This summer, Ravi Kumar’s (name changed to protect identity) parents were left in a dilemma. Ravi completed his 2nd standard exams and was promoted to the 3rd standard. But he couldn’t go back to school. That’s because after promoting Ravi, the school expelled him. Here’s Ravi’s story and the trauma his parents went through.
Eight-year-old Ravi was a student of the school run by the Nijaguna Education Trust (NET) in Gavipuram. Ravi’s father, 45-year-old Sridhar Kumar (name changed to protect identity) is a BMTC bus driver and his mother, 36-year-old Roopa (name changed to protect identity) is a home maker.
Two years ago, his parents put him in NET Public School after paying a donation of Rs. 10,000. While the first year was largely uneventful, towards the later stages of his first academic year and in his second year, the boy started showing signs of slow learning, which manifested itself in Ravi’s writing: ‘b’ would be written as ‘d’, ‘a’ and ‘o’ would be mixed up. His performance in Mathematics had also dipped slightly, but there was no real cause for panic as Ravi was still passing his exams quite comfortably. All along though, Ravi displayed great interest in art and drawing and seemed to be most comfortable when he was given white sheets of paper and colours. His mother had watched Taare Zameen Par, and began making tentative comparisons with the dyslexic protagonist in the film.
Roopa was aware of her son’s condition and was contemplating medical attention. Around the same time, Ravi’s father went to his school to collect his marks card, when the school told him that his son could no longer study in their institute. The school dismissed him on the grounds that he wasn’t fit to be a mainstream student and that he had to put in a ‘special school’. As if the decision was not damaging enough, the manner in which the exercise was carried out was even more appalling.
Taking advantage of Ravi’s father’s low educational status, the school forced him to sign on a document which said that he (the father) was voluntarily requesting for a transfer certificate (TC). His protests, on grounds that it was unfair, were not even heard. He even went to the extent of saying that the school could consider making Ravi repeat the year if needed, and that he would consult a doctor about the problem at the earliest, but the school was in no mood to listen. They had decided that the boy had to go, and they were sticking to their stand. And when asked to return the money they had taken as donation at the time of his admission, the school refused, saying that it was collected as building fund and could not be refunded.
A few days after this incident, Roopa (who was out of town when Ravi was expelled) and this writer went to the school to enquire. Not only was everyone in the school rude, but the Principal even refused to meet anybody except the boy’s parents. The mother’s request that the school should give in writing that Ravi was asked to leave because the school suspected he was a slow learner, was turned down. Requests to return (at least a part of) the donation money were also met with a firm no.
Were the school authorities right in doing what they did?
There is no law which says that any child who shows signs of slow learning should be expelled from formal educational systems. On the contrary, several conventional rules which govern examination patterns and are a part of traditional testing frameworks have now been relaxed for children who have learning disabilities. They are given up to 30 per cent extra time in exams, they are allowed to use calculators for Mathematics exams, their spellings are not closely scrutinised and so on. Earlier these regulations were applicable only to students who were appearing in the 10th standard state board exam, but thanks to the efforts of Prof. Gopalan, the founder of Malleswaram Dyslexia Association, they have now been extended to children in classes starting right from the 1st standard.
Why did the school do it?
Apparently this was not the first time that such an incident occurred in the school. Parents of a few other children of the same school say that the school regularly dismisses children from various classes, under some pretext or the other, and refuse to refund the donation. Could it be a money making racket?
Ravi has now got admission in another school in the same locality, where his elder brother studies. Here, Ravi went through a written test and an interview. Ravi’s parents have informed the school authorities about his condition. Before these admissions, his parents met the concerned Deputy Director of Public Instruction (DDPI) and complained to him about the expulsion on the basis of the boy’s special needs.
The DDPI admitted that there was not much he could do. This was because the school had been extremely tactful in covering their tracks with the required documented proofs at every stage. For instance, the receipt given for the donation said that the money was towards “infrastructure fund” and that it was given to the Trust and was thus a charitable donation. The school had a document signed by Ravi’s father which read that he had requested for the TC for his child. He was forced into signing it, but how could he prove it in the court of Law? In addition, the school had not given anywhere in writing that the boy was expelled due to dyslexia, or any other learning disability.
The first thing that one notices when one enters the school is big boards displaying the names of the toppers in all the classes and graphs of pass percentages, indicating that the school is producing high scoring students. But is that the sole purpose of our education system?
The school was methodical and meticulous in affecting Ravi’s dismissal. Maybe they are experienced in these kinds of immoral and unethical actions. When recourse was sought, they closed all possible doors, literally and figuratively. What should we do to question the motives of such schools, which choose to pass dismissive judgements on the ability of children, and yet are smart enough to do things within the legal framework?
Why should children with dyslexia or any other learning disability be discriminated against? Stereotyped notions of success and failure continue to plague the education system, and this means that there is no place for slow learners, who are often relegated to special schools. Is it right if only smart children are allowed exclusive access to the benefits of education? Is slow learning a crime?
The closed and non-transparent nature of the private schooling model, where there is little scope for parents to seek recourse when such an incident occurs, only makes the problem more complicated. In the absence of a dialogue-based alternative, the only option the parents had was to take a forced re-admission into the school, and that was something they were reluctant to do, keeping the long-term interest of the child in mind Is it too much to expect teachers to have a kind word with parents of a child with learning disability and advise them about the steps they need to take? Surely, unceremonious dismissal is not the only option?
The DDPI narrated the story of Thomas Alva Edison. When Edison was in school, his mother was summoned and told to take her son home since he couldn’t learn. Her reply is believed to have been, “Since you say nobody can teach my child, I will become his teacher”. The rest as we know it is history.
It may have worked in the case of Edison. But don’t we need schooling systems that nurture all types of children in a way that encourages diversity? Don’t we require teachers who are committed to reaching out to the slowest child? Don’t we need a society where there’s space for all people? Most importantly, don’t we need schooling systems where the nation’s future leaders are groomed?