At a time when the government schools are being criticized for a poor show in the recently conducted secondary and higher secondary examinations, we need to take a closer look at the private schools and how they work. Not that they run in a vacuum. They are a reflection of our society in general and the education system in particular.

The higher percentage of pass outs from these schools in the recent years and the comparison with the government-run schools often results in us overlooking the truth. We never ask how these schools manage to get 100% results. How such a high percentage of students get above 90% or 95%. We are ignorant or just not concerned as long as the results are good (in terms of numbers). We do not ask if all the students are capable enough to go up one level. We do not ask what magic tricks are performed on them so that they achieve good grades. Since our standardized tests mostly consist of a set of questions that need to be answered, we need to ask where these perfect answers come from.

The ready-made material provided by schools and coaching centers comes into picture here. Of course, the students have an important role to play; they need to mug up all the material provided to them to “shine” in the examinations. Well, all the students should get good grades if that is the case, you may say. But it still depends on how good you’re at cramming; and, occasionally, on how much you actually know because when you forget what you had learned by heart, you have to fall back on real knowledge. Or, I’m sure, you’ll give me examples of students who did well in life and developed good skills studying in the same schools. How some students manage to develop their skills and innate potential in the same system is a miracle.

If you are not part of the education system, you may have missed it. But, if you are a teacher, part of the management, non-teaching staff, a student, or an observant parent, you know what’s going on. Well, like all of us, you have either gotten used to it or don’t want to fix it. Nobody wants to put in the effort. The students are happy because we are doing the work for them; teachers, because it’s much easier to hand over the material to the students than to teach them to think and write. Of course, if they write their own answers, they’ll learn important skills like thinking clearly and expressing their thoughts in an organized manner. Real learning is humbling. It teaches you to appreciate the process rather than the immediate outcome. You are vulnerable when you are learning something new. You look deeper to find the sources of your strength within you.  But who wants to teach their children that. All they want is money-making machines who when they are talked to, should stay quiet and listen.

Of course, the focus on results is sickening, the worship of results if I may say so at a risk of displeasing those who think they are actually reforming the society by running these schools, the self-proclaimed martyrs for the noble cause of education. And the parents, the innocuous creatures who couldn’t set a foot wrong, they pay a huge sum to the schools. They’ll be disappointed to see their children fail or perform poorly. Obviously, you can’t be so obtuse as to tell them that any honest effort in learning can lead to failure. The schools don’t want to disappoint them because that’s where the money comes from. To counter that, the school management resorts to honourable activities like providing ready-made notes, conducting frequent standardized tests, and curtailing teacher autonomy by micromanaging the classrooms. I’m shocked to see some of these schools claiming to be “Islamic”. Surah al Kahf has a warning for them:

Say, [O Muhammad], “Shall we [believers] inform you of the greatest losers as to [their] deeds?

[They are] those whose effort is lost in worldly life, while they think that they are doing well in work.” [18:103-104]

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