So, who's here for the teachers? PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 October 2010 00:00
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The La Martiniere case raises tough questions for schools, the Right to Education Act will make things worse

Forget caning, the RTE will punish teachers for 'mental harassment'; no, students can't be held back either

Self esteem is delicate thing, you don’t know what it will drive you to do. Especially in the case of a 13-year-old who probably hasn’t 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 they’re 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 boy’s 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), it’s time for the education establishment, and that includes parents, to get together and see what kind of hole we’re digging for ourselves.

It can be no one’s 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 let’s 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 can’t 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 don’t disrupt classes. How do we ensure the process of education does not become one big prison where teachers don’t 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 school’s time is going to be spent dealing with various babus and commissions, perhaps even Parliament, answering why enough kids of the poor/disadvantaged haven’t 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… We’re 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.


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