The gruesome death of seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur at Ryan International School in Gurugram shook the conscience of the entire nation. Before this tragedy, a series of instances of death and sexual exploitation of innocent children had been reported. Perpetual apathy towards the safety and security of children in schools and the lukewarm response of the state in handling the murder have created serious doubts in the minds of parents and other citizens.
There is no dearth of guidelines on safety measures that schools must accept and adapt. In the absence of serious and sincere monitoring mechanisms, schools rarely care to implement the desired measures. If something untoward happens, there is no accountability, and finally no one gets punished. Private schools are primarily owned by politicians, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs as it promises assured dividends. Usually, those who matter in formulation and implementation of rules, regulations, guidelines and instructions would come to the rescue of these schools in difficult times, as at least some of them would be obliged by the school in one way or the other. The bare fact remains that Indian school system has failed to manage its sarkari schools on the one hand, and regulate commercialisation and flouting of basic norms by the private schools on the other hand. Justice eludes students and their parents in practically every tragic case reported in the media.
The Ryan school tragedy was handled with utter indifference. Initially, the government functionaries were reluctant to lay hands on the school management. However, after intense media pressure and public outrage, they arrested two persons after four days. It would just be unthinkable in an education system, that cares for the future generation, to not hold the principal and management responsible for the safety and security of the children entrusted to the school by their parents.
It is another serious wake-up call for the nation. For state schools, the responsibility of the school head and the District Education Officer must be displayed on a large size notice board in every school. Let the Central Board of Secondary Education take the lead. Stop affiliating more schools for two years. Focus on the existing ones and ensure they follow the norms. Take inspiration from the National Council for Teacher Education, which has decided not to sanction any new training colleges, and focus on weeding out unscrupulous elements intruding the system and lowering its credibility. Transparency must be brought in full measure in these schools. A message must go to one and all that schooling is not the place to earn vulgar profits. With their total attention on commercialisation, even at the cost of schooling and learning, schools throw all the ethical norms in winds and enhance fees by 150 per cent within 12 months and sell books and stationery at exorbitant prices.
It is indeed ironical that majority of the population has no access to health and education facilities, while India has the best of schools and hospitals for the resourceful and privileged. Our ideology of development has achieved only a lopsided advancement in these two sectors. Majority of the government health centres and schools have consistently gone down in credibility. The main challenge is to instil moral, ethical and humanistic values in children in their early sensitive years. This can be achieved only by committed, sincere and competent teachers and heads of schools that possess the power of ‘ideas and imagination’. The main challenge is to let only those enter the education system who have the inclination to be partners in nation building, and ‘who love to learn to teach’. Schools can never succeed in imparting education in its fullness unless those responsible for running it and teaching there sincerely realise they are the ‘icons’ for the learners.
J S Rajput
Former director of the NCERT