The heavy, sombre air grips this facilitator as she steps into the crowded hall, where, she realises, the school has assembled for the morning prayer, the only time the whole school comes together. Children stand in neat rows, all of them with their hands held at the back, as if the freeing of the hands might spell some imminent danger to the grim, stern adults who face them. I wonder what battles these rather stoic adults had to fight at home to make them look so unbearably glum so early in the morning. Then the thought struck. Ah! These were “teachers” in the archaic sense of the term, ones who had the burden of projecting the picture of authority, a burden sitting so heavily on their shoulders that the slightest smile on their lips could indicate inefficiency and a shame to the noble profession they were
initiated into, by choice or by compulsion, very often the latter. Some children creep in late. They are hauled into a corner by the iron hand of a senior teacher and fixed with a lethal glare that could freeze a lion! As each class goes up the stairs in a single file, the ordeal begins. Here’s a child who hasn’t polished his shoes, there another, whose trousers are too small by the school’s standards. The hawk’s eyes miss none. Each of them is pulled out and made to wait. “You cannot escape my eyes”, declares the teacher, evidently proud of her scrutiny. The children come out and wait, heads hung in obedience, while the rest of them climb up the stairs meekly, relieved to have escaped the painful beginning of yet another day at school. The stick awaits the ones waiting. Each one cringes as the baton falls ruthlessly on the little hands. Teary eyed, they climb up to their classrooms. The teachers depart from the hall in triumphant glee, having “disciplined” children. About 55-60 of them go into tiny classrooms, crowded with benches which can’t seem to decide whether they can accommodate the children or their schoolbags. There’s no scope for the kids to turn around, or move around the classroom. They’re stuck to their seats period after period , (minus the occasional escapades to relieve themselves or to drink water- in which case the child understandably takes the longest route to the destination and back) till lunchtime, when in neat rows again, they are made to sit in the narrow space outside the classrooms, to empty the lunch boxes. Soon the bell tolls and the shrieking voices of the teachers (one wonders how one maintains such a precariously high pitch throughout the day?) are once again heard above everything else. The silence of the lambs is ensured again, to ensure effective “teaching/learning”.
The learning has a pattern, though. Whether it’s English or Social studies or Science, one gets to hear the voice of the teacher in predictably homogeneous sing-song ways, reading out from the text, followed by a predictably similar repetition of the same golden words by the children, in almost the exact tone. The expression on the faces of the teachers range from boredom to irritation to stony and listlessness, as the children look back at them, with dullness, fear and boredom written on their faces. A few smart ones dare to doodle or play with the neighbours surreptitiously, as the voice of the teacher drones on. As the day gets over, the children rush out of school, with the same fervour as fleeing inmates of Tihar. They flock at the nearest vendors, selling juicy guavas or little salted plums, the sole source of fleeting joy in their otherwise drab school lives while the teachers depart, tired and drooping, their energy spent in screaming their lungs out throughout the day, to grab attention. Walking out, after a day’s observation, the facilitator, having registered the shock of it all, wonders where and how one can possibly begin, to “turn the schools around”! She realises too, that this is precisely why there is a mission, that one has to begin from the beginning, plunge heart and soul into action in whatever ways one can, to make tiny but perceptible differences, tangible or otherwise. The affirmation comes in small but reassuring ways a few weeks later, when she notices the spark in the eyes of the same children, during a demonstration lesson that grabs their attention, when a relatively “dumb” child asks that million dollar question, when she sees in the eyes of an apparently disinterested teacher, the smile of an “aha” moment when she recognizes and appreciates something new, something worth adopting, when a couple of teachers, already burnt out by an unimaginative and heavy schedule of seven classes a day, waits after school, to have a word with the facilitator, out of their own will, to find out about how to go about creatively while planning for her next lesson, when a teacher comes back starry eyed, with stories of an interesting activity that she has tried out in class and last but not
the least, when a couple of teachers decide to arrange for two cups of tea for the facilitators out of
their own meager pockets, showing in a very small but immensely touching manner, their heartfelt
gratitude and appreciation. The realization dawns somehow – no matter how tough and long and tedious the journey, one just HAS to begin!
Posted by Padma Murthy, Project Head, TTF Bangalore