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The Craving for Excellence

by Chariji, July 7, 2007, Chennai, India.

Dear children, the parents who have reposed a great deal of faith in us, the staff who have come from all over India and some countries abroad too, and of course the guiding light, the two principals (sister Nirmala Sundaram, and my other sister who is seated there for the ICGSE scheme, Uma Arora from Noida), and Mr. Ramakrishnan, who has made a very capable jump from the banking industry to the school industry. I applaud his courage in making this switch, because banking has nothing to do with scholastic endeavours. And, of course, it was my Master’s choice that he should be here, and he is here and I hope he will be with us for the next say sixty years.

We need stability for a school—stability in students. I come from a school environment where we started with class one and ended with this ninth standard, the students going from class to class with but few additions every year. Nowadays there is much more volatility in movement, but I hope we will have a stable student body so that the school will shine through them. You know when you look up at night, you see that the stars are stable, the planets are moving and the aeroplanes are going very fast. But it is against the background of the sky with its permanent, shall we say, carpet of stellar bodies that we are used to seeing moving lights.

So I wish to see our school as a sort of a backdrop of endeavour, of faith, of enthusiasm, of application. It is my earnest desire that our staff, to these calls, put their roots into Omega, put their hearts into their studies, into their teaching, and put their hearts even more into the students by loving them, teach them lovingly, and love them while teaching them. The days of the rod are gone! Nowadays you can’t teach anybody anything by threats or by punishments. Even in my day, there was only a cane in my Headmaster’s room hanging on the wall—it was never used. It was a symbol of days gone by, in those days. Now we don’t have anything hanging on the wall, except pictures of Great Souls who have adorned these pages of the history of India. We have had eminent scholars from India. We have had people who have won even the Nobel Prize—though few, but they are there.

We should aspire for the highest. I don’t believe in a student saying I will pass; I don’t want students to think about coming first—there’s no meaning. But our students should aim at excellence. Excellence is an all-round concept, whereas coming first is only a narrow concept in a particular subject, in a particular class. I want my students to aim for excellence, my teachers to aim for excellence, Mr. Ramakrishnan himself to aim for excellence in his own life, and in the life of the students [that] the school is guiding.

Our principals, there are only two now, I hope there will be five in a few years as other streams come in. They are maternal women, necessarily so because they must be mothers to children, motherly teachers, teachers who are mothers, who know how to love while disciplining. You know, the male parent is always a little troublesome because he brings discipline in a more, shall we say, harsh form—lovingly, but harsh. My Guruji, Babuji Maharaj, used to say there must be no harshness in life—no harshness in words, no harshness in behaviour, no harshness in your visage, your face, the expression on the face—but a tenderness and a loving concern replacing the usual, you know the old portrait of a teacher who is looking down his nose through his spectacles with a cane in his hand. These are old stereotypes which have to be forgotten and laid to rest.

Modern teachers mix with students, at least the senior ones, on an equal level. There is no teacher, there is no taught. That happens! What must prevail is an atmosphere of friendliness where ideas, opinions, teachings can be exchanged freely without restraint. This is why the American system of education is so, shall we say, successful; why our people are going to the U.S. for education. I have seen students sitting on the table while the Professor is standing and saying, “Hey Prof!” Respect must come out of love, not out of fear. Our scholastic system in India has been founded on the basis that fear teaches better than love. That has to be changed, that has to be reversed, inverted, like the old hour-glass you know, which changes time (tarang-tarang it goes).

So these are some of the basic tenets I believe in, I wish you all to live by, I wish you all to apply it: students, teachers, staff, everybody, so that mutually we all rise. I am not happy with a school which only produces half a dozen firsts. I want a student body with the educational body, the teacher body, the management committees, all to rise together.

Education never stops. I would not like our teachers to think that their education was finished when they assumed the post of a teacher in some school. Their education just begins. It is an old adage that you learn best by teaching, because as you teach you have to learn more and more, you have to refer more and more; and the teacher who relaxes and thinks, ‘I have learned all,’ is worse than the poorest student in her class. So I urge teachers to spend time in libraries, reference books, literature—educate themselves as they go.

