The horrors of the current education system makes me scared to even consider kids

I was touched in a school bus a long, long time ago. I was waiting in line with the other kids to get off the bus when I felt something around my buttocks. I looked back, there was nothing. I felt it again, and again, there was nothing. I thought it was the water bottle of the girl standing behind me. I ignored the next few times, convinced it was just the water bottle hitting me as the bus jolted forward. When I looked back again, I saw the metal watch first. Then I saw the hand - it was the helper ‘kaku’ of the school bus - a burly man who would tell us when to get off and count heads as we did. His hand was firmly perched on my buttock, his finger snaking its way inside my neon green panty. I didn’t say anything. I was scared. 

When I looked back once more after I got off the bus, he was grinning at me. And what else he was doing? He was sniffing his fingers. You know how old I was? I was 6 years old. I was a first standard student. 

I was lucky. It felt weird to write that last sentence after what I just told you. But yes, I was bloody lucky. You know why? Because I lived. Another one didn’t. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. And he did what I was too scared to do - he fought back. 

The child from Ryan International wasn’t the first. Another child - Devansh Kacrora - was drowned in a water tank. Probably because he fought back too. 

A six year old was brutally raped by two PE instructors. A Class VI boy was sexually assaulted by a masked older boy who threatened to kill him if he spoke about it. A child that had barely turned four was touched by the helper in her play school. Several other parents also came forward saying their children had been complaining about pains. The principal defended the perpetrator saying he was an old, trusted employee of the school. 

Okay, I will stop recounting these - it makes me want to throw up. Because every time I read about these things, I am reminded of the horror of that one morning in the school bus. I was six years old. These are four, five, six, seven year olds. These are children who, like me, probably didn’t know how to tie their shoelaces. These are children, like I was, that are probably scared to go to the bathroom alone at night. These are children! 

I studied in a traditional school in Kolkata - one that was set up back in the 1850s. Our teachers were old-fashioned too. I remember having that very stereotypical English teacher too - one that would wear floral dresses and teach us how to pronounce words like ‘dais’ correctly. And our teachers went beyond the classroom. My teachers taught me to sit with my knees together so I don’t accidentally flash. My teachers taught me that the school watchman could at most hold my hand and that I was to report if I saw or felt anything unusual. My teachers taught all of us lessons that went way beyond the curriculum. 

Contrast that with the average profile of the schools where these things happened. Ryan International, Gurugram, was set up in 1998 and Vibgyor High was set up in 2004. The teachers here refused to acknowledge the children’s distress, the teachers who couldn’t do the biggest thing they were trusted with - keeping children safe. What are we left with then? A slew of play schools and new-age franchisee schools that do not have the first idea about protecting their wards. 

The business of education is a very successful one. Got money? Open a school and see your investment grow multiple folds. Need teachers? There are millions of graduates (and in some cases, not even that) that are waiting for a job, whether or not they are fit to teach. Have a basic interview, don’t pay much and hire them, while making it clear that there are a million others waiting to take their jobs any day. Do they need to teach well enough? No, because it’s about getting the job done. There are fancy amenities though - some schools offer a swimming pool, some take children on trips every quarter. And the fees? Parents bleed money every day. The average fee of a franchise school is at least double that of a traditional school. 

It doesn’t stop at that. Donations and the car you drive decide whether your child is good enough for the school. But investors want more. So they start cramming classrooms with as many children as physically possible, to the extent that managing them becomes difficult for the teacher, who’s there for the job only anyway. Then, when one child goes missing, no one even notices that. 

Like no one notices how a bus conductor got into the school and used a washroom meant for students. Like no one notices that the bus conductor carries a knife even while he is around children. No one even had the time to check the background of this man, one can assume. Obviously, because there were too many students, the bus had to be outsourced and the conductor came out of god knows where. Although you have to admit that for business houses, these schools provide woefully inadequate security. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. There’s more where Pradyuman Thakur came from. A child dead is probably an available seat for them, one that can be sold next year to the highest bidder. By then, people would have forgotten the little 7-year old who crawled out of the washroom, his clothes getting bloodier from his slit throat. 

But will we? We are the people that have survived molestation. We are the people with dreams of a happy home some day, one with the patter of little feet. We are the people that are now scared of that dream - what if those little feet are harmed by a sexual predator at the play school? What if the feet stop pattering because an uncle they know in school inserted a finger or showed them his “pee pee”? 

Franchise schools have made one thing very, very clear to us - no child is safe in the crowds they breed. They have made it clear that education and the business of bringing up children are things that fall far, far below the need for money. And they have made it clear that there is no accountability here. It’s your baby you decided to put in our school and we shall take no responsibility for his welfare. 

Is it a surprise then, that I will never take my baby to the Ryan Internationals of the world? Is it a surprise then that more than my status, it is now more important to me that my child comes back safe from school, and not in a body bag before I have had the chance to wash his breakfast plate?

* Author's name withheld on request

Feature Image Source: Hindustan Times