The recent rape of a sixyear-old girl in a Bangalore school, and the horribly shocking visuals of helpless children being thrashed brutally in Kolkata, Delhi and Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh over the last week have shaken the nation to the core. As, indeed, they should. They have also sparked off the mandatory rounds of debates on television channels. While this certainly has the virtue of focusing attention on these issues, one can't help but be deeply frustrated with some of the "analyses" offered.
One theme that occurs repeatedly is schools employing poorly-trained or untrained teachers. But what choice do they have? Take a look around you. Is your city brimming with teacher-training colleges? You will find computer institutes at every nook and corner, engineering institutes, management institutes and what-have-you. But a single teachertraining college?
Indian Institute of Teaching: It's a shame that 67 years after Independence, we don't have a single teacher-training institute with the brand equity of, say, an IIT or an IIM. The Budget has been praised because it provides for several new IITs and IIMs. But there is no mention of any teacher-training institute.
What we forget is that IITs and IIMs will have to accept students who have been taught by poorly-trained or untrained teachers.
The problem does not end here. How many of our principals receive any training at all for this sensitive job? How many, for instance, have even a nodding acquaintance with laws associated with education or any foundation in management practices? Most principals are merely "teachers on promotion".
Principal, Preferably Banker: Worse, many schools bring in principals from other walks of life, exemplifying the patronising attitude that we have towards the profession. Would the Indian Army entrust one of its formations to, say, a banker?
The sad truth is that schools are struggling to get teachers at all, trained or untrained. Where is the catchment area? Are our own children queuing up to become teachers? Not only do we, as a society, not invest in training teachers, we have failed to evolve a culture where the profession is seen as "aspirational".
There has been much discussion on television on the "horrific" practice of "indemnity bonds". I do not know the contents of the bond that these television experts had to sign, but in my 25-odd years as head of residential schools, I found the indemnity bond to be an imperative.
What does this bond do? When parents send their children to a school, particularly a residential one, they accept that the school has a curriculum that insists on the child participating in a wide range of activities, from sport to perhaps trekking and climbing. There is obviously an element of risk associated with these activities.
So, schools — at least the better ones — while taking every precaution to ensure that the activity is safe, ask parents to sign a bond stating that they are aware of the risk involved, and will not hold the school responsible in the unfortunate eventuality of a mishap. The bond, however, does not exonerate the school from the responsibility of providing all safety mechanisms.
That is why school inspections must be made mandatory and regular. At the moment, they exist only on paper and if they occur at all, a good payoff ensures that the school gets a clean chit.