I finally made it to India, to learn from the locals about the teacher accountability issue in the Indian public schools. After a week of settling into my new surroundings, i decided to go for my first field trip, and visit a local public school.
I heard about this school from my maid – her two kids (one if 1st grade and the other in 3rd grade) go to this school. She had told me about the pathetic quality of teaching in this school. After getting good background information about this school, i decided to make an unannounced visit to see it first hand. I tried to go with an unbiased opinion, and with a mindset of giving the benefit of doubt to the teachers/administrators of this school, unless i actually see it myself.
As i entered the school, i headed straight for the school principal’s office. As i was walking past the classrooms to get to the principal’s office, i couldn’t resist myself from peeping into a couple of the classrooms. The teacher in the first classroom was talking on her mobile phone, and the kids were doing their own thing. In the next classroom, there were 2 teachers chatting with each other. There was no teacher in the third classroom that i walked past. But ok, I thought i should give them the benefit of the doubt…maybe the teachers were discussing something related to their school-work. I had to remind myself – “keep an unbiased opinion”.
As i enter the principal’s office, i see a couple of teachers discussing things with the principal. I introduced myself, mentioned nothing that i had prior knowledge of the school or that my maid’s kids are in that school. I was very polite, and told them that i was there to learn about the public schools in India, and was willing to help them if they needed anything. It was very obvious to me right away that i was NOT welcome there. They were very rude, and outright hostile towards me, and demanded that i get permission from officials to talk to them. Ok, maybe they had some bad experiences before….so i kept calm, and managed to convince them to speak with me for 5 mins.
After some “code language discussions” between the principal and teachers, the teachers left the room, and i could finally asked some questions to the principal.
Here are some of the questions i asked, and the replies i got:
Me: “How many students/teachers do you have?”
Principal: “Around 150 students, and 5 teachers including me”.
Me: “Are you in general happy with the quality of your school, your teachers? do you guys need anything to make your school even better?”
Principal: “No we are fine, we are a very well run school, and we don’t need anything”.
Me: “Is there a school library? do you guys need any books?”
Principal: “Yes, we do have a library. And no, we do not need any books. We always get book donations, and have plenty”.
Me: “Can i see the school library?”
Me: “Why Not?”
Principal: “We don’t allow anyone to see it. Its locked…and the books are locks in closed shelves. We take the books out only when needed”.
Me: “Do school inspections take place?”
Principal: “Yes, regularly”.
Me: “How often does your school hold parent-teacher meetings?”
Principal: “Regularly. Generally once a month”.
Me: “Can i see the classrooms? And say hello to the kids?”
As she escorted me out of her office, and as i was walking past one of the classrooms, i couldn’t resist myself – i entered the classroom shook hands with a couple of the kids and asked their names. There was no teacher in that classroom, and i saw few kids on the other side of the classroom learning by themselves using the alphabet posters hanging on the wall. I then entered the next classroom, and shook hands with a couple more kids. Before leaving the school, i thanked the teachers and the principal for their time. They were very suspicious of me, were very hesitant to even shake my hands, and were happy to see me leave.
It was very obvious to me that the school teachers/principal had something to hide….why else would you be act so secretive and hostile to someone who is offering to help? I came back home and asked my maid the same question i had asked the teacher. She said that they NEVER have parent teacher meetings, the teachers are absent frequently, and there is very little teaching activity even when the teachers are present. She then added that school inspections are rare and of no use. She showed me her kid’s note books. After 10 days of schooling, the kid had written 3 english alphabets, 3 hindi alphabets, and numbers from 1-10. She also mentioned – “the other day, i asked my son what he learnt in school that day? And he replied, i was feeling sleepy, so the teacher let me sleep all day in school”. She also mentioned that they had once called all parents, and made them sign (using their thumbprint) on a document stating the “mid-day meals” in the schools were of great quality – when in fact the quality of the meals was not good. She also said that the school teachers are of a higher caste and generally “rule” the school, and that the school principal is of a lower caste, and does not have much of a say in the school affairs.
What she told me next shocked me even more! She said that when she went to pick up her kids in school that day, the principal called and her gave her a tongue-lashing (she had asked the kids and found out who i was). She also warned my maid’s daughter to stay away from me. She also told her that i was a bad guy, and that she should not eat any food that i offer. My maid also told me with a smile on her face that the kids were given homework in school that day for the first time.
I felt disgusted, angry, and motivated more than ever to do something about this lack of accountability in the Indian public education system.
- The accountability in this school was very poor. There was no one to check into the school affairs, and the teachers belonging to a higher caste were running the show.
- The teachers were not really interested in teaching, and were there to just get paid. I’m convinced that the lack of motivation, lack of monitoring and social distance from students/parents played a major role in the lack of teaching activity.
- Monitoring works. Just by me visiting once, for 5 mins, rattled the school teachers, and the kids were given homework for the first time. If the serious monitoring was somehow enforced in these schools, i have no doubt the teaching activity will pick up ten fold.
- If this is the situation in the public schools in urban India, i shudder to think how bad it would be in rural India.
- The bottom line is that the students in this school were being cheated, and were receiving a very poor quality education. They were getting free public schooling, but NOT education.