Column : So, whos here for the teachers

Written by Sunil Jain | Updated: Oct 6 2010, 07:52am hrs
Self esteem is delicate thing, you dont know what it will drive you to do. Especially in the case of a 13-year-old who probably hasnt even learnt to verbalise fully his emotions. A teacher canes you, a fellow student bullies you, or a lot worse, and you commit suicide. To that extent, everyone is to blame. Blamed not in the sense theyre to be booked under some section of the IPC or now under The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 like the principal of La Martiniere for Boys, Calcutta, was for his alleged role in the suicide of Class VIII student Rouvanjit Rawla, but blamed in the sense that no one was able to spot the problem. The boys family had originally filed the FIR under the abetment to suicide section of the IPC, but the police booked them under Section 324 (voluntary causing hurt), Section 355 (assault with intent to dishonour a person) and Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act (torturing a child). Tempers are running high, and La Martiniere is standing by the principal.

Now that the first arrest, and of a school principal, has been made under the charge of corporal punishment (it used to be called caning when we were in school several decades ago), its time for the education establishment, and that includes parents, to get together and see what kind of hole were digging for ourselves.

It can be no ones case that teachers be given the right to bash up children with gay abandon, and certainly police action or whatever else needs to be taken against such teachers. But lets not make a law to deal with the exceptions.

That, however, is precisely what the Right to Education Act has done. Section 17 (1) of the Act, which deals with this, has this to say, No child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment. While the physical punishment part is still understandable, though I think it is fraught with problems in terms of maintaining even a modicum of discipline in a classroom, what do you say to mental harassment If the teacher cant touch a child who is misbehaving, she can at least give the child a talking to, or ask the child to stand outside the classroom. Is that mental harassment Section 17 (2) of the Act is clear that it is and says whoever contravenes the provisions of sub-section (1) shall be liable to disciplinary action under the service rules applicable to such person.

The other thing a teacher can do, and this was a common threat when we were in school decades ago, is to hold back a student a year, or threaten to do so. Mental harassment Section 16 of the Act is clear this is not to be tolerated. No child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education. That settles that I suppose, and you can go to court to enforce this right under the Constitution.

So can we decide, as parents and teachers, how we expect teachers and schools to educate our children, to ensure they actually study and dont disrupt classes. How do we ensure the process of education does not become one big prison where teachers dont get caught up in just dealing with babudom instead of teaching our children A fourth of all schools have to reserve seats for the poor or any other section, weak or disadvantaged, that the government decides. So a considerable portion of the schools time is going to be spent dealing with various babus and commissions, perhaps even Parliament, answering why enough kids of the poor/disadvantaged havent been admitted. Add to this the threat of mental harassment, the fact that no child can be held back, once again to be enforced by some babu somewhere Were asking for serious trouble in terms of the quality of children being turned out of our schools. Think of the teacher at the next PTA meeting. Think of her as we begin our race to the bottom.

sunil.jain@expressindia.com