You know, when you go marching in a disciplinary manner, the first row has to lead the second, and they have to lead the third, and so on. It has to be done. A teacher who does not learn while the students are learning is a failed student, because they have not been taught well as to what the student should be after his studentship is over (his or her studentship).

I learn everyday. I am amazed today that my Ashram has become a school-hall with more than a thousand students and I don’t know how many hundred parents, including myself. I am amazed to see myself addressing a student body from which I evolved myself.

I’m very happy that we have got the Cambridge stream because I graduated from—I didn’t graduate, that’s an American term—I passed out of a Cambridge School in Jabbalpore way back in 1943. In those days we had a school completely Cambridge-oriented, we had qualified teachers, many of them Britishers, many of them Anglo-Indians, few Indians. We were associated with the Cambridge University. Our papers went straight to Cambridge by sea in those days. So that when we had our exams—the final exams of the lower Junior Cambridge and the Senior Cambridge Certificate exams—we received Certificates signed by the Cambridge authorities in England. Of course, things have changed, now they are printed in India, signed in India, by the Cambridge committee. But the solemnity of such an association, the importance of such an association, the benefits, scholastically speaking, of such an association, must never be laid to rest.

We may even have the Cambridge University opening some colleges here in India, as I am told they are thinking of. All happiness and success to them. But we are very much a part of that Cambridge system of education now. And I wish to see more and more students coming into that stream—for efficiency, for excellence in language, for excellence in their performance, for excellence in discipline, and all-round excellence when they pass out of the school, so that parents may say, “What has Omega produced! I’m grateful to Omega.”

It’s a good thing you know, even though we had a lot of doubts about Omega in the beginning, because they were constructing the first building and they had already started the school classes! You know, we started with one floor of what is now the Primary Building and we had all up to the fifth I think in those days, and I used to sit and wonder what is going to happen to the school!

Now I’m thinking what is going to happen to the students! Are these people capable, are they worthy of this trust that we hand over a thousand children to their tender care? First, the building had to prove itself. Next, we had to prove ourselves with our ability to build the place. Then we had to depend on the school’s fledgling character, to evoke trust from the community around us, to put their children there. I know many parents came and said, “You think this school will really go next year? Will you be here next year?” It was definitely well-founded doubt, because if anybody had seen that school... If I had a son and I had to see it, I would have first prayed to all the Lords and Gods: “May the school flourish!” Now our prayer is, “May the children flourish, may the staff flourish, may they be with us, may we be with them—sa hanaa vavatu sa hanau bhunaktu. That is the meaning, you know! May we all be together, may we be ever together, may we support each other, may we be blessed, may they be blessed by us, and we by them. May our children bless us as they grow up and say, “Blessings to Omega School because it is what has made me into what I am!”

So our children must bless us. The proof of the pudding they say is in the eating. The final encomium for the school must come from our graduate students after they have left their school, they have joined the I.A.S, the I.P.S., High Court Judges, perhaps even a Prime Minister of India! Why not? After all, prime ministers must come from schools. Of course, in our political system not all of them have evolved up to that stage in education. But a day must come when our ministers are educated, proud of the schools from which they come rather than the political parties from which they come, proud of their universities, willing to make donations and grants to their educational alma maters.

I hope Omega will be a forerunner in this endeavour to broadcast its excellence, not through voice and press, or print medium, but by its students who go out and say when asked, “Where were you educated?” they can say, “Omega!” They don’t have to say Chennai. They don’t have to say Tamilnadu. “Omega!”

So long live Omega, long live its students, long live its staff, long live the Correspondent and its Board of Directors, and long live this craving for excellence which must be instilled into all of you. May it flourish, may it grow, may it always be a leading light guiding you on and on into this struggle to maintain excellence on the path, because excellence is not at the end, excellence is at the very beginning! If you are aiming for excellence from the kindergarten class, and you keep that as your primary goal, you will be excellent students, excellent achievers, excellent future leaders of our country!

Thank you.