If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 20 July 2012

The village school those days was great

Dr Jayaprakash Narayan

[Dr Jayaprakash Narayan, a former IAS officer, is the founder of Lok Satta Party, a political party that stands for “new politics for the new generation”.

In India today, when we think of education, we usually think of upmarket business schools, foreign universities operating here, smart classrooms and so on …. This article, copied from the website of the party and slightly abridged, offers a different perspective.]

I studied in a Telugu-medium government school in a village called Godavarru near Vijayawada. There was no electricity, toilet or running water at my old aunt’s house where I lived away from my parents during school years. I left school (after tenth grade) in 1969 at the age of 13. In those days it was not uncommon for kids to enter school at three.

A friend of mine, a brilliant cardiologist now, finished school at 12! Despite the young age and spartan life, my school years had a profound impact on my life and attitudes.

The village school in those days was great. The infrastructure was inadequate; but the community owned the school, and all kids – rich or poor – went to the same school.

The teachers were competent and committed. They inspired and encouraged us. Amazingly, we could question and challenge teachers. The school was a true institution with a sense of purpose and played a vital role in village life. In sports, I was the slowest kid.

We played kho-kho and kabaddi. A few who had bats played ball-badminton. We never saw a shuttle cock. I never heard the names ‘cricket’ and ‘hockey’ until I left school! But we had a Boy Scouts group, and greatly enjoyed the signals, codes and many other pleasures of a boy scout.

My village teachers kindled great interest [and] allowed me to work at my own pace. When I found the text books not challenging enough, I was encouraged to do exercises from Hall & Knight (Math), and Wren & Martin (English grammar). We could point out our teachers’ errors without fear. When I look back, schooling in that village laid superb foundations for our future lives.

There were regular inspections by the DEO. I vividly remember an amusing incident. We had a great Telugu teacher. He was a master of the classics, and taught us with passion. On the day of inspection, we decorated the school with confetti. Our Telugu teacher was in class, and we were waiting for the inspector.

One kid stood up and showed a little finger. The teacher promptly said, “Why are you scared? We (the teachers) should be nervous when the inspector comes, not you!” We all found it hilarious.

My science teacher actually demonstrated experiments in our small lab. He even wanted to show the anatomy of frog by dissecting it. I was entrusted with the task of getting a frog to class. A friend and I, with some difficulty, caught a toad (we thought it was a frog). I then visited a clinic in Kankipadu and borrowed some chloroform in a small bottle. The teacher, to our wonder, had put the toad to sleep by sprinkling a bit of chloroform, and dissected it and showed its digestive system. I wonder how many fancy schools today give such exposure to kids!

One English teacher always scolded me for my refusal to learn essays by rote, and for my insistence on writing in my own words. I refused to comply with his instructions. In exasperation, he said I would never score more than 75% in public examination. I got exactly 75! But I never regretted it.

All in all, our schooling was fun. It gave us a chance to fulfil our potential and make something of our lives. It is a pity; forty three years later, many many kids don’t have the opportunity we had in village India of 1960’s.

18 Jul 2012


  1. Shantanuda,
    By virtue of your realistic approach,I just want to share that many instances are in this respect and many being still clandestine without our budding inquisitiveness.
    Somehow, Our beloved Pranab Mukherjee is still rightly a big instance,on the contrary.

  2. As an old-timer, I can relate very well to the contents.

    The only dissonance I find is in the sentence 'One English teacher always scolded me ... ... for my insistence on writing in my own words.' I would like to believe that he was an exception.

    Not one teacher during my life as a student had insisted on learning essays, or for that matter, any answer, by rote. Creativity was always rewarded. They would award higher marks for writing the answers in own words. In fact, some questions would have a preamble 'Write in your own words about ...'

    'Guides' (Books giving sample questions and answers) were available in the market, but if your answers matched those given there, though you would be given marks for the answer being correct, you would be considered deficient in the creativity department.

    Another feature that marks out those days is that students who went to a private tutor after classes were ashamed of the fact and did that rather stealthily. Not surprisingly, they were treated with utter disdain by those who did not. Today, private tuition is the done thing and people presume that the reason why some do not go for private tuition is that their families cannot afford it!

  3. Thank you all. Suman, you are quite right, Mr Pranab Mukherjee went to a humble village school. Possibly he got something from his school that prepared him to become what he has become. My hunch is that as our basic education is systematically neglected, and on the other hand, as high quality education is made available to the rich man's kid at a substantial price, there is less chance for people like Mukherjee or Dr APJ Abdul Kalam of becoming Presidents. Ironically, Mukherjee has been a leading light of the system that has systematically undermined education for the masses and commercialised education.

    KTR, I have often thought about it -- is the curse of private tuition the cause or the effect of a failing education system? Which came earlier -- the egg or the chicken?


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