A day at primary schools: classes on, discipline gone

The first thing I see amiss is discipline, among both students and teachers

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Puja Bhattacharjee | December 1, 2012



It took me a whole month to access a primary school headmaster. When I was in school, I remember how the teachers ranted about the never-ending holidays hampering the progress of syllabus. Back then, I could not appreciate their predicament and scowled at them for cursing the joy called ‘holidays’.

Schools of West Bengal have the maximum number of holidays, so here, in Salboni, I had to wait a whole month for the Durga Puja holidays to end. Then there was the unavailability of the headmaster due to official work. The visit was further marred by Jagadhatri Puja and Guru Nanak Jayanti.

But then, I finally meet the headmaster and a few teachers of Nandaria primary school. From my urban perspective, the first thing I see amiss is discipline, among both students and teachers: only a few are wearing the school uniform, and most are unkempt and untidy. None of them wear shoes. As the morning bell rings, they rush to their classrooms and squat on the floor, leaning against the wall.

As the teachers instruct them, the children recite their lessons in unison. The teachers seem surprisingly casual as they pace the corridors while the children recite their lessons. Teachers enter the classroom from time to time to check on the students.

In one classroom, I see the children sitting amid a pile of gunny sacks containing rice grains. I later learn that the sacks have been moved there since the storeroom is infested with rats. Like children in other parts of the country, the students here also come up to the teacher quite frequently to seek permission to visit the restroom.

A little while later, I make my way toward Sayedpur primary school. The headmaster is unavailable but I enter just as the midday meal is being served. The children rush to the porch with a plate in hand. A teacher tells me that the school has both Hindu and Muslim students, and that’s the reason the students bring their own plates. As the rice, dal and vegetable (a potato curry) is served the children fight over a packet of salt. A teacher hurriedly breaks the fight, snatches the packet and gives each a small amount of salt on their plates.

In both schools, my presence seems to have distracted the children, who are not used to anything outside the routine. They amuse themselves by visiting the restroom often and pumping the tubewell with the full force of their small fames until water gushes out, at which point they jump with joy.

As I head back home for lunch, I cannot but wonder again at the lack of discipline — both in the students and the teachers. I have sincere doubts how much they get to learn, and how much they are taught. A pity, for the children are bright and many could have the potential to do well if given the right opportunity — like children everywhere are.

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