He Who Pays the Piper

In my blogpost last month on evaluating the school, I had surveyed the readers to know their views on the Great School Campaign. Here are the results of the two-question survey.

1. Do you feel there should be a Campaign to make Loyola a great school?
86.7% (52 votes) said “Yes, I am in favour of a Great School Campaign.”
“No. Loyola is already a great school”: 10% (6 votes)
“I don’t care”: 3.3% (2 votes)

2. Who should lead the Great School Campaign, if there is one?
The top preference was for Loyola Old Boys’ Association (LOBA) to lead the Great School Campaign.
LOBA: 38.3% (23 votes)
The Principal or Vice-Principal: 18.3% (11 votes)
loyolites.com: 18.3% (11 votes)
None of the listed options: 13.3% (8 votes)
Parent-Teacher Association (PTA): 8.3% (5 votes)
School Leader: 3.3% (2 votes)

Many of those who chose “none of the above” favoured a combination — for example, LOBA and PTA, or the authorities and PTA. Other candidates proposed to lead were “a former teacher”, and “a senior and distinguished alumnus”.

60 people participated in the survey. Thank you, guys!

Will LOBA take the next step?

* * *

I feel that there should be a Great School Campaign, and that the PTA should take the lead. Let me explain why I (still) favour the PTA, and not LOBA.

Due to the aura around Fr C.P. Varkey’s reform efforts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of us believe that the Jesuits lead the school. But that seems to have been an exception as much as exceptional. I feel that the Jesuits are led by parents and the prevailing social environment. That’s why I favour the PTA to lead the Great School Campaign.

When Fr Kuruvila Cherian became Principal (around 2000), he tried to bring back the emphasis on extra-curricular activities. But the pressure from parents was such that the school turned around to place a premium on academic study. According to a reliable source, when the academic result was not so glorious one year, parents expressed concern at the damage to image — a school producing poor results — caused by increased emphasis on extra-curricular activities. The Jesuits panicked, and Fr Cherian was forced to leave, goes the story.

Though there has been a crackdown on Loyola teachers taking private tuition, the school itself has not shied away from organising extra classes. A few years ago, I was witness to extra classes being held for a Plus Two class, when several sports day competitions were going on in the main field. More shockingly (for me), when student interest in the youth festival declined — initially in the late 1980s, but significantly in the 2000s — the Jesuits responded by slashing the number of festival days. Instead of convincing parents and students why the youth festival should be held the way it used to be, the Jesuits even okayed in-camera competitions — three judges and the competitors in a room — thereby signalling that extra-curricular activities are “extra” in Loyola. The merits of participating in an event or reciting a poem before the school were ignored; festivals were organised as rituals to select winners and write certificates.

Didn’t Fr Varkey face pressure from parents? I am sure he did. He explained his reform philosophy to the parents of the day, and won them over. His charisma may have helped, but he also benefited from the prevailing social environment. Fr Varkey may not have succeeded among today’s Loyola parents.

Consider the parents of today. Most of them grew up in a competitive era, and they believe that competition has only intensified since then. Also, most of them enjoyed reasonably good, private-school, English-medium education, and for their kids, they set a higher standard of success. Add to this today’s social values — the worship of wealth (the hype surrounding salaries emanating from an IIM diploma), and a tacit acceptance of getting what you want by hook-or-crook (result-oriented actions). All this is a planet afar from the Loyola parents of the 1970s and 1980s, and the environment they raised their kids in. Is it any wonder that Baker is out and big is in? Is it any surprise that children should play less and playgrounds should be fenced because cars have to ply on the school’s road?

For good or bad, the parents are more powerful than the Jesuits — he who pays the Piper calls the tune. If you wish to make Loyola a great school, I believe that your best bet lies in convincing the parents and letting them lead the Great School Campaign. What happens in Loyola happens because the parents let that happen.

Postscript: From my LOBA experience, I would say that the worst group to lead the Great School Campaign would be the LOBA. Its leadership lacks the intellectual strength and commitment to lead such a campaign, and the organisation is powerless in the school’s scheme of things. That’s hardly surprising, since all of us have left it to the rest of us to run the organisation. But if you insist that LOBA should lead the Campaign and make it a success, I suggest that you get enough friends from various batches to turn up at the next General Body Meeting, capture the organisation’s leadership (the six key posts and the Executive Committee) and settle down to business. The real poll is offline, not online.

11 Comments

  • Ashok, you have made a forceful argument on why the PTA is best suited to lead a Great School Campaign. No other title could have been more apt for that. But you have also raised the issue of the mentality which guides today’s parents and how they have silently acquiesced with the running down over the years of our school’s extra-curricular strengths. Does anybody in the PTA body read your blog? How would we sell this campaign to them? I voted for loyolites.com because this idea originated from you and you have a clear vision on what is feasible. Please let us know what the attitude of the school authorities was, when you raised this topic with them.

