There is every indication that the “Open Page” of The Hindu is becoming more and more popular among both writers and readers — so much so I learn that expanding the space allotted to it is under active editorial consideration. The articles covering a variety of subjects receive insightful responses from informed readers. In the last issue, “Teachers in the dock” (April 24, 2011) by Sharada Sivaram, an outspoken assessment of the status of teacher-student-parent relations in today's schools, has generated a lot of concern among readers, who have responded to the critique with a remarkable sense of responsibility. No less significant was the reader response to “The Ambedkar party” by Siddharthya Swapan Roy, which is about the 120th birthday celebrations of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, narrated, in an atypical way, with reference to the horrific living conditions of Dalits vis-a-vis non-Dalits across the country.
In the first piece, the author contends that unlike in the past today's teachers are not “respected or honoured” by children and parents (to some extent). The tendency is to throw the blame for this on the teachers. Teachers, on the other hand, believe it is the “unacceptable” behaviour of children that provokes them to “reprimand” them verbally or physically, albeit mildly. Parents invariably believe their children never err and it is the teachers who are at fault. As a result, “the noble community,” as teachers were celebrated once upon a time, “has gone into hibernation.” This is how passionate teachers have turned into indifferent teachers, the author concludes. Why should the teacher-student-parent relations deteriorate to such a low? In Ms Sivaram's view: “Today…the children are the consumers and the teacher is the seller. ‘Value for money' is the new catchphrase. And if your teacher does not give you value for money, then she has no right to inhabit this side of the planet.”
Why the loss of respect
The readers who have responded touch upon several problematical aspects of the education system and the way it is functioning. T.R. Maragatham (Chennai) comments: “With education commercialised, teachers have become passive spectators. The loss of respect for teachers has led to the deterioration of student behaviour.” According to Sakina Slihu (Erode), “Teachers fail to identify the needs of children. Both teaching and learning have hit the lowest levels in schools.”
Another reader, A. Babu Karuppiah (Madurai), is of the view that “including ethics in the curriculum will help in changing the consumer-is-king attitude among students and parents.” B.R. Kumar (Chennai) observes: “Schools must pay teachers well and employ qualified teachers with good social background.” Rukmani Sharma (Haridwar) refers to the overcrowding of classrooms and notes that emotional bonding between the teacher and the taught has disappeared.
Many more deficiencies such as a poor teacher-student ratio in schools, the failure to provide quality teachers, irregularities in the disbursal of salary to teachers, and the absence of periodical inspection of schools have been pointed out in the discussion. It is not a mere “behavioural” problem between the teacher and the taught, and it has more to it than meets the eye. What is clear is that it is a problem that relates to the education system as a whole. It is not just the commercialisation of education but also the state's failure over the decades to perform its constitutional responsibility of providing education to all.
It's party time
In Siddharthya Swapan Roy's analysis, “The Ambedkar party” is not about a birthday bash, a party to entertain the masses. It is perhaps to tell their caste-Hindu oppressors the plight of the victims of centuries-old, caste-based prejudice who were separated from the rest of the society. It is like a “know what it means to be a Dalit” story, which attempts to tell the rest of the society their agony, sorrow, and pain.
By way of response, a couple of readers have applauded the contributions of Dr. Ambedkar to the underprivileged but have expressed their reservations over the way the piece has been written. A third one, S.V. Venugopalan (Chennai), however, views the essay in a different light: “Siddharthya Swapan Roy's assertive tone is passionate reading and dispassionate rereading of the casteist practices going on for centuries in our Nation.” The essay reminds him of the Khairlanji and Thinniyam atrocities against Dalits.
Such experiences continue to haunt the collective conscience of the people and, hopefully, the progressive outlook of growing sections of society will help them turn more assertive sooner than later and put an end to such atrocities.