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Absorbing Education, Infusing Discipline
Inauguration of the Cambridge Stream at Lalaji Memorial Omega International School, 27th June 2007, Chennai, India
Good morning everybody,
I welcome all—the two Principals, the staff, the Correspondent, the Senior Manager, the Chairman, Secretary, et cetera, of the Board, and maybe I should say myself too! [Laughing] Because I am such a rare visitor that I have to welcome myself!
I recall the days when I was a Cambridge student in Jabalpur. You know my school was an exclusively Cambridge school, way back in the thirties, and it had its centenary—hundred years of existence—I think in 1967. So it was a school—its name was Christ Church Boys High School, Jabalpur—established in 1867, as old as Madras University. And it was a small school, because it was exclusive. It was one of those schools called a public school and relative to Indian schools, it was expensive. We had only thirty-two boys per class. And in those days there was no big rush so we had no sections—A, B, C, D and all that. It was a lovely campus, very peaceful life, very sober principles in class. Of course there was a great deal of horseplay, because there were pure British students, there were a lot of Anglo-Indians and quite a few Indians. And I think the pleasantest part of my life was spent in those eight or nine years in Jabalpur. It was up to ninth, and we had the Cambridge school certificate exam; we had the junior Cambridge and the senior Cambridge. I had a certificate, but I think I destroyed all those when I retired from my company, as no more necessary. But from personal experience, I can testify to the excellence of the Cambridge system of education, because even though we had very unassuming teachers, unimpressive discipline—I mean it was not forced upon us. There was a gentility of operation between us, between the students and the staff. And the headmaster, as he was called then, had a cane hanging on the wall above his chair but it was never used, maybe once a year. And then, one tap, the boy was asked to bend over his knee, pull down his trousers and one loving slap with the stick, but it induced a sense of shame.
You know, the first lesson in school discipline, scholastic discipline: Don’t inflict pain, but awaken in the student a sense of honour, a sense of shame. I don’t think modern scholastic methods deal with students in these ways; they inflict pain, they inflict suffering, they inflict humiliation. That is not good—this is for the staff and for the management. It is easy to inflict pain, twist a boy’s thumb, slap him hard, kick him in the back. I know one of the teachers (who tried to inflict, but was always unsuccessful because he was deliberately unsuccessful) was the padre of the church, he was also a geography teacher. We had blackboards and dusters, you know, the old type of dusters. He would say, “Where is Abyssinia?” and if the answer was wrong, he would throw the duster at you, but it would miss you deliberately.
So we must understand that discipline is to be infused, not enforced. Discipline enforced with pain only creates rebellion, creates further indiscipline and then you have unmanageable boys who rebel and your school gets a bad name. I don’t want ever to see in this school enforced discipline or physically enforced discipline at any time, in any class, anywhere—because I have seen the benefits that my school had over the other schools in Jabalpur.
There was a school called the St. Aloysius School—another English medium school in those days—that was Catholic, my school was Protestant. And our annual competitions were always with them: sports, athletics, games, boxing, everything. (Very derisively they were called the ‘Saint-oos’.) And we had every year, I think about twenty-one days when we reacted with them and it was fun. In those days we had no city bus service and all that sort of thing but we used to hire a bus. We would go one year to their campus; alternately, the next year, they would come to our campus. And it generally lasted up to midnight, seven or eight days—go in the morning, come back at midnight. And it was a great deal of fun with a great deal of competition. Today, competition means kill the opponent. The American system—‘kill the fellow.’ So you start killing from the first ball in tennis. In those days there was no killing, there was only healthy competition, sticking to the rules of the game as endorsed by the Olympic tradition. We don’t run to win, we run to run. Winning is a matter of who is faster, who is stronger, who is weak. There is no odium about losing. That is why the Olympic had only a crown of olives on their head. Now millions of dollars are at stake, so they use drugs, there are drug-testings, there are newspaper displays. Our sports people get—what do they call this, what is it called?—franchises! They lend their photograph, their name, their signature: cricketers, footballers—name them—crores of rupees.
