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Boarding schools provide comprehensive education to students

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image source: en.wikipedia.org

By Somrita Ghosh

New Delhi: The best memories of students are perhaps of hostel life. From dormitory days to winning any sports event, from celebrating birthdays to supporting each other during tough times, the stories are never ending. And these memories are reignited in a new work penned by a headmaster and narrated from his point of view.

“With a Little Help from My Friends” (Rupa, pp 222, Rs. 250) is a tell-all memoir replete with some of Dev Lahiri’s fondest memories surrounding his college days, his decision to leave a well-paid job and re-start his career as the headmaster of a boarding school and going on to be associated with some renowned schools across the country.

His journey as a headmaster was also riddled with controversies. The book is an account of the challenges that come with heading a residential school in India to the loneliness and vulnerability associated with the job.

“Boarding schools are very important in today’s tuition-driven culture because they provide an opportunity to their students to acquire a holistic education,” Lahiri, who has been the headmaster of prestigious institutions like Lawrence School, Lovedale and Welham Boy’s School, as also as housemaster at Doon School, told reporters in an interview.

“Also, in most boarding schools, children grow up making no distinction between themselves on the basis of caste, religion, region and what-have-you. These schools also teach students to be very self-sufficient,” Lahiri told reporters in an interview.

Ragging and bullying often become a major issue in boarding schools. Lahiri too had to face the wrath of parents when his students became victims of ragging.

“The first step in tackling ragging is to acknowledge that it exists, which unfortunately most institutions are unwilling to do. The next challenge is to get the victims to speak up and break the conspiracy of silence that surrounds the issue. It requires a huge team effort on the part of all stakeholders – teachers, students, parents and the management to tackle this menace,” said the now-retired principal, who currently resides at Dehradun.

Talking of teenagers, Lahiri said that they need to be handled with a mixture of firmness and kindness.

“The boundaries that they can, and cannot, the cross should be clearly defined – and better so in consultation with them and with their consent. The most important thing is to “be there for them” and to make them know that they are respected and cared for – but that they have to reciprocate as well,” added the author.

In an era where parents push their children to extremes in education, Lahiri strongly felt that schools are not the place where a student’s career should be decided.

“In my view, schools should be the place where we open up the child’s mind to all the possibilities that surround him/her and equip him/her with the wherewithal to make the decision at the appropriate time – which is much later. Unfortunately, in our system we ‘box’ children in from as early as Class 9. Having said that, it is important to encourage children to experiment, explore and discover for themselves where their greatest talent (and happiness) lies,” Lahiri maintained.

The author also voiced concern over the Indian education system falling behind other countries.

“In India, school education has never really been a priority for our planners and so we are being left behind quite rapidly. The movement has been away from ‘content’ to ‘skills’ for the new world order, but in India the focus, by and large, is still on content,” he responded.

Lahiri also raised concerns over imparting education right way in schools and colleges.

“We have to give school education the primacy it deserves. There is no systematic, scientific programme of teacher training in this country and that needs to be a priority area. The focus in classrooms will have to be to move away from content and rote learning to encourage children to think for themselves, ask questions, be critical, engage in team work, take part in research and reference, respect diversity and communicate effectively,” Lahiri contended. (IANS)

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)