Dec 20, 2010

The 'Principal' factor

This is not the first time I will be commenting on our education system. But before I begin, a small disclaimer. Whatever is said here, is merely my opinion, and not any attempt to defame or insult anyone. It may or may not be the whole truth, but what I speak about is the side I know about.

So, let me begin.

Recently I heard about a small incident in a reputed architecture college. Well, not exactly small. The college principal has recently been appointed, and since his appointed, has been surrounded by dissatisfaction, controversy and rebellion. And for good reason too.

During assignment checking, the Principal would make the students wait in line outside his office from early morning to midnight and more. Till the checkings finished. Now, I do believe that it is really unethical to make a student wait so late, esp when you are not going to provide him/her transport back home (yes, girls too!) Following this, a parent wrote a complaint to the media, which led to the Principal ending up in the spotlight and being questioned. But would that deter him? No way. In fact he went around threatening students to sign a letter that said that he was innocent, or else he would fail all of them. Older students would still say no. But the first years, fresh into college and scared to death, would obviously give in to the threats.

This did not end here. Many such issues happened. Now we have to understand that in an architecture college, it is not just lectures, there are also assignments that take all day. I have known people slogging over assignments all night and barely getting any sleep, throughout the year. Having full knowledge of this, the Principal still increased lecture timings and kept the college open on Saturdays too. Which led to less time to complete assignments and more stress, pressure and less sleep. Teachers would object, but they had no say either.

The most recent incident happened a couple of weeks ago. Some background. Final year students have a thesis to submit along with other assignments. They spend almost 2 years on this thesis. They also have to spend their final semester at an internship working. The lectures happen, but it is often that they do not happen and are cancelled. Lecture timings are one lecture from 7-11 am, and another from 11-2. The attendance format was changed by the new principal such that attendance would be taken at 7 am, 11 am, and 2 pm, whether lectures were cancelled or not. So if the 11 am lecture did not happen, attendance would still be taken, but at 2 pm, not 11 am. As a result, many students chose not to come and instead spend the time on finishing assignments, thesis, etc. Better than whiling away 3 hrs in college doing nothing right?

Well not for the Principal. The attendance of students in class as a result was not 75% due to the system. In fact, the person with the highest attendance had a total of 74 something %. That says something doesn't it? Well the Principal decided he had to 'show his authority and power' again and forced the students to write a letter saying they did not have complete attendance and scored unsatisfactory marks (even if they didn't) and that's why the Principal had complete right to not send their exam forms to the university. This had to signed by them and their parents or else, guess what? The Principal would not send the forms to the university.

So, in order to get this straight, the students had to write a letter allowing the Principal to not send forms, in order to stop him from not sending forms. It was a lose-lose situation.

So, the students peaceful went to the Principal's office to ask him that why is he doing this. What is the purpose of signing if there are chances of withholding forms either way? And what is to be gained by such an exercise?

The Principal curtly replies that he is the Principal and has the right to do whatever he wants and is not answerable to students. He told them that if they wanted to go to the media, student council, or complain anywhere else, they could do as they wish. They could not harm him. He would make sure their exams forms are not sent. And if they want him to answer something, the most they can do is request him.

So they requested him.

And he said fine, you have requested, I have heard. Now go, and sign the letters and get it. And sent them away! They had to comply, because they had no choice, and nowhere else to go. The trustees turn a blind eye and there is no forum for complaint and action, that the Principal cannot control.

My question is, is it ok for students to be bullied by the education system like this? Is it ok to suffer it like this, because what can be done? There is no one to go to. And the system is so flawed, that if a complaint is filed to the university also, it would take ages to act upon the same. Which means the Principal can get away with blackmail and ill-treatment and waste a poor child's life. Why are authorities allowed to play with lives like this?

I know the students, and I know they slog every single day, staying awake late and barely getting 3 hours to sleep to juggle their internship and their thesis. During college days, it is the same, with a struggle to keep up under pressure. I know students who have been hospitalized too. Is it fair then to behave like this? Is it right to believe that you have the right to play with these children's future? And if this is the case with one of the top institutions, how bad will it be with other places?

While all the long-term flaws with our education continue to exist, it is this sort of immediate and impactful flaw that is much more dangerous and a cause of concern. And while we try to control the stress rate among students, does it help that teachers and school authorities do their best to increase stress? No wonder we see more suicides. No wonder even 11 year olds have killed themselves and cannot deal with the pressure any more.

It is sad, but true. And I don't know what can be done about it. Do you?

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