Sports have become commercial; education has become commercial. In our days, we never went to school or college to earn money, we went to be educated. Today’s education is only with the idea of what will I earn out of this education. It is a very mercenary spirit that has come up over the last thirty years which is a shame on our people, on our politics, on our governments, and especially on our teaching fraternity, who instead of instilling a sense of aspiration—which is noble, related to higher values of life—instil what I call the very material aspiration which is known as ambition: preparing for the IAS from babyhood, preparing for the police service, preparing for medicine where you can rip off the society. I have known people paying fifty lakhs bribe to get into a medical school, and he didn’t know where were the lungs when he passed out after five years; all because as a medical bridegroom he would get fifty lakhs dowry, and then of course continued earnings, you know.
So education was not meant for that purpose. This school is not going to educate you people, you boys and girls, to pass the IAS or the IPS or any other service like that, nor to get into Infosys. We expect to produce out of this school peerless students, who know their subjects well, who are interested in education, who have absorbed education, not had it thrust to their heads. And I hope the teachers will understand this message more than the students. Students are innocent, they come to us innocent. And whatever moral and other values they take out with them will be what we instil in them. If you make them ambitious, they will be ambitious. If you teach them corruption, they will be corrupt. Students are never to blame; it is the faculty, it is the management and of course the overbearing influence of the parents at home and of society.
Today’s students have to be guarded, protected, not physically but mentally and morally. In our days, we didn’t need any protection—nobody ever hurt a student. Our parents were carefree. They did not wonder what is going to happen at school, “Will there be a drug habit at school that I have to be afraid of? Should I talk to the police and see what is going on? Should I be afraid of boys and girls studying together?” In today’s schools, we have to be afraid of all this and even more. It is shocking today to see what happens in schools, including the very respected elite institutions like the IIT, rampant with drug usage. I have had a father come to me, whose son was in the REC, second year. He had failed once, he had failed twice, and the father was heartbroken because the boy was a drug addict. The boy came with him, nice strapping youngster, six foot tall, fair, handsome but looking like a goat about to be chopped up; it was very tragic. I don’t know whether he recovered at all. The father was a naval officer, off on the ships, earning money, and the poor boy, twice failed, did not know whether he should go back. I had induced him to go back but I don’t know whether he stayed on or what, because I could not follow up his life.
Then of course this wonderful cell phone revolution, SMS’s flashing. I would have a suggestion that we should ask all students to deposit their cell phones when they come and take them back when they go home. I have heard even that during exams the SMS is used for copying. I mean, a good useful gadget used for decadent life, making appointments. One girl who was studying in one of the well-known schools in Madras told me that many girls come to school at nine o’clock, deposit their books in the classes, sign in the register attendance, and go off with a boy—Mahabalipuram, I don’t where else they go—come back at four thirty, take their books and go home, looking so innocent, you know, that chocolate wouldn’t melt in their mouth. Nobody knows, because once you are in college nobody controls your movements. But if you train them in school properly, if you inculcate the proper principles in them, tell them what is safe, why it is safe; what is not safe and why it is not safe; and how that which is not safe can blight your future, not for a year or two, but for life. We have to educate into moral principles, not to thrust it down like the Vedas or the Bible or the Ten Commandments. We have to educate lovingly, patiently and making them feel that you are doing it for their sake and not for your own sake. We are not here to uphold the school’s reputation because the school’s reputation will depend on what goes out of the school.
