November 11, 2017

Speaking at ​the 97th Foundation Day of Modern School, in New Delhi

… Modern School, Dr Vijay Datta, Principal Model School, Members of Board of Trustees, members of the managing committee, faculty members, teachers, number of parents, parents with prize winners, other parents who have come to join this very-very important programme, alumni of the school, students, ladies and gentlemen.

I think all the prize winners deserve a little louder applause. It’s truly a great day both for the students and the parents, and I am sure each one of us at this point of time can recall when we graduated or we passed out of school or college, and in some sense, it’s also a ……, it’s also a day of joy, it’s a day of fun, it’s a day of celebration, remembrances, memories, so many different feelings that each one of us has on this very important day in our life. Like I was sharing some of my own remembrances with Ashokji when I completed my school, because in Mumbai we complete at the 10th standard level itself.

And if one was to look back, and I say this with my own experience, each one of us may have a different experience. It’s always the school friends, the school teachers who had remained with us through the length of our life. I for instance won’t recall too many of my college teachers, we have friends amongst college colleagues, but I think the greatest bonds that we have is with children who studied with us in school, our peers, those who were around the time when we were in schools, the teachers too.

I still remember amongst a few thousand messages when I was given the charge of Railways within two months ago, the greatest joy I got was from a message that was received from a school teacher who had taught me nearly 28-29 years ago. But that message gave me the greatest joy when I had read an SMS from this corner, I don’t know how she managed to get my number after so many years. And I think it’s those formative years which truly define what we are going to do in life, what we are going to be in life.

And in that sense, the 97th Foundation Day of such a prestigious institution, which has also caused me a lot of problem, by the way, because there are so many requests ‘can you help my child get admission in the school?’ And I know I can’t do anything about it. But that’s a distress I think we should be very proud of, you should be remain proud on the standards you have maintained, the merit that has prevailed in running this school, the respectability that the management, that the faculty has earned, (inaudible) you had to earn over 97 years. And I would think it’s also a very great coincidence that your Foundation Day is celebrated on National Education Day, it’s really wonderful.

Dr Abdul Kalam Azad was not only a freedom fighter, he was not only the first Education Minister that India had, but somebody who stood for all the 4 values that Ashokji spoke about. He spoke about diversity, he spoke about (inaudible), he spoke about democracy and he roundly (inaudible) the current new age digital world that we are living in. And it’s a matter of pride that Mr Azad not only was one of the prime participants in our freedom struggle, but he was a deep thinker, somebody who recognized that India’s strength comes with the diversity that we have in our country. And despite the partition, despite the country going through such trying times, recognized that India is the land where we would like to stay, and live and work and serve, and as Education Minister I think at that point of time in 1947, it must have been a big challenge to bring in the Indian education system in the circumstances in which we achieved independence.

While we all know there is a lot more that could have been done or something that could have been done differently over the years to establish a better education system, I think the very fact that each one of us here and I would believe most of us in this room would have come out of the Indian education system, would have served our country, our own vocations honourably. Having learned and studied in this education system is testimony enough of the strength of the Indian education system, while we definitely note down we must continue to improve, continue to look at what we can do better. We can also draw satisfaction from the fact that we have created some of the finest scientists, some of the finest administrators, some of the finest persons from the army – Col. (inaudible) here has served the army, and I say that with pride that what the armed forces, what the defence forces, what the bureaucracy, what people in different walks of life – I would have liked to say politicians also, but I don’t know how that will be received by all of you here.

But each one of us in our own social vocation has been able to serve society, serve the nation. And I must congratulate Principal Datta for maintaining the high standard of education in Modern School. He is, of course, the recipient of the national award, given by the President of India. It’s the highest accolade that one could receive in the teaching profession and he truly has given meritorious service to our field of education, be it his long stint in MAYO school, be it his work in the Army School. I don’t know how much of that he has brought to Modern school, I don’t know whether we feel sorry for the children here, or be happy for the parents here.

I was just seeing Mr Boman Irani’s photograph, I think he visited your school recently. I wonder if you all had that ‘chamatkar’ or ‘balatkar’ moment in that time. But, more importantly, I was just reading the honourable Principal’s report, and I read that Irrfan Khan had come here to promote his movie the ‘Hindi Medium’. I am delighted that you called him here, not only because, I think, some of that movie was shot here, but because that movie truly has a deep and strong message for all of us parents. I am a parent of two children and we have all gone through the same story. I would suspect many of us would have used the whip on our children, got them to go to all those preparatory classes, to prepare them to get admission in good schools.

And in some sense, while I am a Mumbaikar so I was enjoying the Hindi Medium even more, because it reflects the Delhi culture quite a bit. No offence meant, since now I have become almost a Delhiite, so I count myself (inaudible). And the culture in Mumbai would not be any intrinsically different, we are all I think suffering the same problems of few good schools, large demand for good schools, what we all as parents do to get our children into those good schools. And in the process, I think many of us haven’t realized and if I can draw from the Indian railways, many of us sometimes lose sight of the fact that, probably, all of us have boarded the train, but there is a large section of society out there, millions of children who got left behind, who have not been able to really enjoy the fruits of democracy. They have not, our children and children of rural India, large number of children deprived of formal education just can’t be expected to be able to compete in the near world on equal terms. And in that sense, I would request the management and trustees and all the 2600 children’s parents of this school and probably if one was to look at the history, 97-year history, you would have a few million parents of children who would have studied from here.

