More on NPS

Chitra Rao, principal of NPS HSR Layout has spoken to Bangalore Mirror regarding the case of the student who committed suicide recently after being suspended by the school. It’s a good interview and Rao makes some important points, but there are a couple of things about the report that I found funny.

The first thing might sound funny because only Rao’s responses have been published and not the questions she was asked.¬†Nevertheless, in the interests of humour I’ll give the benefit of doubt to Bangalore Mirror and assume that the only question they asked were those that have been reported. So Rao says:

All I can say is I handled the issue with compassion. The tone was always gentle and never derogatory. I never intended to humiliate. I also want to state that NPS is not a pressure cooker and we have a host of activities for the holistic development of the child

The second sentence here is key. From the article it doesn’t appear that Bangalore Mirror asked her a question about the pressure at NPS, but she made it a point to mention that. That she has made it a point to mention that “NPS is not a pressure cooker” without any prompting is telling, in my opinion.

Then later on in the piece (it’s a fairly long one), the piece reports a letter that Bindu Hari, director of NPS, sent to parents of students. The piece says:

The letter also added that the school’s policy on discipline and pastoral care emphasises behaviour modification through guidance and counselling. It was a step-wise and sequenced process keeping intact student dignity.

I’m quite intrigued by the use of the word “pastoral” here. For when I see the word “pastoral”, the first thing I think about is sheep. And if the school’s official letter claims that they offer “pastoral care”, then it all starts making sense!

When National Public School suspended me

In the light of a class 10 girl from National Public School HSR Layout committing suicide after being suspended from school, a debate has broken out on social media, mainstream media, online forums and mailing lists as to whether the school was right in suspending her for “befriending a boy”. A question that has popped up is whether the school was right in suspending her for such a “trivial issue”. Based on anecdotal evidence (!!)¬†, I can confirm that National Public School has a history of suspending people for rather trivial issues. Here is my story.

It happened in 1999, when I was in class 12. It was “Computer Science Practicals” period, and we were hence in the computer lab. The exciting thing about the lab was that it had LAN (local area network), which meant all the computers were connected up. There was no internet, mind you, but it being 1999, that the computers were connected and we could send messages to each other was a big thing. And our messenger of choice was Winpopup. Not that there was much choice anyway!

As the name suggests, when you received a message through Winpopup, the thing would actually pop up a window right in the middle of your screen. Some people found it annoying and so closed the program. But for some others, looking for some respite from all the hard work we were putting in then for our entrance (and board) exams, it was welcome relief. It was actually exciting.

The cool thing about Winpopup is that it allowed you to send group messages. You just hit “send all” or something and the message would pop up on the screens of everyone in the lab who had the program open. When this kind of a platform is offered to a bunch of stressed-out 16 and 17 year olds what would you expect? You would expect them to freak out (positively) of course, and that is what we did.

It was a great stressbuster. We would sense nonsense to each other. Sometimes the nonsense would be laced with profanity. Given our age, profanity seemed rather cool back then. Soon, network effects and peer pressure meant that profanity became the norm for Winpopup messages. And ultimately that became Winpopup’s, and our, undoing.

Dopey was seated next to me. Snuff, our computer teacher, was standing behind him checking his code. It was a rather quiet day on Winpopup (if not, Dopey would have shut down the program before Snuff came to check his code). And then a message popped up. In hindsight it seems pretty nonsensical, but perhaps at that point in time it made sense.

How the cunt are you?

That’s what the message said. Snuff saw it before Dopey did when it popped up on his screen. “Sooooo vulllgaar!!”, she exclaimed loudly. Dopey panicked and by the time she was done saying that he had closed the popup. Snuff’s exclamation had startled some of us, too, and we had closed the windows before reading who had sent it. So it was established that someone in class had sent a “vulgar” message to the whole group, but it wasn’t known who it was. And so we were called one by one and asked to confess and point fingers.

In hindsight I’m amazed at the social capital we displayed at such a young age, for we all acted like good children and refused to point fingers. I was told, though, that there were a couple of other kids who had said they suspected me, though they weren’t sure. I responded that they were just trying to cover their own arses, perhaps, and that I wouldn’t have dared to do that with Snuff in such close vicinity. No evidence was found, so the school took the next step in finding the perpetrator. They suspended the whole lot of us – everyone who was seated in that computer lab during that class (we had two labs, and they weren’t connected to each other, so people in the other lab went scot free). This happened on a Friday.

We were told that we would be let in to class only after our parents had met the principal. On Monday, my mother accompanied me to school, profoundly embarrassed (that I had brought such shame to the family by getting myself suspended from school), and upset (that I didn’t sit with the “decent boys” in the other lab (my friends who my mother knew well were in that lab and went free), instead choosing to hang out with the “poli” crowd). I have no clue what the principal told her or vice versa. I was back in class, as was everyone else who had been suspended along with me. Life went on as usual after that, except that they uninstalled Winpopup from our school computers.

Soon after graduating in 2000, I visited school to collect some papers. I met Snuff, and she asked me to confess, “now that I had graduated and she couldn’t do a thing”. I told her that I hadn’t done it. The last time I visited school was in 2004. Snuff was still around, and she said “at least now you confess”. I pleaded innocence again, and we had a good laugh about it. Even recently, when I met one of the guys who had said he suspected me (and who I had pointed fingers at), we discussed this episode and laughed about it. That is my lasting memory with respect to Winpopup, for I never used it again.

Circling back, the point I’m trying to make is that getting suspended from NPS is no big deal – the things they suspend you for, most people go through it at some point of time during their time in school. I have friends who were once suspended for bunking school without permission to go watch an air show! Most of the time it’s rather trivial, and looking back, hilarious. Assuming that the culture is still the same now, and in other NPSs (I went to the one in Indiranagar), I would be very surprised if a student would take a suspension from school so seriously¬†as to kill herself.

It’s a kind of Bayesian analysis here, but my hypothesis is that given the school’s practice of suspending people for all sorts of trivial things (once suspended you are let back in only if you bring your parents along – that’s standard practice), you can’t really blame them for suspending a girl for “being too close to a boy”. Essentially the “information content” in being suspended from NPS is way too low!