Fancy facades vs vital lifeskills

When countries like South Korea, Japan, the United States, etc. involve students in cleaning activities around the campus without considering it a big deal, we consider it a punishable offense.
Last Updated 28 February 2024, 02:02 IST

Recently, I travelled from Ernakulam to Bengaluru on the intercity express train. A well-dressed young girl seated opposite me got off at Coimbatore, leaving an empty water bottle, an energy drink can, paper plates, and plastic covers on the foldable table in front of her.

By the time I realised that she had alighted and I had failed to point out the issue, another three ladies and a small girl occupied the seats around the same table. They, too, added to the waste. When I reached Hosur, the table was fairly loaded, and they folded it like a coffin and chattered while sitting around it. The scene remained the same when I got off at Carmelaram station. 

A couple of weeks ago, I took a team of 23 International Baccalaureate (IB) school students and their two teachers from a popular institution in Bengaluru for a nature camp in Wayanad. Despite being briefed in advance about the limited facilities for stay and food during the event, many of them started complaining upon reaching the venue.

They hesitated to sweep the floor, wash cups, and sleep on the floor. Though the visit was part of their service learning, none of them wanted to serve but preferred to be served. Everyone wanted luxury and comfort. They wasted a lot of food, engaged in mobile chat, and returned with minimal learning.

In light of these two incidents, I feel there is a need to reflect on a recent decision by the Karnataka government to punish a school teacher who engaged her students in the cleaning of the school premises, including the toilet.

In December 2023, the Karnataka Department of Public Education issued an order banning school authorities from forcing students to clean toilets. It also warned of criminal action against offenders. The department has clarified that students can be engaged “only in academic, sports, and co-curricular activities” and not for cleaning.

When countries like South Korea, Japan, the United States, etc. involve students in cleaning activities around the campus without considering it a big deal, we consider it a punishable offense. Assigning cleaning duties to students helps them learn to care for their surroundings and develop responsibility and ownership.

They develop teamwork and cooperation skills too. Cleaning and maintaining personal spaces is a valuable life skill that can be passed down to future generations.

Teachers need to make sure that the manual work meets the educational objectives, respects the students’ dignity, and also meets the legal and ethical requirements of education. But using cleaning as punishment or assigning the duty only to certain individuals is illegal.

With the rampant commercialization of education, many big brands are entering this vast market. It is the second-biggest after the health sector. Almost 99% of all preschools opened in India during the last few years are purely commercial ventures.

Many educationists have described them as “education shops.” For maximisation of profit, they concentrate more on infrastructure improvements than the quality of instruction. Palatial buildings, landscaping, and pleasing the students with colourful cultural events are some of the tactics employed to woo consumers.

The policy of luring students with comfort and keeping them content cannot foster a healthy society. Lack of civic sense and discipline become the end result. Common sense, which is the essential ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, has been the foundation for many decisions in the past. It seems to be dwindling in our present age. Few understand their values and their impact on the rest of the population.

During my teaching days, I was baffled by big seminars and discussions in air-conditioned rooms to improve classroom management. But at the end of the day, I realised interactions with students in the field during various nature walks, adventure treks, and camps were the best tools to instruct and relate to them.

During such programmes, through tactile experiences, they recognised the weaknesses and strengths of each other, and that knowledge bound them all together. They learned that life does not come with silver spoons, and education is meant to aspire for it, not to be entitled to it.

Education imparted on lavish campuses without exposing students to the realities of the outside world is ultimately meaningless. Let our children taste both the joys and miseries of life.

Prodigality will mould them as just show-pieces. Life has highly pressurised moments that leave one exposed. Education should empower one to conduct himself/herself with integrity and character in such situations.

(The writer is a Professor of Zoology and Director of Forest Watch, an initiative for conservation and outreach based in Wayanad.)

(Published 28 February 2024, 02:02 IST)

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