Social Inequality in the Classrooms: How to help children cope & offer hope?

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P.S. This post is not a comprehensive one that takes into inclusion the government schools or schools in rural areas where social discrimination might be prominent. Owing to the fact that most of the readers belong to the privileged bunch of urban population who send their children to central public schools or state-run private schools in their regional area, the discussion is limited to the urban schools.

If I can read your mind, this is perhaps what you’ll be thinking now: “I don’t think any child I know of is discriminated or discriminates others in anyway in schools today.”

The parent of the child who informed my boy that Brahmins are the superior people in the world, said the same!

The nursery teacher who taught the rhyme, “…rosy lips, teeth within, curly hair, very fair, eyes are blue, lovely too, teacher’s pet is that you?” believed the same.

The school that celebrated Diwali but not Ramadan, promised the same!

But ask a child who was shamed by the teacher for scoring low in the exams and who has to sit in a class where the teacher spoke in a language that most students understood but not them.

Let’s wake up to the reality that though in subtle forms, discriminations of various forms can exists in urban schools as well.

As adults if we could identify if our children or other children are bothered by some kind of unfairness or discrimination in the classrooms, first of all, we can help children to cope with the situation. Second, we can be instrumental in making children practice equality in the school.

S – Social Inequality in the Classrooms: How to help children cope & offer hope?

Post #19 of the series: Instilling Social Equality in Children

Earlier this month, we had the parents-teacher meeting with the boy’s teachers. After the usual conversation on academics, we asked the class teacher about his interpersonal skills/behaviour. As the teacher went on narrating every detailed observation of the boy about how he would respond if something had upset him or if there is a quarrel between two students, I felt the quote ‘A teacher is the second mother’ flashing before me. And what surprised me was that despite knowing the boy inside out, the teacher has never shamed or pointed him what he was not good at, yet subtly guided him where she should. While some teachers can come with such maturity and understanding of child psychology, not all would.

Teachers can make or break a child’s overall confidence. We need to keep an eye that the latter doesn’t happen.

How much do we know about our children’s school life? 

This is an important question! In the first few days or months of schooling, we take enough care about how our child is feeing at school. Later, we get used to the routine and the teachers that we may not always ask how school was today. With our innumerable priorities, sometimes school is hardly anything beyond pack lunch, drop, and pick up. This happens to most of us and there’s not much about debating right or wrong here.

But, how much are we connected with our child’s emotions is the question.

We may not discuss school things every day or every week, but if your child is down for something that happened at school, will we be able to identify that? This is a question for you to answer to yourself. If you are confident that your child would definitely share it with you, that is great. If this question makes you feel guilty that you are not able to give sufficient attention to your child, please don’t feel so. We all go over the ups and downs of everything and if you can work on it from today, you’ll get back on track in no time.

Now coming to the possible issues at school…

  • Favouritsm

Of the moms I had asked this question, some said they haven’t seen favouritsm by teachers, while some said that the boys in the class are most of the time made to feel less capable, less hardworking, or less organized than the girls. Some said, the academically sound child is given preference by the teachers for answering questions or leading the class.

If our child were to tell us that they feel bad that another child is given importance what do we do?

Most of my schooling was in Hindu schools run by Brahmins. Some parents of my friends used to feel that teachers gave preferences to Brahmin students or those who were of fair complexion in dance performances. That the darker children would be made to stand in the rows behind while the front rows were reserved for fair-skinned. There is no way to validate the truth, but I did not feel that way. I am dark-skinned and I am not from an upper caste, but I remember being in the front row in all the school dance performances and I think it is because my skill in dance was recognized.

The point is we might not come to understand the truth behind ‘favouritsm’ by teachers. But what we can certainly do is inspire our children to develop the necessary skills to prove their self-worth – be it in dance, drama, sports, studies. Also, we can try to compensate their complex at home by making them feel good and raising their self-worth by identifying their strength in other skills or character without getting into the judgmental perceptions of the teacher or the other child because that will further deepen the resentment your child is going through. The hard truth is that sometimes we cannot change the teacher’s mindset but we can work on our child’s emotional health. 

What if your child is the one who is the teacher’s favourite?

I’ve been that student in one of the schools. The confidence a student gains by being a favourite student is immense. Your child may come and tell you with joy and pride about what the teacher praised or made them to lead something. It can be a super joy to us as well. Just that we need to inform our children that this privilege should not be misused by them to look down upon the other students. Especially, if they are the favourite class leader, tell them that leaders should take along others with them as they climb up the ladder. 

