BCS: Some thoughts relating to the future
– Does the school have a future as a high-quality institution?
Vijay K. Stokes
What is wrong with this picture?
Now that the successful School Sesquicentennial Celebrations are behind us the school needs to focus on its future. This write-up raises some issues that, hopefully, will help initiate a debate on what needs to be done. It is divided into three parts: The current state of the infrastructure as an indication of institutional decline, possible remedial measures, and the realities of what can be done—given that the governance is essentially controlled by the church.
Based on my limited exposure to the school during the recent celebrations, the infrastructure is in a state of continuing genteel decay in a manner similar to that occurring in cemeteries around the country: During a service in the school chapel, I first noticed the ugly painting job on the pews, wooden panels, and the walls. The wonderful wood-grain structure of the pews had been painted over, the paint on the panels overlaps the light paint on the walls and vice versa, and the liberal use of clear polyurethane “varnish” reminded me of over-oiled hair. Next I was horrified by some sort of a patch on the side of the school organ, which I believe is not in working order. I felt that bringing and playing a synthesizer on a portable stand in front of the choir detracted from the solemn dignity of the occasion—the least that could have been done is to play the instrument behind the organ. The PA system did not work properly, even at an event for which the Bishop of Amritsar was present. And I found the lamp suspended from the vaulted ceiling near the altar to be incongruous with the simple original architecture of the chapel.
While exiting the chapel after the service, I noticed that on several of the brass plaques on the rear wall memorializing past masters the screws and nails had come off, resulting in the plaque corners projecting out. Clearly the plaques were too thin and the calligraphy and finish of the text was of poor quality. This condition of the chapel, which should be of importance to the Christian hierarchy overseeing the running of the school, does not bode well for the future well being of the school.
Outside the chapel, as we walked toward the dining hall, I saw that some of the angle iron supports of the walkway roof were twisted out of shape, and askew electric wiring was hanging off the roof. The sidewalls of the walkway were poorly designed and constructed, and did not match the architecture of the surroundings.
After the festivities, my classmate Ashok Sopory sent me the photograph of the very poorly painted school crest shown above, which I believe is on the War Memorial. On it, the word “overcome” in the motto has been split into two separate words “over” and “come.” On November 23, I pointed this error to the Headmaster:
I want to bring to your attention an error in the painted version of the BCS Crest (on the war memorial?) which I suggest be fixed as soon as possible. As you will note from the attached photograph—taken by my classmate and friend Ashok Sopory at the recent Founder’s Day—the word “overcome” in the motto is incorrectly spelled as two words “over come.”
This error brought back memories of the time when the then Headmaster, Mr. Fisher, refused to allow a poster made by Kaura-2, in which Bangalore had incorrectly been spelt as “Banglore,” to be exhibited in a School Art Exhibition. The poster was only exhibited when I prepared and pasted an overlay with the right spelling.
To many, the above comments may appear as “much ado about nothing.” But to me, they indicate the poor level of aesthetics that the school has sunk to over the years. Although these conditions are bad enough, the real concern is that no one seems to notice these things or consider them important enough to worry about! This means that our students study in a chalta hai environment; they leave school programmed to accept shoddy work and surroundings.
Clearly, this deterioration has occurred over many years during which the Board of Governors (BoG) and the Headmasters did not have the necessary understanding and vision to appoint the right staff capable of maintaining the traditions of quality and with keeping up with the times. Now the purpose of this note is not in any way to place the responsibility of the present state of the school on the current Headmaster (HM) or the present BoG. But, if the school is to make the necessary drastic changes, the BoG will be responsible for coming up with an appropriate vision statement and policies, which would then have to be executed by the HM.
How does one fix a system in a state that does not recognize its shortcomings? One lesson can be learned from the creation of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) system: Realizing in the mid-1940s that the then technical education was archaic and needed a revolutionary change, which these institutes were not capable of making suo moto, the Government of India created the IITs which, unfettered by the existing education system, could experiment and develop modern curricula and teaching methods. Of course, besides recruiting outstanding faculty, an important reason for the success of the IITs is that they attracts the best and the brightest from the country, chosen strictly on merit by means of an entrance examination.
Our school does not have these options! So, if there is a will, after mapping the needs of the 21st Century, the school will have to undergo a rigorous staff retraining programme to change its values system and to adopt modern technology and teaching tools. Even if the staff welcomes such a change, this is going to be an extremely difficult task. As opposed to the IITs, the main criterion for admission to BCS is the ability to pay its very high fees. This leaves out a very large pool of talented students. This shortcoming can be overcome by filling a small, say 10%, of the vacancies on the basis of merit or merit-cum-means through a school subsidy; something that is done by many high-quality institutions. This would improve the mix of the student pool; the regular students would benefit by the presence of such intellectually superior students. Through the resulting competition, it would help raise everyone’s aspirations and goals.
Finally, we need to address the chicken-and-egg problem of how the process of change can be initiated and sustained. My understanding is that school policy is set by the BoG. Is the BoG aware of some of the issues I have raised? And, if so, does it have plans to initiate a change process—by appointing a competent committee to come up with a vision statement and a plan for executing on that vision? I have no feel for the thinking of the BoG on these issues. But, independent of what the BoG is or is not doing, the OCAs can be of great service to the school by debating these issues and then coming up with well thought out recommendations for the BoG.
