at our learning places. Why do teachers not communicate with students on a regular basis? Why do they not sense what is disturbing young minds and address it immediately? Why don’t heads of institutes hear students on a regular basis -- both at formal and informal forums? Why are there no systems in place for anonymous feedback? Why are students not part of policymaking or considered a valuable resource of problem-solving or contributing ideas? How can we make them partners in education through sustained communication?
Let me share a personal experience. When posted as special commissioner, training, Delhi Police, I saw that the standard of teaching by police officers varied from officer to officer. Most of them did not have the teaching skills. Their knowledge was also outdated and they needed to update it. It being a disciplined force, to whom do students complain of poor teaching? I placed locked ‘communication boxes’ in every classroom, so that students could give feedback anonymously. Within days, teachers started to improve their skills. They started to deliver as they were getting regularly assessed. I gave the feedback to them, collectively when encouraging, individually otherwise. It worked as teaching and learning were transformed.
Unless we find ways and means of early intervention and also give voice to students, a few, depending on their sensitivities, may be driven to extreme situations when no one hears them.
Teaching is the noblest profession. Education is the best gift one can give to the other. Does the educating class realise it? Do we have mandatory practices to communicate, listen and act? Is this part of their appraisal? If we are to save any further deterioration, we need feedback systems in classrooms and in certain key places of educational institutes. All feedback, including electronic, must be addressed by the head. Key issues without disclosing the source must be shared and acted upon. Even anonymous feedback has value. It can alert you. But such a continuing dialogue and use of feedback system will be done only by the leadership that has clean hands and a caring heart.
Education is the bedrock of any society. From the same students will emerge leaders of tomorrow, including the teaching faculty. What are they learning? What kind of leaders or teachers will they be if they are not experienced, sensitive, communicative and caring?
A stitch in time saves nine. The ultimate stage of taking a life does not happen overnight. It brews. It breeds. Friends do get to know. We have to put in systems of communication and feedback in place, which alert administration and teachers. Listening and conversations must happen. Parent-teacher associations have a vital role to play as they are the very foundation of the health of society.
Every educational institute must be mandated to have ongoing dialogue and feedback systems in place. Teachers and institutes must be appraised on this. Let’s not wait for a public interest petition to be filed and judiciary to direct it. Civil administration and education community must take responsibility. We, the parents, and the media must demand this.
The writer is former IPS officer and runs the NGO Navjyoti India Foundation. The views expressed are personal