THE STORY OF LEVELFIELD




SOCIAL SCIENCE CLASS

From class VI, we encourage our students to read newspaper. It is actively driven by the school - we select a few news items from Times of India every day, students are supposed to read them back home. We discuss them in the class in the next day. It is perilous territory - newspapers are full of news items which children ideally should not see. But the world too is full of cruelty and violence - newspapers just reflect the state of the world. If we shield our children from everything - we have to ask them not to use internet, not to read books and confine them at home.

Today’s main news is about Aam Aadmi Party, which recently won elections. ‘Arvind Kejriwal sets up Junta Darbar’, it says. The chief minister of the newly elected party decided to meet common people regularly in front of his office.

‘Do you think he is doing the correct thing?’ I ask.

‘Yes,’ most of them answer. Some, like Sree and Deb are silent. Sree always waits for everybody else to offer their opinion. Deb normally does not have any opinion.

But most of class seems to approve of the chief minister’s decision to personally meet common people. The newspaper, too, is full of praise for such a novel and down-to-earth gesture.

‘Think about this school,’ I say. ‘Let’s say the school does not function well. The teachers are not teaching well. The teaching materials are full of mistakes. The transport does not run on time. The toilets are unclean. Who is at fault?’

‘You!’ everybody shouts this time, including Sree and Deb.

‘Not me, not me. I am not so incompetent. Let’s say there was another director running the school. He brought the school to such a condition. So now, I, who was just a teacher before, have been promoted to the position of director - just like Kejriwal.

‘Right after the day I’m appointed, I announce, any parent who has a complaint about the school can come and meet me every day between 9 am to 12 noon. Your child did not understand multiplication table? You can tell me. The boy’s toilet stinks? Raise the issue with me. The school bus reached your stoppage twenty minutes late? Talk to me about it. Would that be the correct approach?’ I ask.

‘You will be wasting a lot of time talking to the parents, and will not be able to spend much time running the school,’ Ananya says.

‘Exactly. My job is to hire the correct people, to set up proper systems and processes. If I do my job well, there would not be so many complaints in the first place. I was working in the school before - so I know its problems. What’s the use of wasting time hearing about them? In Kejriwal’s situation too - he knows what the problems are. He should get down to solving them.’

‘Looks like a young girl came to him complaining that her boyfriend is refusing to marry her,’ Rituraj reads out from the newspaper.

This gets the class energized. They wander off to all kinds of directions.

Ok, enough, enough - you people specialise in talking nonsense,’ I try to stem the flow. ‘Digressing is not what we teach in this school.’

‘Are you sure about that?’asks Rituraj cheekily.

I give him a stern look and he promptly lowers his head, pretending to focus on the newspaper. ‘Kejriwal also promises to reduce electricity prices by half and give free water,’ he says seriously, pointing at the next news item to be discussed.

‘Yes – this is something various governments often promise and do - to give things away for free. Is that a good thing?’

‘No,’ Rhea says, ‘he will anyway collect the money from the people later on through taxes.’

‘Yes - it’s like giving with one hand and taking back with the other,’ I say. ‘Again, coming back to the school analogy, will it be good if next year I halve the school’s fees, or better still, make it free?’

‘No,’ this time many more students respond. ‘It would bring down the quality.’

‘Yes - if I have to run it at half the current fees, then either I have to pay teachers much less, which means I will get lower quality teachers, or I need to pack more students per classroom. Either way, the school’s quality will suffer.’

Everybody nods and understands. It’s easy to teach them this concept. It’s not so easy to teach the same thing to the adults, though. Adults want the best quality, but they want it cheap.