Let us believe, for one day at least, that no man is wilfully bad and that people listen to well formulated and well-meaning arguments. Let us not condemn even the devil, unheard. Let us hope, for an hour at least, that dialogue does help if is not for solving Kashmir problem but when education is an issue.
All education is dialogue. Not slogans. No name calling. I am reminded of a movie Twelve Angry Men that demonstrates a key idea from one of the most influential and respected modern philosophers, Jungen Hebermas.
The idea is that it is possible to communicate in a democratic set up and resolve violent conflicting opinions. I wish this film were shown in every school and to all ambassadors and politicians who are involved in communication and dialogue. Even seemingly eternally irresolvable hash-nosh conflicts could be greatly helped if we learn how to dialogue. Incidentally it has no action, no acrobatics, no songs, no women (veiled or unveiled). Anyone can watch and should watch who doubts possibility of dialogue. Let me reproduce the story outline from Wikipaedia.
The 96 minute film's proceedings take place almost entirely in the jury room and action is simply intense debate and discussion among actors. It tells "the story of a jury made up of 12 men as they deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt. In United States, a verdict in most criminal trials by jury must be unanimous. It explores many techniques of consensus building, and the difficulties encountered in the process, among a group of men whose range of personalities adds intensity and conflict. An eighteen-year-old boy from a slum is on trial for allegedly stabbing his father to death. Final closing arguments having been presented, a visibly tired judge instructs the jury to decide whether the boy is guilty of murder. All the jurors have already decided that the boy is guilty, and that they plan to return their verdict without taking time for discussion—with the sole exception of Juror 8 who is the only "not guilty" vote in a preliminary tally. He explains that there is too much at stake for him to go along with the verdict without at least talking about it first. His vote annoys the other jurors, especially Jurors 7 and 10. Having argued several points and gotten no favorable response from the others, Juror 8 reluctantly agrees that he has only succeeded in hanging the jury. Instead, he requests another vote, this time by secret ballot. He proposes that he will abstain from voting, and if the other 11 jurors are still unanimous in a guilty vote, then he will acquiesce to their decision. The secret ballot is held, and a new "not guilty" vote appears. This earns intense criticism from Juror 3. He blatantly accuses Juror 5 who had grown up in a slum – of switching out of sympathy toward slum children." After intense debate all the members vote "not guilty" including Juror 3 who was initially all fire wildly accusing those who voted not guilty.
It is perceived or made to perceive that around 1,20,000 teachers are angry and have declared guilty vote. Let us not prejudge guilt of the accused – Education Minister is guilty or teachers forum leaders are guilty according to rumours or initial perceptions. As an observer and so-called critic, I wish to avoid – and seek to avoid generally – acting as an advocate. God disowns all advocates in the Quran as He needs none. The Sun has hired no advocates to declare its glory. The Truth is self-authenticating if hearts and eyes are not sealed off. Both judges and advocates have no place in heaven. "Judge not lest ye be judged in turn" is one of the most important maxims. So let me play the role of Juror 8 and let us not be angry but debate and discuss and apologize for being angry.
Granted that one might sound arrogant if the tone is not appreciated by ears tuned to normal sound frequencies, granted that it appears teachers – who ideally represent prophets and saints and philosophers in a classroom space – have been hurt and granted that some teachers – or leaders or teacher – leaders – are manufacturing consent from the vast majority who have no informed opinion on the issue and doing politics, and make ego rather than merit of a proposal per se the rallying point, I have few submissions to approach the question of voting guilty or not guilty.
1. Don't we all agree about desirability of some screening for all those who are paid for delivering any service from cooks to nurses to politicians? Don't teachers agree about the need for such a test? Aren't teachers, at least a section of them, welcoming any such move? Isn't anxiety shared more by those who haven't been so far given opportunity to upgrade their skills and don't they deserve first our sympathy? Don't we mostly agree that intentions are not to be disputed and we are all for betterment of education and for honouring the teacher? Why do we hastily judge someone or some group or fraternity as the other?
2. Don't we agree that some teachers do need some skill upgradation and better accountability? Aren't teacher tests conducted in one or the other form in every educational set up worth the name? Is it something unprecedented that is talked about?
3. All educationists agree that teachers can and do need to improve or keep updating skills. No student thinks screening tests constitute humiliation (he might demand a more reasonable way of testing, however). No professional who counts profession above himself ever thinks it is a humiliation. Ideally there should be voluntary tests. We forget, we lose interest, we fail to update, we become lazy, we may age too early, we may fail to communicate or attract students to learning. For all these reasons screening tests should be voluntary, left to every individual's conscience. If conscience has gone on switch off or unreachable mode, we need policing.
