Students in my Pune school were mostly made up of the middle-class population, who stayed near the school. Since a large portion settled there, belonged to the same community, the school by choice became a school of this community. But since this school was the only one which was offering Tamil as one of the languages, Tamil children of nearby factory workers etc joined the school. The classes were mixed classes and neither the students nor the teachers had any time to think about the two totally different communities, attending the classes.
A new teacher Varsha joined our school. She had been working in some small town in Tamil Nadu and came to Pune when her husband was transferred. After a week in school one of the day she said to me hesitantly, “ Madam I want to ask you something” I said, “ Of course by all means. Tell me” Varsha said, “Our school has a mixed group of the population. The majority group forms the intelligent and the minority students coming from the poor background are lacking in academics. But in spite of all these differences I am surprised that there is perfect harmony in all school activities”.
I actually blinked unable to understand what she was driving at. I said, “Varsha this is a school. Where is the question of differentiation or discrimination?” Varsha said,“Madam, we are blessed to have such an atmosphere in our school. If you happen to hear the story of my school in Madurai, you will understand why I asked such question” She began her story.
A benevolent rich man, Mr.Ramakrishna, had put all his fortune in a big school in Madurai. As there was a large land of his own, next to the school he decided to construct a technical college there. As the construction began, workers from different parts moved in with their family. Ramakrishna built strong temporary accommodation to those families. After some days he found that children of these workers were wasting their time, playing in mud and gutter when both the parents were working hard for earning their bread.
He took a decision and admitted all those children in his own school and according to their ability put them in various classes. As these children belong to a floating population, their academic level was very low. Ramakrishna now appointed some special teachers who would teach these children after the regular school hours. Many of the young boys and girls made the best use of this opportunity and started learning very well. But there were about eight to ten boys who were nearly sixteen, and having wasted their life they did not have any inclination to learn.
A young teacher, Revathi joined the school and she was allotted to teach this special class after school hours. She was very young, not much experienced. Knowing this, the six grown up boys started disturbing her classes. They whistled, threw things on the board, made cat calls, put a frog on her table and did whatever possible. One day Revathi lost her cool and shouted, “ After all, you are all coming from the Slum!. What other behavior can be expected from you?” The whole class exploded. Even the quiet girls and boys now got up and very one started shouting abuses. The peon heard the commotion and he called other teachers. Five six senior teachers came to class, and immediately, everyone sat down. The teachers asked the students to go home and the class ended. It was Friday and everyone thought that it was a minor incidence of indiscipline. And the classes would go on as usual after the two-day break on Saturday and Sunday. But they were wrong.
Though the school had a holiday on Saturday, the school office worked as usual. When Mr.Ramakrishnan walked to his Principal’s room, on Saturday morning, there was a parcel addressed to him. Half wondering at the tiny parcel he opened it. Inside it there was a single postcard with a Line “ The Red Letter day” His eyes ran urgently through the content of the letter. It said, “Your school and your teacher had insulted our community. We give you just two days for the teacher to make a public apology. Otherwise, we will break every tube light, every window, every furniture in your school and reduce it to a heap of dust”
Mr. Ramakrishna, the noblest man, who always wanted the good of everyone, now stood too shocked. The senior teacher Krishna came in and in a second understood the situation. Soon an urgent meeting of the teachers was called upon. One of them said, “Sir, we would inform the police. Blackmail and writing threat letters are to be dealt with a firm hand”
Mr. Ramakrishna said, “Dear teachers, you are seeing the violence in the statement. But I am able to feel the deep hurt in the mind of these children. These children had been suffering all their life. Moving from one construction site to other had deprived them of education. Where is the future for these children when they grow up? When they see their own age classmates, who are protected by their parents and who would become someone in life, it hurts them. On the top of it someone insulting them about their background, it is just natural to get angry.” Every teacher was touched by this statement. This is something they had never ever thought of. Meeting went on for some time and together they decided to implement some new features right from the next working day.
On Monday at the prayer hall Mr. Ramakrishna, made an announcement. He said,“Dear children, we are going to form a student’s committee in our school. These students will form the representatives for their classes. Any grievances of yours either in teaching or other things etc will be communicated to we teachers through these students. Secondly, these students will also be responsible for taking care of the school building, the fixtures like light and fan, the furniture sets and if some needs repair it would be the duty of the committee to report such thing to teachers. Besides all these, we are starting a sports unit in our school. I understand some of you excel in sports. So we will give the special coach and train you in whatever sports you are good and prepare you for the interschool competition.”
There was a huge round of thundering applause. Then the Principal added, “To start with I am naming these five students as school committee members and then we will include other members” To the shock of the boys, he read out the five grown up boys as school committee members. Varsha added, “The presence of mind of Mr. Ramakrishnan, not only saved the school but the school progressed very well in academics and sports. I was too stunned to hear such a wonderful solution from a learned man.
Dear teachers, this story is basically is an eye opener for us. When you try to correct the behavior of any child make it very clear that you are addressing only the issue and not the individual. Be firm but never use any derogatory hurting statements.
If you find there are some children who are not able to cope up with higher academic level, make it a point to give some extra attention and make them learn according to their level.
Education of the children of the construction workers should be the responsibility of the builders and contractors, especially in the construction of bridges etc it takes years for the completion of work. The government should implement it with an iron hand
School on its part should actively introduce sports as an important part of the curriculum. Thus average students can have great future in the fields of sports and it will help their, economic growth also.
Today’s burning problem of unrest among the Dalit , tribal etc could be easily solved if we could establish good free schools with a lot of sports training etc for these children who had already suffered.
Schools should also have and an active student’ body in all schools. This would help them to know the feelings and needs of the children.
Only one advice to parents. Teach your children to respect the other children who are studying with them. Even if there are the difference of opinion never use humiliating or derogatory words about their status or community etc.