Who is your Role Model? Think of someone you know or knew personally, not a public figure. For how many of you is that a parent or a teacher? If I asked your children the same question, what do you think they would say? Who would they be thinking of you? How do you know? What about you inspires your child? How do you know?
My own association with schooling goes back to 1958 when I was enrolled into St. George’s Nursery & Primary School as an inmate. From there in 1961, I was shifted to Hyderabad Public School from where I graduated in 1970. Several decades later, I was correspondent of the Arunachalam Higher Secondary School, Thiruvattar, near Marthandam in Kanya Kumari District for three years, as part of my main responsibility of being the Manager of New Ambadi Estates, Kulashakharam. This school had 1200 students and 75 teachers and so was a fairly substantial assignment. We took it from being the worst school in the State of Tamilnadu to being one of the best. That is a long story which along with other stories of my life is in my book, ‘It’s my Life’, which is available for all of Rs. 230.00 from Amazon.in. That is the value of 60 years of living; Rs. 230.
I used the term ‘inmate’ for a reason. It is because most, if not all, our schools are run like prisons. The school is owned by an entity, maybe the state or private; most American prisons today are privately owned and run for profit. Prisons have a set of professionals who run them, called Jailors. In the case of schools, they are called Teachers. Children are admitted into the school just as prisoners are admitted into prison. And their entire existence in the system is characterized by one overwhelming reality; lack of autonomy. Just like the existence of prisoners in a jail. They enter at a designated time and must serve their term and can’t leave until that time is over. The gate shuts behind them and they can’t open it. What they do is totally regulated and this is informed to them by bells or buzzers. We believe that young adults including their teachers can’t be trusted to keep to time limits but must be rudely awakened by ringing bells. Students can’t eat, sleep, play, talk or even go to the toilet without asking permission. I can go on, but I won’t because we were all fellow prisoners in the system, while some of us have been elevated to jailor status.
Another enigma and mystery – the Parent Teachers Association. Ask yourself one question: Who is the school, any school, for? Then ask why it is that those who the school is supposed to be for, have absolutely no say in any meaningful decision that affects them? Yet we believe that we will be able to form discerning, responsible, ethical citizens by ensuring that they never take a single decision in the entire time that they spend at school. We fill their heads with random information and grade them as passed or failed on their ability at random recall within a specific time frame. We don’t test knowledge or understanding, much less application. We simply test memory.
Ask yourself how you define ‘Good student’? Regurgitation of undigested food is called vomit. Regurgitation of undigested information is called passing exams. If you don’t believe me, tell me when was the last time you gave a prize for dissent? What happens to a student who tells you the truth; i.e. that what he is being taught makes no sense? What happens to a student who understands what you taught but not why you taught it or why she should learn it or where to apply it, because none of that is taught? And finally, if the child fails in the exam or more importantly, fails to learn, whose failure is it really? But who gets punished? Whose career can be in jeopardy? And who takes home her full salary without any problem? Schooling is the only system in society where product quality and customer satisfaction have no relevance. To use Mikel Harry’s definition for quality, he said, ‘If you want to see what people value, see what they measure.’ Ask yourself if you measure the quality of your parenting and teaching and if so what is the price you pay when you don’t come up to the standard. That is why you need to define the standard first.
Finally, the last nail in the coffin, the issue of life skills. In our current system, it simply doesn’t even exist. As an experiment, which I do not suggest you do, ask one of our near and dear ones who graduates from Grade 12, to leave home and take care of herself or himself for one month without going to anyone they know. I don’t think I need to describe for you, what will happen. That this happens at the end of 15 years of full time ‘education’ which you paid for and from which everyone involved benefited materially, is to put it politely, tragic. Ask yourself what you would call someone who studied something full time for 15 years? Ask yourself what you call your graduating 12th grader. Then ask yourself why?
This is not a litany of grief nor a doomsday scenario. It is a snapshot of what exists today. I can assure you that it is changeable, curable and that too without too much pain, provided only one thing; that you should want to do it. I am happy to show the way, but like the doctor, I can’t eat the medicine on your behalf.
My first set of questions to you, parents and teachers, is, ‘What does education mean to you? Why do you teach? What do you teach? How do you teach?’ These are three fundamental questions that you need to answer in a way that is convincing and inspiring. Don’t get bogged down by matters of syllabus and curriculum. These are fundamental questions that relate to your whole belief about raising children.
My second set of questions therefore is, ‘What kind of person are you trying to create in your child?’ Do you have a clear definition? Who is your role model for that? Does that inspire you? Does it make you lose sleep in the night? Do you measure yourself against a standard with respect to that definition? Do you stand before Allahﷻ and ask for His help in enabling you to achieve that goal?
It is a design issue first. Then we come to the tools and environment. You can’t build a plane in a train factory. So also, you can’t create leaders in a system designed to produce obedient slaves.
