Teach India or Cheat India? - a dissenting note on TOI's Teach India campaign

So much is being made in very self righteous and self-congratulatory tone of Times of India's Teach India campaign. Now that Aamir Khan has also joined the effort there is this great (though misplaced ) feel good factor. The news reports being carried on this campaign where we come across "enthusiastic", "energetic", "spirited" volunteers on the one hand and school dropouts, street kids with their "bubbling energy", "eager anticipation", "innocent eyes" which has seen so much of life's seamier side, on the other, all sounds so corny and bromodic.
Times of India, a newspaper which has so brazenly and patently promoted a culture of consumerism, elevated the lifestyle of the rich and famous (through its soft pornography of Bangalore Times, Delhi Times, Mumbai Times which school kids read with more enthusiasm and glee than...??? Come to think of it TOI actually has nothing constructive or postive for teens and kids like say Hindu's Young World. Of course they have this fancy NIE programme where I'm told they have student specific editions but then students in their early and late teens swear by TOI not for its NIE versions but its tabloid versions!) as something that all should aspire for; a newspaper that caters basically to that exclusive, self seeking, indulgent classes who reside and work in gated communities of Indian metropolises, but now TOI expects the same classes to reach out to the less fortunate, lesser mortals who do not have the fortune of quality education! Sounds so hypocritical, hollow and spurious!! It seems to escape the powers that be at TOI that it is the same social and economic culture that their broadsheet so passionately and unabashedly espouses i.e. free markets, sex, social exclusivism etc that creates in the first place the chasm between people in terms of haves and have nots, it further negates, subverts and corrupts all those qualities that define good education - values which can transform ordinary students to emerge as responsible citizens. With much of TOI's focus on sleaze (to be fair to them, most of media in India is focussed on smut) Teach India is basically a posturing gimmick and a fig leaf for the decadent, consumeristic bourgeoise culture that Samir Jain's TOI so nauseatingly promotes through its brand of journalism. TOI and India's dominat media culture (of India Today, Dainik Jagran, NDTV, Zee, CNN-IBN etc) is so anithetical to the growth, development and nurturing of responsible citizenship qualities among school kids whose values, mindsets have become obsessed by greed, consumerism and self centredness, qualities covertly and overtly promoted by media of TOI variety with its ubiquitous and hegemonic presence.
While the spirit and motives behind Teach India is fine in itself (and could have been finer still were it not backed by a rag like TOI), we need to recognize that volunteerism will hardly help in addressing the enormity of the crisis of learning that afflicts India. Education and teaching are intense jobs, emotionally consuming, intellectually demanding but of course can provide joy and stimulation like no other. But what Teach India is in fact doing, unwittingly perhaps, is again creating the impression that issues connected to learning can be solved by volunteerism.
We need to remember that learning is not just about acquring some skills - to add up, to read, to write but to facilitate deep and proper understanding of both the natural and social world around us. The prevalent discourse of voluteerism in the field of education, something which Teach India furthers, seems to indicate or rather reduce the whole teaching-learning process as a sum of skills - not learning. Mere literacy skills will hardly help to transform India into a nation of well meaning, informed citizens.

The real remedy to the problems of illiteracy and poor learning is to make teaching a worth the while profession which in turn can attract well meaning people into schools, who as teachers can truly make an impact on the students - equip them not just with literacy skills but who help them to mature into well grounded, responsible, thinking citizens. One is not just quick to find fault with teachers for the state of affairs in schools but by reducing teaching to a volunteering effort, one makes it appear that teaching-learning is such a simple process and all that is needed is a spirit of volunteerism to remedy the enormous problem. Do people have any idea what it takes to really teach or help a a child in a fashion where a child's understanding goes beyond mere recollection, repeatition and memorization to reason, analyze, compare, apply, reflect or in other words where a child can be propelled on a trajectory of self-learning and discovery? Or has literacy agenda so colonized our educational policies that basic reading and writing skills alone are seen as sufficient goal or enabler of development? (TOI of course will be happy with latter goals. As long as folks can read Bangalore Times without thought!) So may reports and studies indicate majority of our kids in primary schools after six years of schooling can barely read or write. By setting aside few hours, couple of days a week for such children can barely substitute more sustainable efforts which can only happen in a school on a full time basis.
It's time that we look beyond basic literacy and primary education and recognize that even 'mere literacy skills' needs intense work on the part of teachers and literacy as such is not (maybe should not be) separated from critical thinking skills.

Why does not Teach
India look into the issue of school teachers and teaching In India and why these days no well meaning person wants to get into school teaching? (must admit there was a story or two on this when Teach India was started with all fan fare) Will Teach India also look into the fact that how school teachers across the country (more so in private schools) are as such the most exploited professionals in India - exploited in terms of poor pays, horrible work conditions and denying them self esteem? Will Teach India delve into the kind of emotional pressures that teachers are subjected to by all the other stake holders - students, school managements and parents - who see them as no more than very dispensable entities and who can be knocked around failing to meet "school/parental/student requirements" - and these requirements are as such the whims and fancies of either the (increasingly ill behaved) school students, self opinionated parents and scheming school managements? Will Teach India help initiate a debate by which means and methods are evolved (which goes beyond mouthing platitudes on teaching as a 'noble profession' and instituting few meaningless teacher awards) which brings in better talent to the teaching profession and gives teachers a sense of dignity?Why cannot Teach India also lobby for the Right to Education Bill as well, which seeks to make it mandatory for all private schools to accept at least 25% of students from poor family without any fees? The Gurcharan Dases, Swaminathan Aiyars of TOI who unfailingly and consistently paint the school teaching community black more so if they are from government schools, ever see, like what Azim Premji said, the government school has to become relevant for all and not just the poor?


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