Everyone has had a teacher in their lives who has shaped them and guided them to the right path. A teacher who has understood and mentored them; taught them lessons that have helped them get through more than just school exams and have imbued inspiring qualities in them that would last a lifetime. Yet, in India, there are more teachers who callously punish than positively inspire, who mar more than mentor their students.
Why are Indian children more afraid of their teachers than they are confident of them? Why are Indian teachers so angry than they beat their students black and blue? And why is this atrocious situation still continuing to be so rampant in the country?
In India, teachers are feared more than they are revered. They are dictatorial authorities whose jobs are to discipline and punish. Their main concern is to finish the academic portions of that school year by hook or by crook and all the while, they never bother about whether the children learn anything at all. Students need to pass exams, remain submissive and blindly obey their teachers. Students who fails to do so are beaten or chastised severely.
A student that puts forth his opinion in a class or openly asks questions is viewed as a problem child. He/ she is immediately reprimanded and warned never to repeat his actions again. When you only need to learn your lessons by rote, who cares if you don't understand the text?
While this appalling approach to education is changing, many schools in India unfortunately still function this way. A major part of this problem is the failure of the education system to ensure the availability of properly qualified and educated teachers in the country. Fused with this reckless administrative slur is the lack of accountability among teachers and the extremely poor percentage of inspections that the education departments carries out to assure that an apt education is given to children. The severely low status of the teaching profession is also another significant factor contributing to this problem.
In India, teaching is seen as more of a second-class profession that attracts especially those who don't do well enough academically to enter more estimable, higher paying careers or jobs. Also, since it is a female-dominated profession, it is perceived as not being a demanding or difficult field. These two stigmas need to be abolished and changed for there to be a better standard of education as well as teachers in India. Teachers have to be taught to think innovatively and creatively, to have a more gentle approach towards students so that students develop trust and confidence in their teachers and want to learn more rather than plainly having to.
There is an institutionalized problem with the student-teacher relationship in Indian schools. The classroom atmosphere is authoritarian, overly formal and not friendly. Students are encouraged to fear (and even deify) their teachers. Even the slightest misbehavior from a student (like not being seated at one's desk at the time of a teacher's arrival in a classroom) is met with serious punishments like caning or beating. Many children are terrified of going to school. They experience nightmares and slip into a state of depression because of the fear induced by teachers in their schools. Children show less and less interest in their school work, viewing it only as a burden which they have to tolerate and go through in order to escape school punishment, and have to live through the double stress of having to score more marks to please parents and also endure the tormenting school environment.
In 2012, a survey across seven Indian states by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights found that 99% of students had experienced some form of corporal punishment. In the 3-5 years age group, 60% of students surveyed said that they had been caned. India also has one of the highest suicide rates among students in the world.
Here are a few Indian news stories of abuse issued by teachers onto students:
A nine-year-old girl from Karimnagar, Telangana dies because of injuries caused by punishment in school.
A sixteen-year-old student from Baran, Rajasthan hangs himself to death after being punished in school.
For stealing a pen, an eight-year-old student from Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh is beaten up by the principal so badly that he dies.
An eleven-year-old girl from New Delhi vomits blood, slips into a coma and dies after being beaten by her teacher and then told to stand under the afternoon sun for nearly two hours with bricks on her shoulders. (allegedly for not being able to recite letters of the English alphabet).
A ten-year-old boy from Purulia, West Bengal who, after being badly beaten by his teacher for not being able to reply, falls ill and dies.
Although corporal punishment may sometimes seem necessary, in most cases it can easily be avoided. It isn't the only way to correct a child or prevent him/her from wrongdoing. A societal acceptance of violence as a form of discipline, and a general lack of awareness of children's rights are the basic causes of this rampant practice. What needs to be understood is that violence only induces more violence. If it is an agreed upon fact that teachers are most significant in nation-building, then we must also agree that they are most responsible for violence in society.
I, too, have been beaten by teachers in school. I have been so scared of teachers that I used to throw up before going to school when I was nine. And I've seen classmates being punished so badly that they've had to immediately be taken home by their parents. Eventually, after tolerating a lot of nonsense from teachers, I started to stand up for myself. I later had to face the consequences of doing so, which involved being pointed out by virtually every other teacher in my school as being the kid who lacks discipline and complains to its parents about teachers. This, along with many other things, took a bad toll on my mental health. I no longer wanted to be a part of such a corrupted, hypocritical, vulgar environment so I left mainstream schooling and started being homeschooled. It still is one of the best decisions I've made in my life.
Unfortunately, most children in India face worse situations than mine with no way out. If a child tells his/ her parents about being punished by a teacher and the parents get involved in the issue, the teacher marks the child red and isolates the child from getting involved in her classes in the future. This doesn't happen everywhere but in my experience, I have seen it happen even in respected private schools where a teacher (after being reported of punishing a child by a parent) tries her best to ostracize that child in a classroom as some kind of an immature, sick attempt at revenge for having her reputation tarnished. It is because of this and also to avoid future punishments among other reasons that children refuse to tell their parents about being punished in school.
When I was in the second grade, I have seen teachers pull certain students out of the classroom and chide them for telling their parents that they were beaten. In this instance, the teacher was livid that the child's complain had resulted in her getting a warning memo. "What happens in school, stays in school. Get it?" The woman teacher barked, shaking a tearing-up seven-year-old vigorously in anger.
Coupled with this monstrosity is the state of unfair treatment of different sections of the student crowd by teachers in schools. Certain students are favored by teachers over other students. These favored students are given better opportunities, get 'special' attention, are more appreciated, provided more marks than other students even if their performances are not up to par, their mistakes are purposefully overlooked and they enjoy a cordial relationship with the teachers. Other students are blatantly mistreated and are not given much care. This unfair, biased behavior from teachers is elicited by a number of reasons. For example, if a student is from a rich family, he/she is favored by most teachers. This practice is so common and widespread in India yet sadly remains as the elephant in the room.
Changing this culture of fear, violence and bias in Indian schools is important in order to ensure better education for children. For social change to take place, there must be an awareness of the truth and everyone must strive to affect a positive change in society together. Instead of rote learning Rabindranath Tagore's Where the mind is without fear, teachers and students must together consider creating a world without fear, starting first with their classrooms.
Children should like and respect their teachers, not fear them. There must develop a sense of mutual respect and understanding between student and teacher in order to promote a healthy relationship between the two. Teachers should be patient and unbiased in their attitudes towards students. They must realize the significance of their job, the grave importance of being a teacher and how much of an effect even a single gesture of theirs may have upon any student at any time.
Into that Heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.