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Friday, December 03, 2004

laying the foundation

The child is the father of the man, so the saying goes. Just like another very appropriate one related to education – as you sow so you reap.

It is difficult for youngsters of today to visualize education sans private tutors. But, it was not so in the fifties when I used to go to school. In those days, one of the best educations used to be imparted in schools set up by the Christian missionaries. Co-educational schools were not heard of – but, nearby the boys school there usually used to be a girl’s school also keeping in view the fact that parents would prefer their wards both male and female to be able to travel to school together.

The dedication and sincerity of the school teachers can be understood by the two examples that I will now narrate…

It was 1957 – our class teacher was Rev. Br. Kelly. Our school followed a five day week. But, Rev. Br. Kelly had joined late and the class was lagging behind in some subjects. (In those days, there was one teacher for all subjects except the local languages like Hindi and Bengali.) He had to make good this deficiency and, he just could not bend the rules and request the Principal to ask the students to come to school on Saturdays. Therefore, he worked out a wonderful strategy – he declared that on Saturdays, he would be teaching how to fly model aeroplanes. The first Saturday, only two students turned up – they stayed near the school. Rev. Br. Kelly demonstrated to them how to start up the engine by revolving the propeller repeatedly with the right forefinger! During the week, the word spread and by next Saturday there were some more students in attendance. By the end of the month, the full class was present. It was then that Rev. Br. Kelly played the master stroke – he declared that first you must do some refreshing up of your studies and then I will show you all the intricacies of aero-modeling.

In 1958 our class teacher was Rev. Br. Shannon. He landed in our school with a not too good reputation – apparently, he had a terrible temper. As class teacher in Darjeeling, he had thrown the duster at a student knocking off his front teeth. Hence, his transfer to our school! I still do not know whether this was true or not but I do know that he was a dear. Since we were preparing for the Senior Cambridge examinations he expected that our basics to be sound. Therefore, when he entered the class on a Monday carrying with him thirty odd exercise books in which we had done an essay the previous Friday, no one imagined what was in store for us.
Coolly, he sat on the first bench facing the class and called out the name of one of the students. The student stood up. Then Rev. Br. Shannon opened the exercise book and displayed it to the whole class – it was scribbled with red lines all over the page. After that he proceeded to explain to everyone why each red mark appeared, what were the grammatical errors, spelling mistakes etc.. He continued the same exercise with each of the thirty odd books. His analysis left every one speechless. Within one month, we were ourselves surprised to discover that the red marks had reduced considerably, in some cases vanished altogether.

I do not know where Rev. Br. Kelly or Rev. Br. Shannon is today. But, the advice of our Principal Rev. Br. P. C. Hart still rings in my ears – ‘what is worth doing is worth doing well.’

Yes, that was what education was all about in our childhood. Laying a good and stable foundation that will pay dividends in the long run.


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