Are they living up to their ideals?

Public schools are said to give the best education to youngsters from well-off economic and social backgrounds. Yes, this perception is right. These schools have been inherited from the British administrators who founded them in India. The British founded two types of public schools. Schools like the Lawrence schools were founded originally for children of the British soldiers and the army’s lower ranks. While the other category of schools like Mayo and Rajkumar were set up to educate Indian princely families. This latter category of schools was supposed to train children of upper class Indian feudal families with leadership qualities.

Before passing any comments on Indian public schools we have to admit that these schools play an important role in providing fairly good education and all-round personality development to students who are fortunate enough to enter these schools. Having said that, it remains to be noted that public schools, at any rate the most prestigious among them, have frozen themselves in time and space. These schools haven’t grown in maturity in many aspects. The managements or the school heads have developed some distorted sense of priorities for the schools and even themselves. They are cut off from the wider question of what makes for good education, good schools and even good headmasters.

The education the public schools provide today is frankly not first rate. It is in fact banal, even ordinary. Harsh words? But true. What is great about running these schools with lofty ideals and goals and at the end of the day the students still sit for the same CBSE or even State Board conducted examinations? Like students from any of the lesser known schools. What is great about clamoring for exam results like any other government schools? What is great about these public school products eventually coming down to compete in the same job market as students from less affluent schools?

Yes, the heads of public schools in their annual reports or public platforms orations hold forth about the overall development of student personality. Developing the personality is good and perhaps what the public schools are in a unique position to achieve given the fact that these schools are often fully residential institutions with many extra curricular activities.

But then the question to be asked is what kind of personality do we want our young public school products to have? Some schools have developed or retained their false pretences. Schools with defense ministry connections indulge in many displays of parades, seasonal games, horse riding etc. Fine. But there is the crying need to ‘Indianise’ manners, etiquette and personality of our young public school products. Yes, we have to inject some social graces suited to Indian cultural conditions.

The pity is that the Indian public schools don’t imitate the truly great virtues of their British counterparts like Eton, Harrow, Winchester, and Rugby and so on. There the schools attained their glories by the true leadership qualities shown by their alumni who are found in all walks of life. Political leaders, army generals, poets, adventurers of varying colourful kinds. It is these generals, artists, poets and revolutionaries who had brought name and fame to their old school. These are the kind of people that public schools in England have churned out for hundreds of years. And still continue to do so.

What have we got here in India? Who are the great names in Indian public life who have passed the portals of public schools? There are merely a handful of names. The leaders in Indian social, political and economic life are increasingly filled by men and women from non-public school backgrounds. At the same time we see students from our public schools merely competing for the same exams and jobs as students from ordinary schools. Public school education in India somehow does not turn out leaders today, but rather mediocre boys and girls with small aims and ambitions in life craving for the same mundane careers those students from any ordinary school would aspire for.

Then, what must be done? As far as the syllabus is concerned, public schools must indianise their curriculum. A Core curriculum for Indian public schools and elite schools must have subjects which deal with Indian languages, history, philosophy and values which are unique to this country. Public schools in India must become the bastion of Indian thought and values rather than institutions which imitate and copy western lifestyle and values. In a global world you cannot become a leader (in any walk of life) copying others. You have to concentrate on your core competence.

The school heads must also instill teaching of etiquette and manners in students. Good manners is not just about speaking English more fluently than others (let us remember that Macaulay was merely an ordinary career seeking Englishman who came to India). Good manners are also about being sensitive to the world around you. Public schools must also instill true leadership qualities that call for sacrifice of mundane careers. Leadership is not just about appointing prefects and yelling in the parade grounds. Leadership in any walk of life is about risk taking and thinking big. All these changes must be welcomed by parents, school heads and education policy makers. Otherwise, the great schools in India will always remain fake clones of their English counterparts.

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