Schools in India have become less about education and more about survival

Published: September 17, 2017

File photo of Indian pupils walking to school along a busy street. PHOTO: AFP

It was a senseless murder so heart-breaking that only the most hardened could have remained unmoved. It has been more than a week since seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur was murdered in the washroom of Ryan International School in Delhi’s suburb of Gurgaon, just minutes after reaching school.

The police say a school bus conductor has admitted to killing the child. In a gruesome CCTV footage, the child can be seen crawling out of the washroom, clutching his bloody neck because the attacker slit his throat. Thakur was dead before he reached the hospital. Now, this story is what everyone with a child in school is talking about. Up until this incident, schools were our only safe havens, but today, no parent is sure anymore.

This may be the harsh and unfortunate wake-up call that schools across India needed, where in recent times it has become less about education and more about survival. We are still trying to come to terms with how a bus conductor had such easy access to a washroom that should have been restricted only for students.

If it has happened here, it could be happening across various other educational institutions as well. Schools across the country have now been given an ultimatum of several safety guidelines, including police verification of staff and CCTV cameras. The Central Board of Education firmly stated that those who don’t comply will be de-recognised. But once again, this is also a reaction, as we are not known to be pro-active.

The lack of safety isn’t the only factor ailing our education system. The dust barely settles on one incident before we struggle to fathom another. While parents of the 7-year-old victim and other students continue to protest asking for justice, in Lucknow, the city of Nawabs, a school teacher went berserk hitting a student of third grade. The reason is even more bewildering. The student, being a child, was so engrossed in his drawing that he didn’t hear his name for the roll call, thus he was beaten, no assaulted is probably the right word here – 40 slaps in a couple of minutes.

Corporal punishment is banned across schools in the country, but even students in elite schools end up reporting a case or two. Slapping a child is almost acceptable as a disciplinary act in schools where teachers are either untrained or paid too less. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 prohibits not just physical but also mental harassment of students, it is a punishable offence. But in Lucknow, the child came home with a swollen face and perhaps mentally traumatised, but the teacher was only terminated.

Such incidents are piling up and humiliating children who are not even allowed to defend themselves. These acts seem to be the easiest way for teachers to vent either their frustration or show their power. In the southern city of Hyderabad, an 11-year-old girl was sent to the boy’s washroom as a punishment because she came to school without wearing a proper uniform. A bunch of teachers screamed at the child, not giving her a moment to explain why. The child is now understandably so upset, that she refuses to go back to school, even though her father has promised her that no one will trouble her. But her reasoning is how most children understand school life; once you have complained, they will hit back harder. This is also the reason why numerous students don’t always tell their parents about bullying, harassment or other incidents.

What happened in Hyderabad took place in a private school. It is tougher to keep a track of incidents in the rural areas where only a handful of incidents are reported. A teacher in Madhya Pradesh allegedly blackened the faces of five students with coal and publically humiliated them by parading them around the village for not attending classes for two days. This, then, is primitive punishment in areas where there is no Central Board of Education and where the parent’s biggest achievement is sending their child to school, something they didn’t get a chance to do, so don’t know much about either.

But it seems we aren’t the only country that believes in disciplining with a ‘danda’ (stick). Students in various schools across Pakistan have also been assaulted by their teachers. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is literally the sacred vow that consumes many teachers, in some rare cases even with the consent of parents. Last year, a student of grade eight was beaten so mercilessly by his teacher in Larkana that he became not only unconscious, but was also paralysed. Muhammad Ahmed was not even a bad student, it was quite the contrary; he had scored 95% marks in his exams.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (K-P) district of Chitral, minor children in a private school were beaten with a wooden stick by their teacher for coming late to school. After the way they were beaten and mentally scarred, it would be a miracle if they still go to school. Without compassion in schools, our children are spending the better part of their lives just living in fear.

Today, education has evolved into a lucrative business. Everyone knows it is profitable, so big corporate houses are swooping down, wanting their stake of this pie. Gone are the days of ‘sewa’ (care), everyone now has a motive. If we expect untrained or poorly paid teachers to show our child respect, we need to go back to school ourselves.

These past few incidents have put the spotlight solely on the education sector and it can’t be more apparent that it needs a refresher course in the very values it is meant to teach our children. The system has eroded, where if the teachers don’t get to you, the stress of simply going to school takes a toll. We have been the perennial achievers; no one studies and wins more Spelling Bees than us Indians.

But the means no longer justify the end. No marks are worth it, especially if your child is not safe.

Jyotsna Mohan

Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava

The author has worked with New Delhi Television (NDTV) for more than a decade and now writes for several news organisations on a variety of topics. She tweets as @jyotsnamohan (

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