Sunday, February 26, 2012

The great teacher divide!

I have always come up with "digital" as a prefix whenever someone mentions the term "divide". And I expected the same on the ground, when I went on a "rural tourism" holiday at Pranpur, a dusky village near Chanderi. While the family enjoyed a rare late morning start in the well-furnished resort room, I rushed down for an appointment with the Headmaster of the local government school. I had been lucky to get a go-ahead for a video interview on my last day's visit to his school. I said lucky because a similar request in a public funded school near my home in the city had been declined on fears of "what will I do with the video"! The teachers there had warned the principal that I could use the video in some harmful way! Trust, the important aspect of a society that can be very effectively transmitted to passing generations by teachers and parents, clearly is a big divide between a simple rural setup and its urban counterpart.

The Headmaster, Mr. Sharma, in the middle with his staff
That is not the only divide I am referring to in this post.There is another critical divide that I was pleasantly shaken up to- that great digital divide. Even in my remotest dreams I couldn't have fathomed coming across teachers in this remote village school holding iPads! To be honest, I didn't quite see the iPads, but I was told that a local NGO, Chanderiyan, had donated 2 iPads to the teachers. A computer lab with 11 computers blessed the school too. The daily power cut from 6 am to 12 noon was of course, a reality check! To add insult to injury, the local census team had taken away the only UPS that could power the computers for an hour. I wasn't disheartened to see these problems; it would have been too-good-to-be-true, had everything been perfect.  But the optimist in me made me look at what they were sitting on. The school had a workable IT infrastructure, with 2 iPads that could be an envy of any urban school! It had a very motivated and determined team led by a deserving headmaster who could blurt out the latest pedagogical concepts on his fingertips. He was proudly showing off some of his students' knowledge skills, and told me of the instances when he had to fight with the villagers to keep the school premises clean and not being used as open lavatories in the morning!

I couldn't help but think of a tremendous opportunity of linking two sets of teachers together. Beyond Teaching was founded on these principles and I had to ask the Headmaster for any help that our member teachers could offer. Several options came up including a Skype call for teacher-training and special student sessions, occasional inter-school teacher meetings etc.

Coming to the another big divide between a rural and an urban school. The students and their parents feeling truly indebted to the school for making a change. In another village school that was private, that is, where students pay some fees (in this case, Rs. 100 per month), I witnessed a typical scene. Before leaving school, the four teachers lined up in front of the children and the children touched their feet before leaving! Corroborating the faith in school, the government school's headmaster had boasted that the parents had given him "full freedom to straighten out" the children by using any means.

And finally, the big revelation, though, I admit I should have known. The touchy point about teacher salaries. I came to know that the government school teachers were getting, and rightly so according to the sixth pay (state) commission, Rs. 25,000 per month as their gross salary! I couldn't help myself but not think about their expenses in the village. The private school teachers were getting less than Rs. 1,000 per month! Now, that is a divide that I couldn't fathom at all. Two individuals doing a similar job, presumably with varying results (going by what the parents expected from a private school) and getting paid 25 times differently!

The divides may be very large, yet, the purpose- common. I have found teachers to be a very curious breed, often bored yet occupied; seldom dissatisfied yet content; rarely punishing yet feared! I am only hoping that this community survives and flourishes through the fast changes in our social and learning structures. Beyond Teaching is trying hard to make it easier...Amen!