And most important of all, ‘Does your child share this dream with you?’ Because the reality is that unless he or she does, nothing will happen.
I remind you of what I said earlier: Children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do.
My dear friend Advocate Shafeeq Mahajir sent me this story which illustrates what I mean very well.
“I was waiting at a traffic light to cross the road with Haruki, a Japanese friend. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in a small town on the outskirts of Tokyo and there was not a vehicle or soul in sight. So, I turned to Haruki and said, “Hey, I know it’s a red man but should we just cross?”
Haruki looked at me and shook his head. “No, we wait for the green man.”
I was a bit perplexed – it did not seem to me that it would make any difference whether we waited or not. “There aren’t any cars. Why do we need to wait?”
Haruki smiled, then asked me a question in return: “What if a child is watching?”
That is why in Africa they say, “It takes the whole village to bring up a child.”
Today we are facing a crisis. A crisis of youth. We have the youngest population in the world. We have 526 million people under the age of 25. Out of that we have 272 million between the ages of 10 & 19. That means that for the next 30 to 40 years we will have the youngest population of any nation. This makes us ideally suited to become the workforce for the world. But that is conditional upon two things: a high-quality skill training system and high-quality infrastructure. On the first, statistics of 2016 tell us that we are producing engineers of which 3.7% are employable. That means 96.3% are not. So, even if jobs are created, who will do the work? And remember that this 96.3% failures are of those who made it to engineering college. What about the millions who don’t get beyond school education itself? They still exist, they still need food, shelter, housing, medical care, employment and happiness. What will happen when all they come up against stone walls at all these thresholds?
I was driving in rural Madhya Pradesh, barely an hour out of the capital, Bhopal when I noticed in every single village we passed through, young boys (no girls) wearing trousers (some in jeans) and shirts, standing idly on street corners. Believe me this is the situation in almost every state in North India. South India is marginally better.
When I saw this for the Nth time, I asked my driver, ‘Why are they standing here? Why are they not in school or college or at work?’
He said to me, ‘Sir school khatam ho gaya, college ja nahin saktay, kaam nahin hai.’
I asked him, ‘Kheti kyon nahin kartay?’
He said, ‘Sir, school jo gaye hain. Ab kheti nahin kar saktay. Kheti karna bey izzati samajhtay hain. In kay baap khet mein kaam kartay hain. Betay pant shirt pahen kay nukkad par jama hotay hain aur time paas kartay hain.’
Me, ‘Khatay kya hain?’
He, ‘Jo in kay bapu kamatay hain. Ya phir kaheen majdoori kar laytay hain. Par ummeed bahut oopar ki hai. Wo tho nahin mil sakti. Tho dil udaas hain.’
These are the raw material for the drug trade, for crime. They are the cannon fodder for those who want to gain political power by invoking all kinds of divisiveness and violence. They have no job, no education, no nothing but they have a vote. How do we reach them? How do we help them? We are sitting on a timebomb which is ticking. As I said, I have a solution, so please bear with me.
Infrastructure development means becoming energy sufficient, making world class ports and transportation systems. Without these four things; clean, reliable energy, good transportation, ports and a highly employable workforce, no major investor will invest in this country. I won’t go into a probability analysis of all this, but I think the writing on the wall is clear for anyone who can read. The only way out is high-quality schools which can produce ethical, moral citizens, who are trained as entrepreneurs. Governments can’t help us. We must help ourselves or get prepared to perish.
My solution is implementable by every school and the results will be visible within a few years. It has three interlinked parts:
- Vocational/Skill education in all secondary and high schools. Every child must learn a skill and must be able to work with his/her hands.
- Entrepreneurial training
- Venture Capital Fund to incubate young entrepreneurs
The best solution to combat crime is to give people something to lose. In addition, tough zero tolerance for crime, which means that criminals must pay, not crime.
On top of that we have a society where corruption is not just acceptable but aspirational, people have an entitlement mentality, compassion has vanished, oppression is the law of the land and crime pays instead of criminals. So, teach values before you teach anything else. And remember that values can’t be legislated. Values must be inculcated. You must practice what you preach, or it will fail, and you will lose respect to boot. Your job as parents and teachers is to give them memories. It is those memories that will come to their aid in times of emotional and moral dilemmas. It is those memories which will become their touchstone, their criteria for making their own decisions in their lives. Give them memories thoughtfully because you are giving them memories anyway. Make sure that you give them memories that they will honor you for and remember you by and pray for you and seek forgiveness for you from Allahﷻ when you have long gone into your grave. Let me share with you some memories that my parents and teachers gave me.
During the years that I was in school, Hyderabad Public School, the principal was Mr. K. Kuruvilla Jacob. Mr. Jacob was a legend in his own lifetime. A man who taught me about leadership before I knew the word. Let me tell you one story about his leadership style as I experienced it.
