Half baked solutions

What do you do when you change yourself to do the right thing, the correct thing and then end up getting disappointed with the results? Here is an interesting story of a school wanting to do the right thing.

I happened to visit a school in a very poor neighbourhood in Bangalore. Children come from homes that are over-crowded and very, very basic. In their homes, the children deal with problems like frequent power outages, domestic violence and don’t get a quiet corner where they could sit and study.

They bring the same attitude to the school. Attention spans are limited and kids in general are not very study-oriented in class. Teachers regularly spend a big portion of their time and energy to maintain discipline; as a result teaching suffers. It comes as no surprise then that teachers use corporal punishment to keep the kids in line. They wield sticks or a wooden ruler and errant kids regularly get a thrashing. For them, this is the easiest and a sure-shot way to make sure that they carve out as much of their time for teaching,

The school owner, however, is a man with a vision. He has taken on himself the task of transforming education in his neighbourhood. He has tied up with an organization that works with schools and offers help in terms of training teachers, streamlining the curriculum and ensuring that the efficiency at the school increases.

One of the first things that this organization told the school is to stop beating the kids. They were very insistent that no matter what, no child is to be beaten. Our man immediately got this implemented and all the teachers were told in very clear terms that they will not beat any child.

Now this is where it gets interesting. While no announcements were made to the children about this new policy, the kids quickly realized that something had changed. They started testing the limits to see how far they could push their luck and discovered that no matter what, they would not get beaten.

They had hit a jackpot. Very quickly all the discipline disappeared and the teachers found themselves in a completely helpless situation. Teaching obviously suffered and on top of it, the kids were taking full advantage of the situation.

The school owner is now confused, even frustrated with the situation. Should he revert to the old ways? Or should he persevere, seeking hope in adage that it will first get worse before it gets better? Is there some other way that he can deal with the children so that the teaching gets done without resorting to beating?

At some level, he is angry at the consulting organization as well. He believes they gave him only one half of the solution. They just told him what not to do (not to beat the kids) but gave no help in terms of how to deal with the interim chaos or tell him what to expect and how to prepare for it. This is typical of organizations that are high on advice and low on implementation; the surprising thing is that this particular organization works pretty closely with schools and should have been well placed to provide a comprehensive plan.

My worry is that if the teachers revert to the old ways, it will be very difficult to get them to change their ways in the future. And when some of the teachers leave and go to work for other schools, they will always carry this experience with them and be cynical of any such initiatives in the future.

And, dear reader, if you have any tips on how the school should deal with the situation, please leave comments below.

Note: The author firmly believes that there is no place for any form of corporal punishment in our schools. The objective of this article is just to highlight how even the best meaning interventions can fail if not fully thought through.