The Hindustan Times has launched a year long program ‘You Read and They learn’ with an intention of contributing 5 paise from every edition sold in Delhi Metro - NAC towards providing study material for 10,00,000 underprivileged children in Delhi. While I welcome the initiative I cannot help wondering whether children will derive any benefit by the initiative. No, I am not being cynical or pessimistic. I do not for a moment doubt the intention of those who thought of the scheme. My take on the matter is different. A lot of ground work needs to be done and the outcome of these findings need to be considered while planning such initiatives.
I’ve been in touch with teenagers for the past 32 years and I see a marked difference in the quality of students we get as finished goods from secondary school as compared to the time when I started my career. Earlier I’d begin my first class with intermediate students with an understanding that their school had taken care of the basics of the subject. Today I have to introduce the good ones to the different parts of a flower. The mediocre and below average students are not regular anyway so I am not including them at all.
The first thing that our school going children need are dedicated teachers. Teachers who can create a love for learning and exploring for themselves the joy of learning. They say schools have to promote students to the next class irrespective of their performance in the present class. Failing them and making them repeat a year may not be a solution but is promoting them a better alternative. If a student who has passed his 10th standard has to be taught the basics of science and/or the construction of a simple sentence who takes the responsibility? And how were students different 20 or even 15 years back?
I really wish the at least a few of my students had taken up teaching. I am sure they would have made good teachers and their students would have carried the torch forward. We’ve had students who would question the accuracy of the diagram in my record and point out that the specimen appeared different to them. I would have to explain that minor variation in shape was acceptable as part of the evolutionary process and parameters like leaf size varied according to the environmental factors like availability of sunlight and water. It was a pleasure teaching them. I wish we have more students questioning me and thinking for themselves.
That said, I must add that parents too are to blame. We did not have college educated mothers but they would not accept our excuses for poor performance. I remember an instance when I fared badly in a chemistry test and told my dad that I had trouble following the lesson. My dad came to school and met my teacher to discuss my problem area. The teacher did not take offence and took extra care for the next few weeks and left me alone only after making sure that I got my basics right and could manage on my own. I am not sure but from what I understand teachers are not as approachable these days.
The attitude of students is also a cause for concern. Soon after board results are announced we hear of teen age suicides, depression among students for not fulfilling parental ambition and what not. There is a need for open communication with children and an assurance that they will not be judged on the basis of board results or the better performance of a class mate or cousin.
These are just a few points I wish to make and start a healthy discussion on how our youngsters may be helped so that programs such as the one initiated by Hindustan Times may succeed. I will be coming up with more of my observations. Please feel free to join me.