So these are all the things that our faculty, our members, our teachers must bear in mind. Students are requested to reciprocate, because this is a school where I hope you will understand, that at least I have your personal interest as my first interest. This school does not exist to make money—I assure you that. We are offering scholarship for those who can’t afford it, but of course they have to be willing to receive it, in the sense of capacity to receive it. You know, we can’t bring somebody here and make him sit and learn. This is not a school for those under-privileged ones, who will try to make-up. Under-privileged, but competent, but capable—yes! We’ll support them to the hilt. We are prepared to support your education till the highest degree you can ever earn—PhDs, yes! But you must be able to show by performance, by sustained interest, by your application that you deserve it. You deserve it; you have it. No caste, no community, no forward, no backward, no nothing—ability alone. And if anybody has any doubt, you are welcome to come and see me and complain. I cannot change students but I can change my staff. Students please listen carefully: staff exist to serve you.
Our teachers, most of them are abhyasis of the Mission, Shri Ram Chandra Mission, and I hope they are dedicated to their jobs, at least in some way they uphold my principles. That’s why they are chosen, many of them are drawing much less than what they used to draw outside. For their sacrifice I am grateful to them, may my Master bless them! But eventually it is their performance that will show me how dedicated they are, not their small sacrifices, voluntary sacrifices. I know some teachers have left, perhaps more will leave, it doesn’t bother me at all. I want those to stay who are willing to stay with their heart, who don’t think of money, of anything else but of the welfare of the students—scholastic, physical and moral. To these three principles I want my staff wedded for life. Is a child sick? That child must be treated as if it is your own child, not like some student come from somewhere, you see. I am sorry to say I received a long email only last night—about food, about a [finger]nail being found in it, about pieces of other things which should not be in food, about shirts being not ironed properly, with ink stains. Staff must learn to look at it, not treat it with contempt and say, “Oh, another complaint from a student!” I don’t want complaints. I want a zero complaint situation in this school at all times.
So you see, this is what I have to say on your inauguration of the Cambridge stream. I don’t know why they call it a stream; I would have called it a Cambridge flood because I am very proud to have been a student of Christ Church Boys High School, Jabalpur, ‘CCBHS’ we used to call it. And we had a special uniform, khaki half pants and shirts, black shoes and stockings and of course the old British solar topee, because in Jabalpur it used to get very hot. From May and June, we had classes from morning 7:30 to 10:30—three hours, solid, no breaks; normally it was from 8:30 to 3:30. We had to carry our lunch with us, not the boarders but all the day students. And the principal used to walk around. I remember I was once standing up eating my sandwiches. He said, “Parthasarathi, your food will go right down your pants into the ground. Sit down and eat!” Simple things like that, you see, which shows the intimate relationship between staff and student, and the interest of the staff in the student. Nowadays I don’t think people go around. In the dormitories, I know Mr. Beatson, he was the warden, he had a limp leg, polio leg, but at midnight he was going around quietly with a torch, covering a boy here whose bedclothes were thrown off. You know, this shows the human heart at play, not the scholastic head, not the intellectual head, but the heart must be dominant.
When we deal with human beings, in any situation, at any level of, shall we say, intercourse, the heart must always prevail. It must operate exclusively, uncontrolled by the head. Because the head will say, “Why are you wasting your time? He doesn’t deserve so much attention,” or “It will be so expensive.” You understand? This school will support all legitimate, necessary, human-oriented expenses, whether for education or physical welfare or for bodybuilding or for research, anything to do with education as I said, in three fields—physical, mental, moral.
So, students, I hope you will understand this, respect these principles, because on you depends a great deal. If you are undisciplined, if you say, “So what? So these are the school principles, but I belong to such rich families, you know, I don’t care about morality. My father made his money by—well I don’t know, I won’t say immoral but—questionable principles. So what? He is rich, he is powerful!” If you are going to think like that, notwithstanding your riches, notwithstanding power in your family, one day you will be out. Lalaji Memorial Omega International School will not stand such scholars. So you better, buckle your belt tight, initially obey the rules, learn to love them, learn to live by them, with them, and show us what you can do so that when you go out finally after passing your final exams, we will be proud of you. More than that, you will be proud of the school which produced you.
I pray that it is so. Thank you.