`Teaching is one profession, which, I am convinced, is worth doing only if a teacher wakes up every morning with a sense of joy and excitement at the prospect of the challenges that lie ahead.’
The Great Indian School Bazaar deals with a wide range of topics, including what drives parents to admit their children to certain schools, issues faced by principals, bullying, disciplining and how school can be made ‘Fun'. There is also a section on the relevance of our education system in the current global context, in addition to an area that is very rarely discussed: the transition from school to college.
Dev Lahiri brings in his decades of experience as an educator in India as well as in the US to reassess the education we are providing our children.
Educated at Delhi University and then at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Dev Lahiri worked in a variety of professions before settling into his passion-schoolteaching. In a career spanning over three decades, he has headed the Lawrence School, Lovedale; Heritage School, Kolkata; and Welham Boys' School, Dehradun, in addition to having taught at the Doon School and at a private boarding school in the USA. A prolific writer and keen sportsman, he has enjoyed a distinguished career both in athletics and equestrian sport at the national level.
His memoir, With a Little Help from My Friends, provides a fascinating insight into his extraordinary career as a teacher.
Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym used by mathematician Charles Dodgson, wrote the endearing book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in 1865. The story is about a girl who disappears down a rabbit hole to a fantastical place and goes through bizarre adventures. In one sequence, Alice has this conversation with the Cheshire Cat:
'But I don't want to go among mad people: Alice remarked.
'Oh, you can't help that: said the Cat, 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.’
'How do you know I am mad?' asked Alice.
'You must be: said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.‘
Dev Lahiri has ventured into the 'mad world' of Indian school education. To the purists, I apologize in advance if my use of the word, 'mad' offends them. I don't intend to underestimate the importance of the subject! Reading Dev Lahiri's book about the dilemmas of Indian school education just happened to remind me of Alice's story. The author admits that the subject is complex and multilayered and, with modesty, he writes that he is no expert on it.
The fact remains that he has been a grounded and sensitively observant schoolteacher for forty years-above all, he became a schoolteacher because he wanted to become one, in preference to staying in a corporate job. I am aware that he joined my previous company, Hindustan Lever, many years ago as a manager, but quit to teach.
The subject of schools and education is vast and complex; and there are many scholarly (and unreadable) reports about the state of the Indian education system. But what this hugely experienced schoolteacher has attempted to do here is to write, through the narratives of his own experience, the slimmest and, arguably, the most readable book on the subject. He states that he did not set out to be prescriptive, but rather share anecdotes that illustrate the issues and choices that face us-as parents, as a society and as people who are vitally interested in the well-being of future generations.
Dev Lahiri insists that school education issues and leadership are quite different from the other worlds-for instance, business. As I read his manuscript, I wonder whether he is quite right. As someone who has spent fifty years in the corporate sector, I could relate to his description of the several dilemmas that he has faced.
For example, who is the 'customer' of the school service? The student who is being educated? The parent who is paying the fees? The teachers who are engaged in what could be a thankless job? The alumni of the school? (My definition of alumni is that they are the former students who are convinced that the school reached its apogee during their time in the school.) Or, the community at large?
Well, in corporate speak, all of them are stakeholders. Each of them has a valid interest in the effectiveness of the school. The only trouble is that they have different flight paths to reach the same goal of becoming-and staying-excellent.
Ultimately, just as in corporates, the board has to spend quality time in developing and selecting the principal or headmaster, agreeing on broad school goals with him or her and then, leaving the principal alone. As it happens in corporations, promoters and boards know this, but are reluctant to practise the tenet in real life. Schools are no different! Promoters and boards must learn the art of influence, but should not confuse it with interference-in schools and in companies.
I am delighted that Dev Lahiri has written this book, and I feel that every parent should read it and think about the issues raised by him in his narratives. If that happens, his efforts will not have been in vain.
This little book in no way pretends to be a comprehensive study of the Indian education system. That system is far too complex and multilayered to lend itself to such an evaluation, particularly by lesser mortals like me.
Yet, allow me to illustrate the gigantic dimensions of the issues confronting education in this country. This is perhaps best done by Vikram Patel, the Pershing Square Professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School, in his incisive articles in The Indian Express. Patel writes:
The latest report of the Annual Survey of Education, published last year, and based on assessments of basic abilities of reading, writing, and arithmetic of over five lakh rural children, offered a glimpse into the scale of the challenge confronting India. While 95 percent of children aged 6 to 11 years were enrolled in schools, a large proportion of children were simply not learning. Nationally, less than half the children in class 3 were able to read a class' text, a figure which had shown virtually no improvement since 2011. One out of every four children enrolled in class 8 could not read at class 2 levels. Just over a quarter of dass 3 children could do a two-digit subtraction and a similar proportion of class 5 children could do simple division.
Even grimmer is what Patel goes on to say:
What is also clear from these figures is that a huge proportion of India's children exceeding 50 million in a recent estimate, experiences fundamental limitations of learning abilities which have their roots well before they even enter primary schooL In short, their intellectual capabilities, a direct outcome of the level of cognitive development of the brain have been deprived by enormous deprivations in the early years of their lives.
This is a frightening scenario; and as someone who is rooted in an urban culture and having dealt only with schools where the middle and upper middle classes send their children, I would not even dare to begin to explore the issues raised in this article. It is my fond hope, however, that someone with much greater knowledge and experience of this sector will indeed put it all together so that it becomes public knowledge, rather than just being reading material for a privileged few.
What this book does do, however, is attempt to map out my journey over some well-charted and some not-so-well-charted areas in our world of education (and by that I mean the urban middle class educational experience), much in the nature of a travelogue. I have attempted, in these few pages, to try and highlight-faithfully-some of the experiences I have had, and the lessons that I have learnt from them.
At no point can I claim that I have found all the answers. As a matter of fact, many readers will perhaps discern errors in my analyses of situations and my responses to them. I, for one, would be very happy if that were to happen, because it would mean that I would have achieved at least one of the objectives I had set for myself when I began writing these chapters-to encourage people to at least think about some of the problems that seem to bedevil our education system. For I am convinced that education is far too sensitive and important a subject to be left to 'expert planners in some isolated office. All stakeholders need to be involved. After all, what is at stake is our greatest legacy-the future of our children and, indeed, of our country.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
Item Code: NAQ408 Author: Dev Lahiri Cover: PAPERBACK Edition: 2018 Publisher: Rupa Publication Pvt. Ltd. ISBN: 9789353043599 Language: English Size: 8.00 X 5.00 inch Pages: 150 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.1 Kg