Students aren’t cattle, they’re humans

Recently, a teacher at my alma mater turned barber and forcibly cropped the hair of over 90 students who didn’t follow the school’s code of conduct for haircuts (we didn’t even know there was one during our days). Obviously, the students, parents and locals weren’t amused by this barb-er-ic act. Neither were those of us who are proud of being former students of that school.

Indian educational institutions have always been rather conservative in their organisation. There is all too often a strict hierarchy visible in the way things work. Teachers have a commanding authority over students, and it’s common for students to stand up and say “good morning/afternoon/whatever” in unison when the former enters a classroom. Failure to do so is often seen as an act of disrespect. In many schools, even at a high school level, you find that students are expected to form and walk only in a line when moving from one classroom to another. I’ve seen institutions with really silly dress codes, like “boys should only wear shirts/t-shirts that *have a collar*”. There are many colleges where cell phones are banned on campus (and many that go too far to implement their policy). And there are also colleges where guys aren’t allowed to talk to girls.

There is an overflow of rules, and unnecessary requirements on conformance. I’ve had a lecturer yell at me for 15 minutes (out of a 40 minute lecture), ask me to never enter class again, and walk out of class herself in anger simply because I didn’t “write down” the last few steps of a solution to a problem she handed out in class, which I managed to solve in my head to arrive at the answer.

All the above is absolutely disgusting and is an antithesis to what is supposed to be education. We put a bunch of students into a classroom, expect all of them to conform to a strict set of rules, and punish the ones who don’t with expulsion. Ultimately, all these students end up having to take charge of society in some way or the other, and we basically leave our country in the hands of those who abide by silly dogmas, are well trained in the art of superficial respect, can’t think laterally, are used to hierarchies, and with regard to some of the specific cases I mentioned above, are incapable of working with the opposite sex.

I wonder what the net gain is from putting so much effort into running a system like this?

Our future leaders should be capable of making decisions that affect others positively. We need students to be well trained in networking with others, exchanging ideas, and communicating effectively. We need them to be open minded, embrace differences, and adapt to the pace at which the world around us is evolving. How on earth is all that supposed to happen if *this* is their education?

Furthermore, where do teachers get the time and energy to enforce such rules when they have so many important things to attend to?

Teachers have the responsibility of being a role model and not that of a dictator. All those teachers who’d inspired me over my life _strictly_ fall into the former category (from junior school, through high school, and upto where I am now). They were the ones who invested enough effort into figuring out how best to convey their ideas to their students, learned how to tap into our creative potential, and at the same time, stayed up to date with whatever it is that they were supposed to teach. They also served as moral and social instructors not through an iron fist, but through inspiration. They gave us enough room to develop, spared us the fury when we made mistakes and instead, taught us how to learn from them. They made us go “There is so much I can learn from that person!” as opposed to “That person will screw me over if I don’t do this”.

Sure, perfect pedagogy isn’t easy, but chaining students to a gratuitous set of rules is definitely not the answer. They are humans after all.

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