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An Interview with Devi Kar: Jit Paul Memorial Lecture

03
Feb 2017

An Interview with Devi Kar: Jit Paul Memorial Lecture

Devi Kar is the Director of Modern High School for Girls and the Modern Academy of Continuing Education. Besides being a member of multiple Education Boards and Scholarship panels, she is a writer of history books and driver of vintage cars. When this blogger met her after her session, the conversation ranged from education to the book of fiction based on her experiences that she might choose to write! Excerpts:

  • What is the most important quality that an education system must build in its recipients?

I think it’s to build what they have within. That is the most important task of any system.

  • Does the education system need reforms?

Of course. We discussed in the session (with Jawhar Sircar) that it is not enough to ensure enrolment. Many of our children know how to read, but what is the quality of their learning? Also, many people do wonderful things even without learning how to read or write.

  • Which country’s education system do you think we can take inspiration from to build an effective system?

Honestly, we cannot adopt any single country’s system. India is a unique country with the kind of issues we have to address with so many languages and cultures. But I feel there shouldn’t be one uniform way. There should be far more variety. I think it’s wrong to aim to have a uniform system in a country as pluralistic as ours.

  • What are some of the elements that our country’s education system should have?

There have been certain measures which have been successful. I admire the work of Rukmini Banerji, who is associated with Pratham Education Foundation. She says that rather than having age groups, you have to think of levels in terms of abilities. Otherwise, the learning outcome is not properly measured.

  • So, for example, those involved in the adult education programs should be interacting with children with who they share ability levels so they learn from each other?

Absolutely! Additionally, why insist on so-called ‘formally qualified’ teachers? In our present predicament, we need teachers from everywhere. I know there are organizations such as Each One Teach One, but generally, we need good teachers from everywhere to boost the level.

  • What are the kinds of teachers that students need?

Motivation is a very important part of education. We have to have teachers who make subjects more interesting. There are many dedicated teachers who, I’m sorry to say, can be deadly boring. So that is very important. There must be ways of recruiting teachers that takes this into account, such as demo classes. We have to see whether they can make a lesson interesting but also relevant.

  • The education of the girl child is still a huge issue in our country. Has there been any progress since you first started?

There is often an age-wise compulsion on girls, that they have to enter school at one age and they have to leave school and get married by the age of eighteen. I read recently that a girl was married at sixteen years of age. While her birth certificate showed her true age, her Aadhar card said she was eighteen, and she insisted that she had been legally married! Such things can happen anywhere. In affluent society, it can even take place out of defiance. This needs to be guarded against.

  • How can we keep our education system free of religious indoctrination?

This is a very difficult question. I really have no answer, because we are so overwhelmed by this issue. I can only answer for my school, where we do not entirely separate religion from education but make sure we pay equal attention to all the scriptures. There’s no harm in children believing. We often have students saying, ‘It’s nice to be able to pray together.’ So instead, we stress on the similarities in all religions. Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, often teach very similar lessons, which we read in school. Many of our students celebrate all festivals of all religions, we welcome people from different communities and religions and not only accept them but respect them. We make it very clear that it is not one religion that we are catering to. I think the only solution is interacting with others and interdependence, because if we live in pockets like we often do in cities, nothing can be solved.

  • How can issues such as sex education, which many in India are afraid to talk about?

We talk about it in school. I feel that to address this, you need special teachers. Not everybody can do it, and one should not let their own beliefs and opinions be imposed on children. But we do have to talk to them about safety and social norms which are different in every country. It should definitely be incorporated.

  • How important is the book fair in the educational ecosystem of Kolkata?

It is very important! In our city, people are crazy about such things. You can tell by the footfall and the enthusiasm. It is an important event in our calendar.

  • Do you think children really are reading less these days?

Everyone keeps saying this, but even without the statistics I don’t know if I agree. People often say, ‘Oh, they’re always on Kindles’- well, even if it is Kindle, it is still reading, right? I see that every class has that group of bookworms. So I really don’t believe this, especially because publishing companies wouldn’t be around!

  • There are a host of entrepreneurs from Modern High School. How is the school supporting future women entrepreneurs?

I don’t think we very directly taught them entrepreneurial skills. But we encouraged them to ask questions and be confident. So, perhaps, we are partly responsible for instilling that spirit. We did have a convention called EcoCon recently!

  • You have written articles for many newspapers. Will we ever see you writing fiction?

You know, everyone has a book inside them, that’s what they say. I have had one in me for years and my book is called ‘School’. It’s fiction, but, like most books, it’s based on reality, so much so that you wouldn’t really believe it if I had to put it down! It would become a runaway best seller, because it has everything: cloak and dagger things, surprising and strange experiences, all the things that you read in a masala novel! Of course, there are some wonderful things, which would be the academic side. I don’t have the skills, really, to put them together. I keep saying, when I retire, I’ll pick other people’s brains into how I’ll put them together in a novel. But real writers don’t wait till they’ve retired! So I’m glad you asked this question, and you must hope that yes, I will have the courage to start!

Rushati Mukherjee

Rushati Mukherjee

Blogger at Spiktinot
Blogger, poet, possible writer and aspiring journalist.
Rushati Mukherjee

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Rushati Mukherjee"> Rushati Mukherjee
Blogger, poet, possible writer and aspiring journalist.
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