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In 1980, a team of four Jesuits conducted an evaluation of Loyola School. Three years later, the school published the report’s extracts in Loyola School Souvenir, a 134-page publication to raise funds for acknowledge funders of the Silver Jubilee block, which was then under construction.

Here are excerpts from the 2 pages of extracts in the souvenir.

The admission policy of the school is to select the students on the basis of an entrance test. However, Catholics and close relatives of the Jesuits and of the School’s employees, and children from the immediate neighbourhood are admitted independently of ranking.

The School grants the following fee concessions: (1) Free education to the children of Loyola’s employees, (2) Half or Full fee concession to about 60 students, the norms for selection here being the economic backwardness of the parents.

The School has a sufficiently well equipped library and laboratory. The library has over 7,000 books. The School subscribes to 20 periodicals and newspapers. Rs 10/- per student is annually spent in the library. Every week 100 to 150 books are issued to the students of Stds VI to X. In the library, book shelves are kept open and are ascessible to students.

The standard of discipline is rated very good in respect of both staff and students. There is a remarkable atmosphere of freedom and fearlessness prevailing among the students. The whole campus is also remarkable for neatness and cleanliness, as well as a sense of decency and courtesy in behaviour. Wall writings and things like that are not to be seen anywhere. Smaller boys have no need to fear bullying by bigger ones. Smoking is unknown. Corporal punishment is not allowed.

What immediately strikes one about Loyola is that here there seems to be a conscious, systematic and consistent pursuit of certain goals. Imagination, ommitment and drive seem to characterise the school’s leadership. This is shown in every aspect.

It goes without saying that in terms of academic achievement Loyola must be given Very High rating. The contribution of the School to educational thinking, taken in a broad sense, through its bold experimentations innovative programmes, (and numberous seminars by the Principal to as many as fifty schools and parent groups) must be considered significant.

Nearly 90% of the respondents characterize the School as outstanding academically and in discipline, and about 25% as Fostering creativity and critical thinking.

The souvenir presented these extracts with the heading “Know the School Better”. Three things struck me:

1. All the extracts showed the school in a positive light. I’ve quoted only a few here but there was not a single sentence in the others too about any weakness or discomfort in Loyola. Didn’t the entire evaluation report have any? If it had, why were such points not published in the souvenir?

2. The article did not give any details about the team of Jesuits that conducted the evaluation. Were all four working in Loyola in 1980? 😉

3. The evaluation was conducted in 1980, and extracts of the report were published in 1983. Even when published so late, no information was shared on how many people of different groups (Jesuits, teachers, parents, students, old boys, outsiders) were surveyed.

It could be that the entire report was placed before the Parent-Teacher Association before publication in the souvenir. There are several missing pieces and I hope more facts will come to light to clear the air. Till then, let us examine the revealed bits.

Earlier, while writing about politics in Loyola, I mentioned the Jesuits trumpeting their virtues, sometimes with good reasons. Prior to it, in the context of LA Fest, I had sneered at the culture of whitewashing that plagues recent school magazines. Read along with the publication of 1983 (of the evaluation), I discover that the school has a history of practising “Ashwathama hatah”.

Such reluctance to tell the whole truth surprises me. If the school stood out in the early 1980s (in Kerala, if not in India) it was rooted in an honest and critical look at existing practices, and challenging of entrenched beliefs. The stopping of corporal punishment, for instance, would not have happened if all were busy sweeping stories under the carpet.

On the bright side, the extracts in the souvenir reveal that an evaluation took place. I do not know whether it was a regular practice of the Jesuits. But elsewhere in the souvenir, we learn that staff evaluation and planning started in Loyola in 1979. It is remarkable for a school to have a culture of self-evaluation. I remember that a few days into every academic year, a lengthy staff meeting was held. Students played to their hearts’ content for hours. Looking back, those afternoons benefited us off the sports field too.

Or did they?

“Staff planning and evaluation” still exists for sure. This is what happens when some visionary kicks off a good practice; people follow it as a tradition.

The spirit of the evaluation — to look critically and constructively at one’s own practices — must be applied to the evaluation process itself. The school can, for example, widen the scope of the evaluation. How about including parents, teachers, old boys, students and outsiders in the evaluation in 2008? Will the school lose more than it might gain?

Re-read the extracts from the evaluation of 1980. There’s not a single sentence there that helps a good school think ahead. Its publicised findings are a listing of outcomes of reforms initiated between 1976 and 1979; they contain no insightful reflection to take the school forward.

Could it be a coincidence that the school, in terms of education, eschewed reforms and went into ‘maintenance’ mode soon thereafter? New Principals and Vice-Principals — many of them good individuals — came and went but none took the school to noticeably great heights. They focused on strengthening the hardware: facilities such as a mosaic basket-ball court, a rebuilt tennis court, a large playground, or a large auditorium. I suspect that it took their attention away from the software: education, curriculum, training and other invisible, yet key domains. Maybe the school needed a good dose of hardware then. Maybe it needs a similar dose of software now.

The new auditorium of Loyola School - opened 2008

I often hear old boys say “Oh! Loyola is not such a good school these days. My neighbour, whose son is in Loyola, tells me…”, or “There is no longer an emphasis on extracurricular activities” and so on. From the other corner, I hear current students and those who passed recently speak highly of the school. Each of us consequently has pet theories and grouses grounded in anecdotes than any fact, or meaningful survey.

Schools, like firms or organisations, have to improve their services, not just to compete with other schools but also for society’s progress. I believe that a Great School Campaign is needed, and that it should begin with trying to understand the school today. The first step could be an honest and critical assessment conducted by a mixed team (of Jesuits, teachers, parents, students, old boys, and outsiders). After sharing that report with the public — yes, the school is embedded in a community and non-Loyolites too have a stake in Loyola — the old boys should institute endowments, promote alumni participation in school activities or do whatever emerge as action points. Old boys, instead of pumping money in a fit of nostalgia, should behave responsibly with meaningful interventions.

In 2008, the Parent-Teacher Association, with its deep stake in the school, should initiate a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of the school. That way, when Loyola celebrates its golden jubilee three years from now, the school will have a blueprint for life after 50, not merely a glossy, colour brochure patting itself on the back. The school will benefit more from a gutter inspector’s report than another round of whitewashing. Let us not turn the clock back to 1980.

Can I ask for 2 minutes of your time this month? Please participate in a 2-question survey on the Great School Campaign. Poll open till 28 March. Results will be announced on 30 March 2008.

Update! Results of the 2-question survey are now available.