“…..this kid needs a special school” these were the words from one of my school teacher when I was about 9-10 years old. I was standing there feeling ashamed while something on the left side of my chest was pounding intensely. I wanted to speak and answer them back but it was as if all words were stuck right below my throat. I was paralyzed internally. I was feeling caged. It was very clear that my crimes will not be tolerated and every now and then I will be reminded what wrong I did. Whether it is inside a classroom, music room or even when it comes to making friends; the first instance of discrimination for me was within these walls of what we refer to as a place for learning and wisdom. These were the same people that were preaching morality and at the same time judging and discriminating. For them I belong to the class of failures and this was not only a big crime but also a hateful thing. No matter what I wanted to try and learn, I was made to believe that I cannot; that something was fundamentally wrong within me. Something which I didn’t had which others do. A couple of incidence I remember; I was been accused for stealing my own sketch book, as they were not able to believe that I could ever sketch and paint that way, and it belongs to someone else. I was often been called a liar and the last one somebody could believe. It went so ahead that my sister which went to the same school, often when she was not performing been stated that because she was my sister. Isn’t this a kind of joke?
This was my academic life, where I have been a failure throughout. I failed right from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th (I got through after which somehow) standard in most of my subjects which further went to retest and finally my parents convincing principle to let me sit into next standard. All these things made my life terrible. I lost my voice. Confused and full of doubts for everything I did. Never was really able to express anything truly from within. I often find myself in the character ishaan from the movie “Tare Zameen”. And like ishaan I didn’t gave up and worked my way up to this point. I passed my school, my college, got a job and everything that an average person might get at this age. For somebody else this might be just another ordinary life, but for me this has been a learning journey. Yes, learning which was something I was always been accused of not having the ability to do so. The only difference from now and then is that earlier I was learning how to survive in an environment full of discrimination and judgments, and now in expressing life in various ways and forms. This shift from survival to expression is something which has made my life very beautiful. Today, I can play flute, code, cook, write, and whatever comes to my life, I do give it a try without thinking whether I will pass or fail in it.
Now the idea behind this is not to blame a particular school or teacher for whatever has happen to me neither about how and why I was able to do certain things, but to bring a reminder to a sensitive and important issue about our own education system. A system which is meant to flourish kids into their fullest capabilities and expression but instead what it focuses on is how to get marks or pass an examination. And I am sure everybody is aware that it does and needs a change. But the question is how?
Coming to where I started “…this kid needs a special school”. Not just me, I think every kid in this planet needs a special school. A school which can embrace everybody’s uniqueness and talents; a school which can celebrate learning without moaning about failure and examination; a school which learns from others success and own failures, which do not judges or discriminates. A school irrespective of age, gender, class, religion can be taken up by anyone. Now we can go on a debate about what this ideal school should be or how the government should change the current education system. But does the system mean anything by itself? Isn’t it made up of people like you and me? Like if that teacher could have given confidence and space for me to learn, or may be my classmates would have reacted in a different way, who knows I could have done well, or at least I would have still enjoyed my failure.
The point is that while we can hope for a change in the education system by government or education institution, but will anything change if we do not change our very own idea of what education means? Will anything change if do not give space for people to speak or say their part? Will anything change if we are still judging our classmates, colleagues and people around us for what backlog they carry? Will anything change if we are not embracing our own failures and others success?
Now, I understand we do need better infrastructure, better teachers, better curriculum and all that, and not by any means I am disregarding the work that many people or institution are doing to change the current state of our education system. All I am saying is that- is just the systematic change enough? Or do we need a more fundamental change in the very own idea of what a school means? So that the next I meet someone, I can stop judging and start learning.