  • Gender differences

I am sharing a screen shot of one of the previous posts on the topic as it relates here as well:screenshot of a previous post

  • Secularism

We have schools that are run by Christian missionaries, schools affiliated to Hindu missionaries, and Madrassas in which case the parents will know beforehand the religious ideology of the school. That is, the parents can make an informed decision whether to put their children in such schools or not.

Now, we have these other kind of schools that does not specify a religious affiliation, but by default follow Hinduism because the founders belong to the religion. Students can come from diverse religious ideologies but most schools in our ‘secular’ India does not take secularism into account. If you follow Hinduism, this might not be a concern to you.

But if you come from another religion, follow atheism, or would prefer to instill a scientific bent of mind in your children instead of advocating belief in a supernatural thing, what can you do?

I asked my Hindu friend whose child is in a Christian school if she would instead prefer a school that taught Sanskrit shlokas and Hinduism. This was her reply:

“I always preferred my daughter go to a school where there is a good teacher, who understands her, teach her more on how to improve her, nurtures and be logical. But at the same time, believe in one source who will be there to guide us, though it’s a different name for each religion. I think she understands this now.

The underlined message here is that children who go to such schools are certainly going to grow more tolerant to other religions. If your child is going to a school that follows a different religion than yours, it is important that you do not introduce conflict of faiths at home about the differences in religions. Allow them to take part in the school’s religious discourses if any. Most children will enjoy the group recitals irrespective of what is being recited. If necessary prepare your child mentally that the language or versus of the prayer can be different but what we pray is going to be the same both at home and school.

  • The bright child Vs. weak child

The core of schooling commonly lies in the marks. Abilities and interests in subjects can differ between children but our education system does not recognize that labelling a child ‘weak’ in a subject is discrimination of abilities. A student is expected by both the teachers and parents to excel in all subjects. So it is going to be natural that out of 60 students, not all can score above 90% leading to the bright child vs. the weak child discrimination. The teacher while announcing the exam marks might shame the ‘weak’ student for the low marks. By far this is one of the most psychologically draining issues for the so-tagged ‘weak’ child.

What can we do if our child is the ‘weak’ child?

Don’t add fuel to the weakness! Of course, marks maybe important for the child’s future, but tagging the child as ‘weak’ is wrong. We can seed a difference when we say ” You will have to improve” than while saying “You are not capable, you cannot do this.”

That is, undoing the complex that has been forced upon the child can reverse the child’s ability. In a class of 40-60 students and from the pressure from the school, a teacher might or might not be concerned about your child’s psychology. But you have to! It’s your child; take that responsibility to feed hope in your child.

If our child is the ‘Bright’ child, how can they help others?

In the boy’s former school, there was a mentor-mentee thing where the child who is good at a subject will pair with another who was average in the subject to help solve questions or homework. And it was done without letting the children know that they were chosen because of their abilities in the subject. That is, the idea was to seed equality in abilities and at the same time foster equity. Here’s a picture to demonstrate the difference:

equality vs equity image

Either after school hours or as a part of the school time, introduce this concept in your child to help other students who might need help with studies. In the long run, it is a sure way to get children grow to individuals who will not see others as competitors but facilitate co-evolving.

  • Shaming/punishments

All the parents whose children go to traditional schools that I have checked with, said that the teachers do not punish students in anyway – kneel down, slapping, hitting on the knuckles, making the child to stand out of the class, impositions – something that the educational system has made a decent progress from our times. But if your child reports shaming or punishment by a teacher, don’t advice your child to tolerate or adjust. These are toxic teaching ways that are not relevant to the present generation of students. By law, no teacher has the right to physically or psychologically shame or abuse a student. Report the issue to the school management; you can be saving the mental health of other children too.

I pointed to a teacher that asking a child to get out of the class was wrong but she unapologetically argued that it is the only way to bring discipline in a child. There are teachers with such traditional mindset who believe that our parents slapped us and that is why we have been raised well, got that good job with a fat pay check, and that is the only way to deal with our children today. But the fact is nobody talked if the child healed from the humiliation, in his adult life.

In class XII, my Botany teacher made me stand out of the class for two days because I did not complete writing the date on the test paper. I could never get interested in Botany again. ‘Botany’ spells terror in me.

If your child is all of a sudden not interested in a subject, don’t fail to investigate the student-teacher relationship.

Do you recall any other discrimination that happened in school? Was it solved? If yes, please let us know the story. We may never know which parent or child can benefit from your story. 

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