4. Ideally a minister should be soft spoken and as gentle as dove and do hathhaez kehaez with all and sundry, especially teachers. In Europe this might be so. But occasionally who can resist wild bouts in a state of crisis? When one's task is like a shepherd managing a flock during a tempest on mountains or when some wild beast has attacked the flock, or seeing building is on fire and listening to cries of inmates battling it, is it possible to stay cool and rational all the time? I once asked Agha Ashraf Ali why slangs come so frequently on his lips. He said "I have two options – to be consumed by chaos and fire within and turn mad or go on giving vent to the lava within through slangs." Schools are badly managed hospitals where patients cry for want of a pain killer or dressing material. One can't afford poetry in such a situation. I once asked, during a lighter moment in a farewell party many extremely gentle teachers how come they turn wild in classes and wildly trample by abusive language and sticks what they themselves describe as blooming buds (phoulwen tueer – children). They said ask your father who has also been a teacher. And I learnt it is, mostly, bruised sensitive and concerned soul that fulminates. Having said this, one also needs to say that our education system has failed to teach us manners, almost all of us. A stick, a slang, a demoralizing taunt from anyone in educational sector is unimaginable in Europe. A circular was issued that stipulated saying 'please' in classes. I wish this gets implemented at all levels.
5. Have education ministers ever mattered for decades? Do we have good reasons to remember any names or are proud of any from last three decades? Isn't it the case that education has been in focus for the first time in recent history of our State? To judge its direction may be too early but to doubt that chalta hae syndrome is affecting it also is to choose not to see the obvious.
6. Don't we know that education sector is suffering from certain disease and it is suicidal to deny the need to go for better diagnosis of the same through a test, so that remedial measures could begin.
7. Let us also remember that those who give birth to no controversies and resistance from some section ultimately do nothing or don't count in history.
8. I believe God didn't create anyone inefficient and if we see some incompetent or inefficient teachers, it is because DIETs, ZRPs and other institutional arrangements haven't been optimally functioning. We need to punish the culprit which may not be the teacher in many cases. It shouldn't be a purgation move but an enabling move.
9. Isn't it history that it was in Sheikh Abdullah's reign that the notion of teacher testing got currency and it was not greeted by opposition it currently engenders although it remained like Nehru's promise of self determination unexecuted?
10. What logic or ethics implies sitting in examination (that doesn't test cramming power but truly tests skills, motivation and interest) amounts to humiliation?
11. Learning and teaching some basic skills (that any reasonable screening test would check) isn't difficult if there is a will. Only idiots with abnormally low IQs will fail it. A reasonable screening test can't be testing memory or niceties but basic proficiency that is an absolute must. Who can allow blind drivers to drive buses and board the same? Basic skills are like eyes of drivers. Let us not forget daily, monthly, annually, dozens, hundreds, thousands of students suffer mortal injuries, some even deaths of minds in our schools. Souls are damaged on daily basis. An accident of a school bus becomes news but countless accidents that happen through bad education that wound souls, fracture identities, don't. At one level we are all guilty. We see children failing in exams, faltering in communicating in English, indulging in all kinds of addictions and delinquencies, becoming alienated from schools, tortured (almost slaughtered) in exams, forced to go to tuition bagaeyr (wage-less bonded labour) and we hardly get shocked. Who is not guilty and doesn't fail God's screening test? We are daily murdering children and let us identify the culprits and screening test might help. Or what will help? Please suggest your screening test.
12. One is basic eligibility and second is testing the credentials. RET appointees do have basic eligibility and so far there has been no mechanism like interview or entrance test to appraise credentials. A test should have been integral part, periodically, of education, especially at the time of promotions or confirmation/regularization.
13. Isn't teacher-incompetence one of most significant though least talked about factor responsible for the current rot in education sector and isn't this factor most easily demonstrable in case of primary and middle schools mostly manned by ReT appointees who were appointed on the pattern political candidates are appointed, who have some basic but nominal and hardly sufficient professional credentials? Wouldn't we all go to any extent in rejecting any plea that denies requirement of absolute minimum proficiency before one can stake the claim to teach? Who will not admit that most graduates today are no match for matriculates of few decades back though they are supposed to teach much more demanding digital age students?
14. We can't forget Herculean service from ReTs in remote areas. We have also a great number of highly qualified ReTs. There are scholars and budding intellectuals amongst them. It is unfortunate that sometimes all are painted with the same brush. While designing a screening test, some distinctions ought to be made and let us not forget the system that created inefficient stock in the first instance. The buck doesn't stop at ReTs.
