Sunday, February 20, 2011

Do Dooni Chaar ! and some memories!

The Indian cinema in the last decade has seen a lot of change. The most evident according to me - is the acceptance of movies which need not have even one of the basic masala ingredients (a) a love story (b) a fight sequence (c) a conventional story (yes, all hat-ke movies did need to have some kind of convention in the 1990s)- and where a simple but well made story line would still gain acceptance and popularity among the masses

And one of the movies that I really loved off late was Do Dooni Chaar . It's a simple story really- a story of a middle class family in Delhi with a school teacher as head of the family- and how the school teacher struggles between balancing his ideals and wallet to make his children happy.

And the film was really well made, and had a nice message too. And the movie definitely was a reminder of the tremendous effort all those teachers at Friends School put in to make me what I am today. To all you great people, a real big thanks from the heart . I wouldn't have come so far without holding on to your finger. Again - Thanks!

But then, the film disturbed me to an extent. And the reason was it's truthfulness and the fact that there is something wrong in India. Why are the schools not as great as they should be - when the teachers working there are extremely hardworking and intelligent too ( At least I can vouch that for all of my teachers) ? Why is it that people will do timepass while listening to lectures in school but pay the same amount of attention to the same thing being taught by an equal or lesser-experienced teacher in the badly crammed A/C room of a coaching class ? Why is it that people will pay tens of thousands on tution and coaching classes, but crib for a school fee raise of a hundred rupees? Why is it that we sat through 7.5 hours everyday during our summer vacations ( 2.5 months non stop including sundays ), but cribbed about being called for a saturday extra class?

Something , somewhere is not right. Having said that, I won't be radical to say that the system is totally messed up- and neither would I say that coaching classes are necessarily bad. No one in the entire system is bad in their own right, and at the end of the day, they are all good teachers, trying to make their life a bit better by giving knowledge to students. It's any day an extremely noble profession.

A brief analysis of what I think the problem / what the solution could be:

a. Low pay scales at school

This I think is really is the bottom of all things. I could not find enough data on the internet (some stats here ) - but the truth as we all know is (and what the film signifies is) - it's not deserving enough. Some school teachers I know say that the only reason to stick to a school is to have an 'extra income' and to be in constant touch with students. So then, if we are ready to pay the teacher the same salary for tution classes , why not give more fees- which would in turn increase their salaries and in-turn their performance?

b. School hours and attendance worries

This is really the most interesting part here. As I mentioned before, why do people crib so much about long school hours (which are mostly less than the hours you spend in classes anyways)? On the other hand, why do schools crib about attendance?

As a student myself, I know that there are some lectures which would benefit me to such an extent that I would think a hundred times before missing them. This in turn would also enable teachers to develop reputation and the feedback on them (simply measured in terms of how many students actually turn up for their class)- would ensure that good teachers are rewarded and under-performing ones are put through developmental programs.

So, really, why force students to sit through lectures? Also, that is a consequence of (a) . I am sure if a student missed school, the parents would be fine, but if they missed a coaching class , the parents would be "We paid 5000 rupees for this one" - you have to go and you have to be serious about it. Simple solution: let the performance of teachers get the attendance running- and for good teachers, I am sure students would not mind odd hours (longer than the school hours)

3. A constant crib about the system

The classic problem which magnifies itself as "Is desh ka kucch nahin ho sakta" .

If there is one thing I could change during my attitude when I was in India- it is the constant belief in the minds of all that the system is faulty - there's more emphasis on memorizing, there's not enough attention to every student - and so on. During my engineering days, an HR person from a famous IT company in India who came for college recruiting said these words " The first thing we need to do is to train you for 3-6 months. You haven't learned anything during your engineering. We need you to forget all this and begin re-learning" .

Why? Having worked in the USA-there's an enormous respect for Indian learning standards here too. And frankly, the system might be flawed, but it's definitely not something that is not useful. Maybe it needs some tweaks. A greater emphasis on class projects and practical work. A more systematic examination system. But to term it as non-useful is a crime- and also a bad thing to instill in the minds of young students.

The same holds true for schools. Why constantly blame teachers for being too fast when you could have asked a few more questions? Although-somewhere, the schools are also to blame for having given up on a few of these things.

Solution to the problem: An active, secure feedback system - where parents can raise their concerns , not about individual teachers, but maybe point out great ways to improve them.

4. More realistic and popular scholarship plans

I got an NTS scholarship which is awarded to only 750 students in India every year. During my school days, the scholarship used to be less than Rs. 3000 per year. While for me, it was more of a reward, but for students who really needed it- I am sure it was way lower than the mark. To give you a comparison, the Tata Foundations used to give out scholarships upto Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000 to a lot of deserving Engineering students strictly on the basis of performance.

The sad truth is that the NTS is really known for the honour it gives you- but not really for the scholarship amount - which I am sure is one of the important issues it is designed to address.


How about corporates giving an income-based scholarship to NTS students (and maybe based on other criteria like merit/sports etc) who actually need them? It could be based in income alright, but then every student would be happy to pay their fees and not burden their parents with it.

Also, how about schools charging a little higher fees, but having 10 selected students - based on merit, performance - to have their school year free?

--Incomplete blog, hope to add more stuff here soon --

Again, a big thanks to all teachers!

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