It was 1968 and I was in Grade 8. I was sitting in class waiting for the morning recess bell to go off. My seat was by the window looking out over the courtyard across which were the toilets. To my amazement, I saw Mr. Jacob walking into the toilets with a bucket with cleaning brushes in it. A word about how Mr. Jacob looked and dressed is necessary to appreciate the reason for my surprise. Mr. Jacob was a tall and dark man who always wore white on white. He wore a white bush coat – patch pockets, half sleeves on white trousers and shining black shoes. His clothes were always sparkling white, starched and ironed to a knife-edge. You could cut yourself on the crease of his trousers and look at your face in his shoes. Here was this man in those clothes walking into our toilets with a bucket and toilet cleaners.
I dug my seat mate in his ribs and gestured but before his eyes popped out of his head, the bell rang and we all trooped out silently and stood before the toilets. What did we see? Our toilets, like I suppose the toilets in most boys’ schools, had their walls festooned with rather smelly poetry and prose, to put it politely. What we saw was Mr. Jacob, cleaning the walls of the toilets. He worked silently, ignoring us, spraying the cleaner on the walls and then brushing them clean and washing them down with water which he had carried in the bucket. When he finished a few minutes later, he picked up his bucket, finally looked up at us, smiled, and walked away. He didn’t say a word. Not one word. He just smiled at us and walked away, back to his office. We simply stood in silence and watched him disappear. I was in school for four years after that incident and can vouch for the fact that nobody ever wrote anything on the toilet wall again. Interestingly, the phenomenon of writing on the walls of the toilets was universal – all toilets had this graffiti. Mr. Jacob washed only one toilet. But suddenly all toilets were clean, and no graffiti was ever written on them again. And remember, as I said, not one word spoken. I realize today that what he did was as much theatre as it was cleaning, maybe even more theatre than cleaning, but the impact was powerful and permanent. Leading by example always is. Such were my teachers.
Let me tell you about my memories about my parents.
My father Dr. Mirza Anwar Baig was a medical doctor who worked for the Government of Andhra Pradesh, Mysore and lastly with Hyderabad Allwyn Metal Works in the 50’s and 60’s. I have many memories about him but one of the most powerful is of him in his private practice as a doctor. He started it very reluctantly, mostly at my insistence. But strangely he never broke even. I was perplexed because he was one of the best doctors that I have ever known. His clinical diagnosis was like magic. He saw signs in people that today it takes multiple scans to unearth. His patient manners were superb, and people loved him. He had a long line of patients waiting daily and didn’t finish his clinic until 1030 pm. Yet his practice made a loss. I decided to go and see for myself, what he was doing. What did I see? I saw him checking an old lady and then prescribing medicines for her. She said to him, ‘How much will these cost Doctor Saab?’ He said, ‘Ten rupees.’ She said, ‘I am a poor woman Doctor Saab. I don’t have ten rupees. Please prescribe something cheaper.’ My father put his hand in his pocket, took out ten rupees and gave it to her and said, ‘Go and buy the medicines.’ Obviously, there was no question of taking a fee from someone you just gave money, to buy medicines. This seemed to be more the rule than the exception and so a very busy medical practice made losses.
When we got home, I pointed this out to him and told him that if he is not going to take a fee, I could understand. But if in addition he was going to give people money for medicines, how could his practice make a profit? He said to me, ‘What is the good of prescribing medicines, when I know they can’t buy them?’ In a last-ditch stand, I asked him, ‘How do you know they are all in need? Maybe they don’t deserve your charity.’ He replied, ‘I don’t deserve what Allahﷻ has given me. So, I am not going to see who deserves and who doesn’t. If anyone asks me for help, I will help if I can. Let Allahﷻ judge who deserves and who doesn’t.’
In conclusion, I would like to state categorically, that the situation is far from hopeless. But for us to change our destiny we will have to redefine the meaning of ‘citizenship’ and start acting like citizens of an independent nation, instead of subjects of a foreign government. Our problem is that we have not got out of the colonial mindset. That is why we call our elected representatives, ‘rulers’. And we consider ourselves passive, helpless beings to whom things are done. Our only recourse is to train our children to become active participants in society and create a culture where dissent is not just accepted but encouraged, people have fora to voice their opinions and actively participate in societal development. Schools must play a critical role in enabling this by becoming laboratories of citizenship where children learn to own responsibility and take decisions for the general good. Care of the commons must be a major factor of concern and a change of mindset from entitlement to contribution, the criterion on which we must judge our success. There are many examples from the world of societies which operate on the values of honesty, mutual respect and harmony and a focus on contribution and not entitlement and consumption. The trick is to inculcate these values in our society.
On that depends our future. Not only our development but our very existence.