I think if we make a good project to see how we can in public-private partnership look at upgrading the entire education system in this country today, what we can do, what ideation we can do, what new concepts we can introduce, what each one of us needs to do individually and collectively to see that the Indian education system can be upgraded, to see that every child in the country gets that quality of education with this wonderful institution being your children, and how can we ensure this demographic dividend that we talk about, the Indian population, truly becomes a demographic dividend and not a liability on society.

And in that sense, each one of us has a role to play, each one of us can contribute to that, and I am not talking necessarily of financial contribution. To my mind, money is never a problem, when it comes to good projects, it’s usually commitments, it’s usually passion that really can give us extraordinary results that we try to reform the education system. And, therefore, the Founders Day would be a good opportunity for each one of us to reflect on how we can contribute to addressing this challenge that the nation is faced with, this challenge of including every section of society to partake in high quality education, to benefit from the quality of education and the holistic education that a school like Modern provides its wards. The fact that you have excelled in academics, the fact that you have excelled in extracurricular activities, in the report of the honourable Principal I was reading about your Environment class, the fact that we had children who studied farmers’ suicides or slum upgradation.

This holistic thinking, if it can be taken to the next level and to the next level, right down to the child at the bottom of the pyramid, the child who is in some sense been deprived of this quality of life, I think we can truly look for that new India, that new India which is free of corruption, which is without casteism and communalism, an India where every child gets quality education, everybody gets quality healthcare, shelter, 24×7 power, a toilet in their home, that new India, that vision of new India will always remain incomplete unless there is participation of every citizen, every well-meaning citizen of this country. And in that I think education has a great role to play. I would urge each of the parents in this room to see what we can do to make that new India vision happen, and that new India has so many elements that I am sure each one of us can join some element of that new India vision, be a part of that evolution that this country is going through.

It could be a simple thing like the Swachh Bharat. It could be a simple thing like the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao that demand on each one of us to see how girl child is not neglected, how every girl child gets an opportunity of education. Because truly, every child you educate, particularly the girl child, you are educating a whole family, you are impacting the entire ecosystem that is there in India.

In fact, very often when I am reflecting on the deteriorating standards of society and, in some sense, what happened in a school in Delhi very recently is something which we should all ponder about, something we should all think about. Are we giving enough moral guidance to the children in our schools today? I remember, in our schools days, we had a lecture on moral science every week. I think over the years, gradually, teaching children moral values, moral sciences has probably taken a backseat in the pressure of academic brilliance.

I recall, on the 15th August 2014, the honourable Prime Minister was speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort, had asked one question of the people of India. My daughter who was then I think in the 9th or 10th standard was in the audience, sitting below the Red Fort, the crowd, and I remember coming back home, and her wanting to discuss this comment with the Prime Minister in detail, because it had a deep impact on my daughter, as I am sure it must have had an impact on many girls around the country. The Prime Minister had asked, that we are all the time telling our girls how to behave, how to dress, how to be in the streets, how to be in society, how to work in your workplaces, have we bothered to teach our boys what should be their outlook when they are with girls or when they are in school with girls, when they are working in the workplace with girls? Have we really taught the children, the boys of our society what should be their outlook, what should be their approach?

And I think it’s something which we all have to think about, it is in those formative years, those young days when you define what a society is going to look like. And I am sure this wonderful institution is doing all it can to provide the best of quality of education to its children. And you have had some wonderful alumni, you had our Gautam Gambhir coming out of the school, leading the country’s cricket team. If I may quote from Gautam Gambhir’s comment where he said and I quote, ‘I think a captain is someone who captains on the cricket field, but most of the leadership that happens is off the cricket field.’

And I say this, because as parents, each one of us has an equal opportunity on how our children are going to behave, on how our children are going to develop, what we are going to do as parents in the making of the child, howsoever good a school you may have managed to get your children admission, I don’t mean managed in the literally sense, you may have been lucky to get your children admission in a good school. But ultimately it’s going to be that holistic experience, that effort that each one of us puts in our home, in how we raise our children, how we are bring them up, how we bring in value systems at home, what kind of culture and heritage and tradition we are giving to our children at home. Together, we got the (inaudible) in school. It’s only that complete personality that is going to determine the future of Indian society.

And I am sure, with the kind of excellent education that Modern School gives to its children, I am sure each one of your wards will become a great citizen of this country, you will all be proud parents of your children. But, clearly, each one of us is blessed and, therefore, it’s also responsible for what kind of a society we have in the nation as a whole. I know Mr (inaudible) is President of an outstanding foundation, which runs more than 254 schools for the deprived sections of society across Punjab, Lalji, (inaudible). He has also been instrumental in making Ludhiana, all of Ludhiana (inaudible) open-defecation free.

I would wish and urge and pray to see 2600 parents of this school and many more with spouses, become those torchbearers of Indian society, lead the change that you want to see in the world, participate in nation building, participate in society, contribute to the making of new India so that what you and your children have been blessed with in this wonderful campus becomes a story of thousands and then billions, all across this country. Governments have their role to play, governments will continue to play that role, good, bad, ugly, of course, even within that, ideas, ideation comes from society, come from well-meaning citizens like all of you. But, clearly, it will be the people’s participation that will determine and define the success of this great nation.

Let us all work together, let us all work to give India truly the proud place in the comity of nations that we all deserve and let us all commit ourselves to a new India by 2022, a new India that our children will be proud of, that the next generation will recognize as your contribution to this nation and that will inspire our children to do better and bigger in life.

Thank you very much.


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