Start of Term

OK, there seems to be some confusion around about what’s happening. For students, the school was due to open on 2nd July after the summer break.

However, we have responded positively to a request from Delhi government to remain closed until 8th July. Anticipating that the Haryana authorities might well follow suit and also to provide consistency for parents we have declared the same new start date for the two Gurgaon campuses.

later, we will take a call as to whether there is a need to make up these lost days, especially if we do lose further time when the rains finally come, but it’s too early to say yet.

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Crisis in West Bengal

This week I met up for coffee with an old friend of the school, Mr Ray Kancharla of Save the Children. He is just back from West Bengal, so was able to give me first-hand feedback of the horrendous state of affairs he witnessed there. He described many areas as being in a worse state than witnessed in Bihar after the flooding caused by the Kosi dam breech in August 2008.

There was a good piece of news. Compared to past severe cyclones the death toll was relatively modest as people were able to take shelter, usually in the school buildings. However, this has contributed to the relatively muted press attention to the tragedy. This, in turn, has been made worse by the apparent reduced political will to provide meaningful relief (because the state is ruled by the out of favour communists).

The result is best described in the document attached here from Save the Children:

Children_of_West_Bengal

As was the case in Bihar, so here in West Bengal, one of the biggest risks is that during all the upheaval and trauma child traffickers can reap a rich and tragic harvest.

It will probably not be too long before the monsoon arrives, by which time it is vitally important that immediate help and aid gets to these people. Then, they need longer term help to get back on their feet. The waters have still not receded. The waters are saline, meaning that supplies of drinking water have been ruined for some time. It also means that cultivation of their land won’t be possible for many months.

When school restarts I will be looking to form a group of students and/ or parents and teachers who want to organise some fund raising so that we can help out the best we can. In the meantime, if anyone wants to donate or do something more immediate, you can find all the details on the Save the Children website.

Save the Children

Schools – Being ‘Safe’

How much safety is ‘too much’ safety in schools? Well, this is a question asked recently by a survey of UK teachers conducted by Teachers TV.

Here’s a BBC article that summarises the results of the survey.

BBC link

Now, when we have all finished laughing at the foolish and bizarre examples given, we do need to think hard about what we actually ask and expect from schools, compared with the level of duty of care we take with our children when they are in our own care. We saw, most recently, with Modern School, Delhi, a tragic incident where a child died from a severe asthma attack. What followed can really be described as a ‘blood lust’ for the school Principal, the staff and pretty much anyone who could, in any way be ‘blamed’ for this incident.

My son is an asthmatic. When he gets home from school he goes out to play, runs around energetically playing cricket and soccer. All that time there is no nurse nearby with an oxygen cylinder and fast vehicle at the ready. Does that make us bad parents? Irresponsible? Or, somehow, as parents are we excused being judged by the same standards as a school (perhaps because fees are being paid?)

Logically, we have to have some fear that if schools are going to be held responsible for a duty of care way higher than parents, then I fear that we could see here in India the kind of bizarre examples quoted in this article. School management would feel duty bound to wrap the children in so much cotton wool. For one thing – expect less outstation trips and excursions as some schools conclude that it’s just not worth the risks.

Surely, this would be such a shame – don’t we have a duty to work together, to maintain a reasonable, rational approach to such matters and to find an appropriate balance between safety and risk that enables our children to grow up in a rich and stimulating environment?

Bullying and Ragging

Last week I got to see the interview I did a few weeks ago with Seema Chandra of NDTV for the ‘No Kidding’ series on NDTV Good Times. By the time i finished watching i felt quite disturbed (and it wasn’t just the realisation that i need to lose some weight and get fit!!). It was not for nothing that NDTV felt the need to preface the programme with a caption stressing that views expressed in the programme were purely those of the participants and not the TV company.

So, what’s got me so troubled? Well, two thirds of the programme consisted of people (including me) talking about prevention of bullying, the unacceptability of ragging, helping victims and improving children’s communication skills so they don’t feel the need to bully.

Then, in the final segment of the programme we got to hear from some children, including a number who attend boarding schools. According to these youngsters;
a) bullying today is not as bad as it used to be (their seniors tell them so)
b) It’s OK as long as nobody gets physically hurt,
c) It’s frequently justified, for example if someone is ‘spoiling the atmosphere’,
d) It’s easy to avoid if you make sure you fit in and ‘play by the rules’,
e) It’s normal for juniors to be made to run errands and other humiliating and belittling stuff, especially if they have put up a weak sports performance for the school,
f) It doesn’t really happen with girls.

Now, do you share my worry and concern? If this group of children were truly representative, then it appears we are bringing up a generation where both the bullies and the bullied have all bought in to the same set of myths – myths based upon survival of the toughest, a cynical belief in a dog-eat-dog world where the winners have the right to win by whatever means, regardless of who gets hurt along the way. Victims should just take it, develop a thick skin so they can take the hurt without it showing (or go out and train themselves up to behave uglier and harsher than the next guy!).

One thing these youngsters need to know – seniors have always told youngsters that “it used to be worse”, “we got it much harder” in order to excuse away their own demeaning, belittling power games. They were doing it when I went to school (and that was a very long time ago!!).

The fact is that bullying and ragging share one basic attribute – it’s about control. In the case of ragging it’s about – “we put up with being controlled, humiliated and subjugated when we were juniors. Now it’s your turn.” Even people in authority will seek to joke away the kinds of initiation rites that new students in colleges are made to go through, all too ready to ‘tut tut’ when the press get hold of pictures or stories and the ugly face of their institutes is revealed for all to see.

In the playground power battle it’s about the ‘in crowd’ making sure that those on the outside know that they are lesser, lower. As for those who want to believe that it doesn’t happen with girls – i say, stop kidding yourselves. Girls may not resort to physical violence so often, but they can have their own ways of controlling, of exerting power that are more subtle and invidious. Name calling, ostracism, passing comments on dress, physique, appearance etc. The reality is girls go for these routes largely because they know that such words can hurt a girl far more than a boy. Many girls take such words to heart and carry them, internalise them and believe them to be the truth about them as a person.

What kind of a world will it be, if every young person grows up believing that their one true measure of success is whether they ‘fit in’, conform to the expected norms set down by the ‘in crowd’, comply and take what comes to them if they step out of line or ‘spoil the atmosphere’ by daring to be different. When geneticists produced Dolly the sheep people worried about biologists and cloning. If our youngsters carry on this way, the biologists won’t have to bother – the young will be turning themselves in to clones willingly.

For those of us who run educational institutes or teach children we have to be concerned when even the victims are justifying away the practices – believing somehow that there is something innately justified in their enforced victimhood.

I believe every student who engages in bullying or who is the victim of bullying becomes in some way stunted in terms of their self worth, their self image. As a result, their ability to fulfill their potential in education, or indeed in life, gets impaired. That can never be a state of affairs that we settle for.

Yes, there are people who live in this world as though it is dog-eat-dog, survival of the strongest. However, such people are usually, in my experience, not the most successful and certainly not the most satisfied with their lives. They practice life from a scarcity mindset, believing that there are finite resources and if they want their desired cut of the cake then they must fight for it, by fair means or foul.

On the other hand there are far more effective role models – people who see life from a mindset that all is plentiful if people share, collaborate, work to their strengths, appreciate the contributions of others, celebrate differentness and find richness in their own lives from being positive towards others.

Am I being too naive and idealistic? Have I missed something, to the extent that the ‘survival of the baddest’ really is the only effective way that our young people will succeed in life?

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