15. Debating content of the court judgment in the present case is simply ludicrous. Do we need courts to tell us about checking the hazards of drivers who have somehow managed licenses and can't drive or don't wish to correct defects in vision? We need courts to tell us to check hazards of teachers who can't teach? (So many governments and ministers of education we have seen and hardly anything was done to check widespread complaints regarding expired or fake licenses some "teachers" possessed.) We need courts to tell us to evict houses in case of flood alert? In the case of education there isn't merely flood alert; we are already flooded and we require rescue boats and we dispute the need of these boats (screening tests) or keep fighting or arguing over the tone of rescuing agencies. The more closely one looks at education sector from decadent infrastructure (often resembles prison spaces – cramped, unhygienic, ugly by any standard) to teachers who don't read even a single book in a year or discourage questions from students or don't care to prepare lesson plans, the more one gets convinced that we are in Kashmir immediately following September floods, where even administration had no clue and needed rescue. Education, especially primary and secondary education has been – and is – a disaster. We need to identify those fake workers who, in the name of rescuing and who are paid for rescuing, mislead or loot us. Isn't our State especially a moral and spiritual disaster? Who can help if not a teacher? Whose professionalism, whose credibility needs to be especially ensured? Even if the court had not ordered something, teaching fraternity or association itself should have taken an initiative in the direction of teacher appraisal. Let the government along with representatives of teaching fraternity debate modalities of the test and possible mode of action following test and possibility of another chance, if needed, for some who don't qualify.
16. In an age of RTI, why not require a sample of classes, in any school, from any teacher, be live telecast so that parents and civil society could see how teaching is done and by whom – sans lesson plans, sans audio visual aids, sans reference books, sans proper linguistic skills (even Urdu is spoken so badly, not to speak of English), sans background work by teachers in vast majority of classes? Let this campaign of random videotaping and televising be run for few months and we see shocked parents taking to streets for their rights. As parents we aren't getting even bones from meat shops for Rs 400 illa ma sha Allah. What scandals we pass through without noticing! Aren't most schools keeping souls bonded to illusions as no self-fashioning, no enlightenment, no critical thinking, no manners, no sense of shame develops there? There can't be entertained any debate on need for screening but only about modality. In higher education publications etc. help us judge, to some extent at least, progress of teachers. What would help judge in primary and secondary schools? Nothing. Results are hardly satisfactory for a variety of reasons that teachers themselves cite.
17. Let us call spade a spade. The screening test isn't judging teachers. In fact, the community has already judged a large chunk of para-teachers as not delivering efficiently. It now wants action. It asks those who organize protests thousand and one questions. What has been done so far by them to make better teachers? I don't mean more paid teachers but better professionals. A government that took truly just account of tax payer's money would audit all those teachers that fail to motivate students, censor questions, dictate from notes and guides plagiarized stuff (a scandal that is not even recognized), who waste time in attendance as if circulating a piece of paper couldn't do, and who are complacent in the corrupt social practices they are supposed to help fight through teaching use of critical thinking. What has been done to institutionalize SWAT analysis to better appraise teachers at departmental level? Where are APRs periodically submitted by teachers that would satisfy any inspecting authority?
18. It has been a long standing demand to pull us off from the morass into which education system, especially since ReT syndrome has been engineered by a government more concerned about jobs or unemployment than education and that has, generally speaking, disinvested in education. Education sector is already dying by thousand wounds; only surgery will save the patient. The fight against mediocrity, against complacency, against sloganeering void of content, against all those who play with our future must be fought by all parents, all educationists, all well-meaning teachers and students.
19. There is a test where students are asked to submit, anonymously and secretly, views regarding teachers. It is in vogue at many places. If this test is carried in letter and spirit, how many teachers will have to face adverse reports? The proposed screening test could be a modification of such a test and somehow involve students as this is not seen as humiliation elsewhere.
ReT scheme had been perceived as a conspiracy to destroy education sector and by opposing these tests we are proving conspiracy theory right. If we grant it is not a conspiracy ( or take the given reality as there that needs creative adaptation to lessen its harm) and emphasize the spirit behind this policy that requires (or should require) comprehensive evaluation of candidates at the completion of five years, we can see the proposed screening test as fulfilling the due legal process in spirit. The teachers association needs to debate, to dialogue and put forth its opinions on modality of test; so far it has a history of fighting for causes that have little connection with professionalism.