Exposure to different educational institutions is an effective way of learning about the quality of the institutions. Observing the atmosphere in the institution and close interaction with the students and staff would provide much information about the image of the school and the quality of education imparted there. During the last three decades I had the opportunity to visit hundreds of Catholic schools in all the states of India to conduct orientation programmes for students and teachers. Though the lessons learned from these schools vary according to the background of the school, people, culture of the place and the region there are some factors common to all of them.
Though all who run the educational institutions claim and profess that they are engaged in a sacred mission of preparing the future generations with character, the reality is far from this. The principals and teachers agree in one voice that they face many obstacles in managing their educational institutions. The challenges they face daily are not only from students but also from all sections of the society. We could divide all these schools in to four categories.
1. Prestigious schools who are basking in the past glory:
These schools have history of fifty to hundred years. Several distinguished persons had passed out from these schools. Because of the long years of tradition, there is a big rush for admissions there. They have large infrastructure and experienced teachers. These schools have no difficulty for funds because of the large number of students and the high fee structure. The teachers are paid good salary. There are good facilities for sports, games and other extracurricular activities. Even if the principals are not experienced and talented, school will function well because of the routine traditions and the experienced teachers. Parents also will be respectful to school management because of the name and fame of the school.
Despite all these advantages many of these schools function as coaching centres that are proud of their hundred percent results. The teachers lack motivation and skills to be mentors. Their commitment is not in proportion to the salary and other perks they receive. Principals of these schools lack professionalism, maturity and above all vision. Because of these factors, value education is not effective. These schools fail to help the students to evolve a broad, lasting and inclusive vision for their lives. They are not motivated to give back to the society. Self-righteousness and complacency are stumbling blocks that prevent these schools from updating.
2. Schools with modern facilities and large infrastructure
These schools are newly founded with most modern facilities and infrastructure. Some of them are known as public schools or international schools. Facilities like playgrounds for all kinds of games, auditorium, AC class rooms, hostel for students with modern amenities, transport facilities, well designed uniforms, qualified teachers and well equipped AV room. Generally, children from the rich families are admitted and there is no scarcity of funds. Because of the income from the high fee, the schools are able to employ qualified teachers. Though these schools are new, the grand infrastructure, large gardens and publicity make them prestigious. They organize many tours for students both in India and foreign countries. Rich people rush to admit their children in these schools. They do well in their examinations. However, the students do not get education to be sensitive to the poor and the marginalized. These schools create a class of sophisticated persons who dream of making a high-profile career either in India or abroad. Regarding building of character, increasing will power and critical thinking on socio-political issues, they are far behind the students of ordinary village schools. They are least bothered about the social issues and do not feel any responsibility to give back to the nation.
3. New schools struggling to come up
Large number of schools was started a few years ago in small towns and cities. They struggle to establish themselves where many schools have already made their brand and captured the market. Many of these schools belong to some religious congregations who decided to start schools as a means for earning income to support themselves. Somehow they mobilize large amount of money for purchasing land. They lack sufficient funds to construct good school building. Many of them do not have funds to construct a residence for themselves to stay and are satisfied by staying in a small portion of the school building with very little space and facilities. Being a new school, admissions also will not be sufficient. During the initial years they have to struggle. They are not able to have even the necessary equipment such as a good sound system, proper furniture, good playground and other facilities.
What is worse is the discontinuity of the members in the community. The superiors do not realize that the trust of the people cannot be transferred to the persons who come and go frequently. The pioneers who made the first contacts with local people and officials should continue till the school is stabilized and very good public relations are built up. Frequent transfers of the persons who created goodwill among the local people will damage the image of the school and cause disconnect with people. Many of these schools do not have essential equipment and facilities to run school efficiently. Instead of waiting to collect funds from the newly started school for further infrastructural development, the authorities shall look for alternative sources for raising funds to establish the school with the needed infrastructure and facilities. Only then the school will be able to gain the confidence and support of the public.
The worst of all problems is poor salary to the teachers. Because of lack of strength of students they do not get enough money to pay proper salary to the teachers. In the absence of decent salary competent teachers are not attracted to the school. When teachers have no quality there will be no quality in the education. Parents always look for a school with quality education and experienced and dedicated teachers.
Often superiors do not appoint very experienced and talented persons to manage these new schools. They have a misconception that the new school do not require very talented and experienced persons. As a result the principals are not able to train the teachers and motivate them. In fact, the new schools, which need stable foundation, require experienced and talented persons who would continue there for a longer period to establish the new school. Frequent transfer of the principal and other members of new schools results in disconnect with people and destabilization of the mission.
4. Schools in rural areas
In the past, missionaries established schools in the villages to provide education for the poor and the weaker sections. Initially these village schools received aid from the Government. Because of good salary form the government, teachers with character and competence were appointed in these schools. Since there were only few English medium schools, children from the nearby villages also were enrolled in these schools. These schools created citizens with values and responsibility to the nation.
Gradually Govt. aid to these schools was stopped due to the change in the policy of the government. There was no income from the schools. The church also started giving its whole attention to the new English medium schools which brought in money. The vernacular medium schools in the villages were neglected. The quality and commitment of the teachers also diminished. Many congregations, who had started vernacular medium schools, shifted to English medium and started investing money in them. As a result vernacular medium village schools are in a poor shape and they are facing a slow death.
1. Church speaks a lot about education as a mission. In reality it has become a business to earn money and expand these business centres further.
2. Even the institutions that are basking in the past glory with much goodwill and support of the public are not bothered to explore possibilities of giving education for vision to their students. All who pass out from these prestigious schools are either brainwashed by the fundamentalist groups or bothered only about their future career. Majority of the students do not have a sense of commitment and responsibility to the society.
3. Though many institutions have very good infrastructure and other facilities, the people who run them lack vision. They also lack professionalism and good public relations.
4. Heads of these big institutions lack leadership skills to coordinate and motivate the teachers to work as a team. They lack knowledge of the very purpose of education. They do not make efforts to equip themselves through personal study and exposure.
5. The heads of the schools are ignorant of the public relation skills. They are also ignorant of the essential information about the local people, culture and socio-political context.
6. Principals and managers do not know to set priorities and choose the programmes which will have lasting impact on the students. Those who do not want to take the trouble of giving exposure to students to the socio-political scenario of the country will spend money and time to go for many days of excursion to expensive tourist destinations. Unfortunately, many heads of institutions have their priorities on reverse.
7. Although Catholic Church boasts of having around 50,000 educational institutions in the country with about fifty million students, hardly any effort is made to analyse the impact these schools have made on the society and the influence they have on the students and their families. How do a large majority of our students become promoters of an exclusive and fundamentalist ideology? How do many of these students become hostile to us? Despite having them in our institutions for many years, why couldn’t we influence their lives to follow the universal values enshrined in the Constitution of India?
8. Why does the Church fail to introspect and prepare a new strategy and action plan to make the best use of our educational institutions to create leaders with vision, ethics and morality?
(Published on 24th June 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 26)