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 IANS 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 IANS 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, 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 encouraging 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.
(Somrita Ghosh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)