THE recent incident of underage driving in Lahore in which a boy of 17 rammed his car into another, killing everybody on board, has set social media on fire. Who is to blame in such situations? The parents who allow their children to do as they please, or the sense of entitlement ingrained in their offspring by society and the educational institutions they attend? Has society failed to instil any sense of responsibility in its children?

A combination of these factors is to blame. Having been associated with the field of teaching for several years, I can safely say that educational establishments are being operated like corporate entities, where the client (read: students) is always right. The teachers — or, as per the new buzzword, ‘facilitators’ — are only allowed to intervene (and that too to a very limited extent) if matters reach serious proportions.

‘Student welfare’ and ‘zero tolerance’ for corporal punishment have been promoted for some time now. While one is not an advocate of corporal punishment and, as a matter of policy, condemns it, students can take undue advantage of this situation. Teachers are specifically instructed not to strongly rebuke students and yet are expected to keep them in check and discipline them, which becomes very difficult, if not impossible. Children also realise that teachers here have no authority as such, and some of them resort to goading and inciting their instructors, and then sit back to enjoy the resulting drama.

Although students have access to emotional health counsellors in elite schools, it is hard to gauge the extent to which the interventions of these counsellors have been effective. Sometimes, bad parenting is solely to blame. With the increasing number of nuclear and single-parent households, societal factors, too, come into play. Boys at a certain age need a father figure. As the societal fabric crumbles, society undergoes a transformation and values are inevitably compromised.

Teachers have no authority as their hands have been tied by school administrations.

The lad of 17 who rammed his car at breakneck speed into the other had studied at an elite private school, where the teaching faculty was probably instructed to treat their ‘clients’ with kid gloves. Education has become so commercialised that children are now treated like profit-and-loss statements, and every child is a blank cheque waiting to be cashed. Who in their right mind would refuse a blank cheque?

Having studied at a missionary school, this writer finds it hard to accept the extent to which the teaching profession has changed, and is often castigated for being too harsh with the student body. The ‘facilitators’ enjoy no real authority as their hands have been tied by the administration, which, in turn, is answerable to the senior management.

There is no doubt that the younger generation is far brighter than its predecessors, which is not surprising given the former’s sustained exposure to technology. No doubt some schools are doing an excellent job at educating our future generations, but morals and ethics have taken a back seat. It seems that most private educational establishments are bending over backwards to please the parent body, because that is where the money is coming from. Only a tiny fraction of the revenue is spent on the teachers, who are overworked and have to put up with maltreatment but are not allowed to complain.

The irony is that schools want ‘happy’ teachers, so the job of the latter does not only constitute mental and physical work but also emotional labour. Despite ever­ything that is going on in their personal and pro­fess­i­­­­onal lives, tea­ch­ers are expe­cted to cons­tantly ex­­­­h­­­­­ibit a ca­­r­­­efree de­­meanour.

Emotional labour was a concept in­­troduced to me when I was studying for a Master’s degree. One can see it in the food industry where you are selling not only a product but also a service. As the West is now predominantly a service industry, emotional labour is part and parcel of every job that involves interaction with the public.

The educational industry has also turned into a product-cum-service industry. Teachers are now expected to greet their ‘customers’ (students and parents) with a smile and to leave all emotional ‘baggage’ behind. The students are products to be proudly displayed and very few schools take ownership of those students who lag behind. The top-notch schools flaunt only their best and refuse to own those who are seen as inferior.

Schools are supposed to go beyond their role of being warehouses of knowledge. They need to incorporate the true ethos of education and instil moral values in children and groom them to become useful members of society. Educational establishments are sacred entities, responsible for shaping future generations and their sanctity must be upheld.

The writer is an educationist.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2023

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