    Also, though you are critical of the gloating we loyolites indulge in about the school’s strengths and glories, a generation is coming up in school without an awareness of the school’s past history and despite the ever present focus on academics, how the events most looked forward to in the academic calendar were the Sports Day, Youth Festival, etc and how hotly contested they were. I wish you would write a few posts profiling some of the Loyolites who were stars in their own right while at school and what they have been doing since, for eg, someone like Mohan Singh Gujjar…I have heard his name mentioned while i studied at Loyola and later. His name cropped up in blogworld too when i read this post at http://neelalex.blogspot.com/ . I know you are not a fan of hero worship, but posts like that would give everyone a nice peek into Loyola history.

  • Probably, this blog is read by 4-5 parents who are also old boys. At least two have commented here. But I will contact the Principal and the PTA offline. Since LOBA was the popular choice, I will write to them too. Will post updates on this blog regarding the Great School Campaign.

    Jiby, your perseverance moves me 🙂 I will write about such things. Hope to avoid the nostalgic streak, though. Thank you for drawing attention to that blog on Loyola.

  • How many in PTA would willingly get involved in this? You had mentioned in one of your earlier posts that the students who owuld be benifited from such a campaign are those presently in UKG to 5th. How can the the campaign be made to bring up interest among the parents whose children are already in +1 and +2?

  • Dear Ashok,

    Self evaluation is the best way to improve, i feel. If the school authorities spare some time to think of what’s happening in each classroom (and not the school in general), i think it will help. Being an insider for 7 years, i saw drastic changes in the attitude of students, teachers, management and parents. But i can assure you one thing – great school campaign is never going to work if PTA is entrusted with it. SImply because parents are not concerned abt the school! They are more concerned abt their sons, thier studies and behaviour in class… i know a parent who comes with a notepad and pen to write down each word uttered by the teachers abt her son….she might not even know who is who in the school… As you know, PTA meeting occurs at the beginning of every year to select class representatives and executive committee members. At present, the strength of Loyola is 1600. Going by that, atleast 1600 people should attend the meeting, sadly that is not the case. May be 5-10 from each class will participate. Thats just around 250…..

    People are selfish, really selfish. When I was in 10th standard, i tried to improve the stature of my class with the help of some of the teachers… i was astonished at the cold response from them….the plan didnt work out….

    I hope that great school campaign will become a reality soon…..because loyola needs something like that…

  • Ok. Based on empirical evidence, it seems that neither the LOBA nor the PTA is fit to lead the campaign. What I am about to suggest might seem outrageous and unconventional. The School Leader, till date, has been someone who just makes speeches at important functions. The Class Leader, the one who minds the class while the teacher is away. Since Loyola claims to be preparing children for real life, my suggestion would be that real responsibility be given to them. The choice of how the school should be run. The choice to elect representatives with real power. Not the entire responsibility, of course, but some chunk of it. This is only the germ of an idea; the particulars will have to be thought deeply about. But every great revolution was once an idea.

  • In every group, there will be resistance to change. But there’ll also be supporters, if not enthusiasts. When change does not happen from within (say, the authorities, or PTA or LOBA initiating efforts), an external stimulus might help.

    Karthik, thanks for raising such points that have to be tackled. Blog is not a good medium to discuss and chalk out strategies for action. But please continue to flag concerns publicly here, for actors (whoever, wherever) to consider when they finally meet and eat.

    Arun, sad to hear that your efforts got a cold response. The PTA meeting is only one channel to know parents’ views, exchange ideas, etc. There was a huge response to the 2004 School Magazine, where we had inserted a Feedback Form at the end, and asked class leaders to collect responses within a fortnight of the magazine’s release.

    Bimal, yes, all of us should try to think out-of-the-box. As the school mag 2004 example showed, class leaders can play important roles. The Great School Campaign should involve them, as much as it involves old boys, teachers and parents. Er…I don’t think every idea ended up as a great revolution 🙂

  • It just can’t be the parents alone…no way, never. For the simple reason that these days, most parents would be interested in their ward outperforming the other guys only…not probably getting involved in a great school campaign.
    Firstly, the LOBA has to change, like Ashok mentioned, thats one thing which is very much required.
    Secondly, the school authorities also have to take more initiaitives towards this direction.
    And finally for the school to be recognised as a great school, it has to be really different from the other schools in terms of academics, extra curriculars and more than anything else, creation of a brand value through the Ex loyolites….

  • Sreejesh, I was only trying to emphasise that the Campaign has to involve all sections, most of all those who will be impacted the most. I don’t think parents will swallow notions of education from Tokyo or Tripura. Yes, finally, it’s the school that has to implement most of the initiatives, bring various constituencies together, etc.

    I think if the Campaign goes well, LOBA will change in due course.

  • ashok,, do not know if u remember me,, i am from 89 batch, and roshan’s classmate,, do give whereabouts of roshan, his phone number and e mail id. and also give ur phone number and ur e mail id.

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