The year gone by saw much in the media about the rape and molestation of women. The widespread nature of this sickness makes me feel that there are two critical areas where we educators (both teachers and parents) have failed gender sensitisation and combating the `bully' mindset. These are inextricably linked.
How many principals, for instance, have either the will or the skill to gender-sensitise our teaching faculties?
Therefore we have the common phenomenon of male teachers being nonplussed by the girl student wanting to frequently `excuse' herself from the classroom, often accompanied by an uneasy titter amongst her classmates. Conversely, lady teachers often find themselves very uncomfortable when boys crack bawdy jokes.
And most schoolchildren, boys and girls, have no one to turn to when they feel lonely and confused on these issues, particularly when they come from conservative families. Many schools pass the buck by introducing `sex-education', but we all know what happens when something like this is reduced to a classroom experience.
A PowerPoint presentation can never be a substitute for a warm and intimate conversation, based on mutual trust, between a teacher and student. But how many of us teachers are equipped either in terms of attitude or training to deal with this issue?
On the contrary, some of our attitudes need to be seriously examined. It has never ceased to amaze me how many heads of schools are firmly opposed to co-education, on the ground that the girls would be `hugely distracted' by the presence of boys. But is education not about preparing for adult life, and is not adult life co-ed? Surely , these are the skills that education ought to teach?
I am not talking about just `elite' schools. There is a Kendriya Vidyalaya close to the village where i live and i see young boys and girls mingling easily quite unlike single-sex schools where the presence of the opposite sex is a matter of great excitement and tension.
We talk these days about educating the girl child. But how about educating the boy child? Educating, for instance, to respect women. My own daughter once did a survey as part of her psychology course in school. One of the questions asked respondents to say who should eat last in the family if food were to be short on a particular day . Over 70% of the boys answered `mother' with `sister' following a close second! This is where the connection with bullying kicks in. We bring up our sons to believe that they are God's gift to humankind that they can do no wrong.The `weaker' sex are there for the pleasure of the `stronger' sex and therefore, `boys will be boys'.
No amount of legislation, CCTV cameras, policemen or banning cab services is going to really change things.We have to look deep inside, change our core attitudes, and bring up a whole new generation that can break free of medieval shackles.
The writer Dev Lahiri is former principal, Welham Boys` School, Dehradun