What with the availability of the internet for E-mails and telephones, interested OCs can easily communicate with each other. What I have written is just a starting “straw man” to be challenged and modified. I would hope that concerned OCs would provide totally different perspectives and ideas. If we weigh and treat each person’s inputs and ideas with respect, several iterations could result in the emergence of a strong consensus, a polished version of which could be presented to the BoG.
With many outstanding schools coming up in all the major metropolitan centres, the pre-eminence of our school is fast declining. Its greatest asset is no longer its declining brand image; it is the value of the real estate on which it exists—and that too is now surrounded by an unplanned urban mess. One remote possibility could be to sell the existing land and buildings and rebuild the school in a larger, more isolated surrounding.
Many once famous institutions and companies that did not keep up with the times have disappeared. Let us hope that our school wakes up before it is too late.
Message from VIJAY KHURANA:
Vijay Stokes’s insightful mail makes for a more meaningful dialogue. As always, his inputs are well thought out and his incisive analysis attempts to get to the issues that need to be addressed. There are several more and his previous analysis was equally profound and thought provoking.
Neel Mehra pointed out to me at the Sesquicentennial celebrations that most of the buildings were in a state of utter decay. The absence of a sense for detail, and good aesthetics was visible in several places e.g. the poor lettering on the various boards riddled with errors, names incorrectly spelt and the same name spelt differently on different boards. Vijay Stokes refers to this in more details and this is symptomatic of a larger malaise. While this is visible in several other schools, BCS with its low numbers could have managed and needs to manage on quality. In the years ahead, and with such a strong focus on education in the country, BCS will need to be even more relevant and position itself as a place of learning delivering outstanding quality.
What are the issues an alumni should and should not address ? Where and to what extent should it commit itself to the school and in what form are issues that must be clearly demarcated and resolved. What should the alumni do for its members and in what manner? A good alumni builds the image of the institution and there is a constant need for both the school and the alumni to retain a strong synergistic relationship. The IITs, are a good example. Most of the involvement and interest with the OCA seems to emerge from the years between 1950-1975 or there abouts. The younger generations do not exhibit the same degree of involvement though I am told that individual classes do stay in touch. Why is there the absence of this interest and what can we do to bring them in.?
The present cry for a change is not likely to address the issues since the objective is limited and certainly short sighted. We need at the helm an OC who has the vision and the stature to execute a very large agenda. I am not convinced that any of the present candidates measure up to the tasks that face the OCA. The recent Sesquicentennial event, well executed, concentrated solely on the matter of celebrations.However it was also a terrific opportunity to place before a larger body the vision of the OCA and what it intended to do. We missed a good chance and I do not think the OCA centenary celebrations will provide the same kind of attendance and therefore the forum. The Sesquicentennial celebrations generated greater participation and therefore involvement with the OCA as a body. The present disquiet, perhaps logical, has resulted in a lot more questions of the effectiveness and activity of the present body. OCs have become more involved and interested in their alma mater. They are asking logical questions over a very limited agenda and that is unlikely to take us any further. Vijay Stokes’s direction is the way to go.
I think what we need is a healthy debate. I would suggest that we nominate Vijay Stokes and a few prominent and eminent OCs’ to put together an agenda for the OCA and the School. Place this agenda before the larger forum and then elect the President and the Executive Committee to execute such an agenda. Finally, it matters little where the President & Secretary are based since in today’s world communication is swift.
I look forward to your inputs.
My kind regards
Message from NARINDER CHAUHAN:
The communication by Mr Vijay Stokes and Mr Vijay Khurana’s views are the only two positive insights into which direction the school and OCA should head, ( i also endorse Shorty Mehta’s views on the usage of OC funds). It is understandable cottonians would want to continue their link with BCS, albeit in a more participatory environment; the credit for galvanising this process goes essentially to Mr D.C Anand and the support by OCA India to individual OCA chapters.
I am not clear whether an electoral process is the beginning or end of the disquiet shared by a several OC’s, I do feel as a first step the executive committee should be strenthened and personalities like Vijay Stokes, Vijay Khurana, Justice S.S Sodhi, G.S Gill, Major Vijay Mankotia, B.M Singh and other individuals who can lend value to the School, should ultimately be co opted as members of the BOG. I agree with your views that BCS is run by the Head Master and not the OCA, and students should be insulated from the politics of OCA. Nevertheless, the past few weeks have given the impression that Indian vote bank politics is being mirrored in the OCA.
I recall every speech day the Headmaster announcing that several Ambassadors and Generals have been products of BCS, i have yet to meet one! (Gen Batra’s son was my senior in Curzon), the point i am making, is that bigger issues require consideration of the OCA, whereas after the sesqi celebrations the single point agenda seems to be to be to ring out the old and ring in the new!
We must remember that currently five Old boys are on the Board of Governor’s (a creditable feat), if these five can not deliver, i am afraid the OCA will certainly not!!!!!
Principal Secretary (Govt. H.P)