it ain't no easy task

We are again on the look out for a spoken English teacher as Smita our Okhla English teacher is leaving us next month. The search is on and we know it ain't no easy task. We need someone whose spoken English is good and who is willing to work in a reclaimed garbage dump and who loves children. We remember how tough it was last time.

Last week a young woman came by for an interview. She was armed with certificates, one being an English Hons degree. She seemed a little shy and hesitant but was quick to tell us that this was a her first job interview and she was very nervous. As Smita is still with us we decided to try out this lady as an understudy and take a final decision in a week or so. No week was needed to realise that in spite of her degree, her English was abysmal and non existent. The class was learning opposites and when asked to write the opposite of fat one of our kids confidently wrote THIN on the white board. The new teacher decreed this was wrong as there was a letter missing. Every one was nonplussed: the children, Smita and even the other primary staff. The new teacher then added a G. You can imagine every one's reaction. At the end of the session students went to the supervisor to tell her that they did not think the new lady could teach them anything. The die was cast. And to crown it all the young woman was constantly mixing yesterday and tomorrow. We knew she had to go. The hunt for an English teacher was still on.

This post is in no way meant to belittle the young person in question. Far from that. My heart actually goes out to her. Imagine the hard work she must have put in, the sacrifices the family must have made so that their daughter could study, the joy she must have felt when she passed her examination not to forget what she must have felt when she was told the job was not hers. This post is meant to once again expose the state of education in our country, particularly education of those who are born on the wrong side of the fence. If you come from a non English speaking home then your only encounter with the language is in school. Now if you go to a Government school it is very likely that your teacher does not speak the language well. I can never forget my first brush with what transpires in an English class in a secondary school. One of our students came to me one day way back in 2001. She was in class VII. She handed me her book and asked me to help her. It was an English course book that was a compilation of essays and extracts from known writers. The page was open on an extract from Oscar Wilde's Happy Prince. The girl brandished a pencil in my direction and asked me to underline the text. You can imagine how perplexed I was. I sat her down and asked her what she wanted me to do. She repeated: Underline! I then asked what happened in class and she told me after some prompting that the teacher sometimes read the lesson, or sometimes didn't and then explained the meaning in Hindi then told the students to underline the answers to the questions that appeared at the end of the text. The students then learnt the lines by heart and could answer the questions in examinations. Needless to say none of them really knew what the underlined lines meant. As she had been absent for some days she needed the lines underscored so that she could learn them for the test on the next day.

That is what goes on in an English class and if you mug your lines well, as the young teacher must have done, you got good marks, and if you got good marks you could apply for a university course in English (correspondence or evening classes as their marks are never enough for an admission in a DU college) and get your degree. This is what happens to many students from poorer homes and it is when they apply for a job that they often face a reality check. You may wonder what happens to a rich child who does not have sufficient marks. Well he has s/he has many options: a private university or the option to go abroad and sit for a school leaving again. Needless to say these options come at a hefty price and are out of reach for students from underprivileged homes. Yet all the children of India have a right to education, and I would assume a good one. But that is not what happens. The divide exists perennially.

You may wonder how children from humble homes would fear fare in a rich school. Believe you me they would do exceedingly well as they are survivors who know intuitively what is good for them. And I speak first hand as we have 8 such children in what could be called a good school. All eight are top of their class. So if given the chance they deserve, all kids would shine. It is time we thought about them and did something.