Murder at Ryan International: Private education system needs abolishing

Education and health must be a monopoly of the State.

 |   Long-form |   12-09-2017
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The good thing is that the heinous crime in Ryan International School, Gurgaon, has rattled the nation. The bad thing is that, being rattled, we are talking things that are irrational and unhelpful.

First, why are we so rattled? We are, after all, used to crimes and brutalities on all, including children. The shame of this country is that caring for babies and children is not a priority for us. Over 25,000 children below the age of five die of diarrheal diseases every month, because they don’t have safe drinking water.

In the recent months, over 100 children have died in hospitals, because we couldn’t supply them oxygen. Tens and thousands of children below the age of 14 languish in bonded labour. In a city like Delhi, there are at least 3,00,000 children who live virtually on the streets, many of them sexually brutalised day after day.

Children are not safe in our homes. More children are sexually abused by relatives than by strangers. Children are exposed to physical and emotional abuse. Given the violent and abusive relationships between husbands and wives today - marital is now nearly martial - millions of children live in continual and wordless trauma at home.

Our education system is hugely and gratuitously cruel to children. Please take an audit of all schools in India and find out in how many of them learning is a benign, leave alone happy, experience for children. Do we train our teachers for this purpose?

ryan-body_091217052652.jpgWhether an educational institution can stay unaffected by the rot and depravity that rage all around it is an issue that we are happy to dismiss.

Learning is one of the happiest privileges for a human being. We have turned it into a smoke-chamber of low-grade torture. How many children have committed suicide just because they could not cope with the burden we impose on them? Our education system seems custom-designed to produce failures, not successes. Children need to be given special awards just for surviving schools.

And higher education? Why are eager aspirants desperate? Why do they have to run helter skelter, in search of good educational institutions that simply don’t exist? Why is it that in this great country, we don’t have a single institution of higher education which figures in the list of the top 250 in the world? Why is the enrolment ratio still below 25 per cent? The genius of India is withering away in our classrooms.

Or, consider this other thing. When the parents of the children in Ryan International got understandably upset and angry, what did they do? How did they express themselves? In sheer violence. They went on a rampage. How did the police put their stamp on the scene? By sheer violence. How did the management conduct itself? Again, by violence. Hiding from accountability is a form of violence, you see. It is violence by indirection. If you see a boy drowning in a river and you go into hiding, you become complicit in his death, don’t you?

The basic principle is this: if you are not kind and caring, you are cruel. I need not stick a knife into anyone to be cruel. If I enjoy reading, hearing about, or recounting crimes perpetrated, I have a taste for violence and I am different from the criminals only in degree, not in kind. I could do it, under certain circumstances. Does education in this country address such issues, at any level? When will it?

Now consider this. Everyone is all of a sudden indignant that there are schools like Ryan that profiteer through education. A lot of indignation is on display. But I hear parents boasting ever and anon of the massive fees they pay to keep their children in the best of schools and colleges. Till the other day this was - truth be told - an index of institutional merit and a matter of parental pride. How come it is now a matter of indignation? (The same pattern applies to hospitals.)

Come closer to the Ryan horror. The (acting) principal must be, we say, crucified. It is heretical to say anything in her defence, even if it is true. Why institutions are allowed to function for years without anyone to head them - and managements not called to account - is a question that the State needs to answer. But, again, it is a question that no one is asking.

The nationwide non-compliance of prescribed guidelines for student safety and hygiene ignored by officers of the State for decades, is also a matter that doesn’t interest us.

Whether an educational institution can stay unaffected by the rot and depravity that rage all around it is an issue that we are happy to dismiss as "too philosophical".

Recall, if you don’t mind, the liquor shop within 100 yards of the Ryan compound, in complete violence of the court order in this regard. There you have a sign-post to the truth. The authorities that patronised this flagrant flouting of the law of the land are not even talked about.

All right, let’s talk about the erring principal, whom we are so very eager to make an example of. Do you know what it means to administer an institution? Well, I know. Let me tell you what it is like, if you take your work seriously. In the nine years that I was the principal of St Stephen’s, I rarely had three lunches a week. I used to enter my office at 8.15am and leave by 6pm. Teachers worked five days a week. I worked on all six days of the week and, even then, had to do much of the drafting of documents on Sundays at home.

A principal has to meet teachers and students. This is very time and energy consuming. The principal has to manage with a skeletal staff, often inadequate for normal functioning.

Now, here is the real nightmare that heads of institutions face. Colleagues and subordinate staff, who are permanent appointees, enjoy impregnable job security. They can afford to be in a state of simmering defiance. Consider the following example.

When I took over St Stephen’s in 2007, I found 37 employees working in the college mess, where the sanctioned strength was only 23. Why were 14 additional workers, all on contract, employed? It had to be done because it is now a dogma that permanent non-teaching staff cannot be made to work. The 14 additional employees in the mess were doing all the work. I got into serious trouble trying to clean up the mess in the mess. I was universally decried. The karamcharis Union used to go on strike every now and then to ward off accountability and discipline at work. 

Getting routine work done, including cleaning the campus and the toilets, was a bleeding struggle. Arrangements made to enhance security for female students were condemned as oppressive and agitations were launched against them. Even the installation of CCTV cameras was denounced as an Orwellian overkill and a sinister means to spread fear of being watched by the "big brother".

Readers, here is my testimony.  We are a hypocritical people, who simply don’t care for life. We may get excited, and stay indignant, for a while. But we refuse to look reality in the face.

When it comes to the truth of any matter, we are wilfully blind. Perhaps it is a shade worse. We are scared. Speaking the truth one has experienced in flesh and blood is considered obstinacy and impertinence.

Here is my solution, if you like, for the educational woes we decry today. Abolish all private schools in a time-frame of five years. Education and health must be a monopoly of the State.

Let the Indian State set up model educational institutions of excellence. This will eradicate the evil of profiteering in the name of education, ensure foolproof security for all children, and ensure quality education for all.

I’m sure I have shocked you. I can hear you screaming, “This will kill quality education.”

You’re right. And that’s our problem. So long as this is not recognised and pressure mounted on the State to do its duty to meet the basic needs of the people - children in this instance - we shall not only stay where we are, but go from bad to worse.

You are right, there is hardly anyone who gets into education now for philanthropy. Won’t you, please, tell me who gets into anything for philanthropy? Doctors? Lawyers? Journalists? Industrialists? Politicians? Priests? Who?

Beating our breasts about the decline of philanthropy is like Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda denouncing the decline of chastity and sexual mores.

If today the government of Haryana decides to cancel the license of Ryan International, the parents who are incensed against its management will be devastated. Where would their children go? And that is the question writ large over our society.

Where would the children go?

Also read: Murder of Class 2 student of Ryan International School leaves many disturbing questions

Writer

Valson Thampu Valson Thampu

The writer is former principal of St Stephen's College, Delhi and former member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI).

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