Title

If Wishes Were Horses...

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Teacher: outsourcing to India

Early one morning, Narisa Siddiq arrived at St. Tristan's to get a bit of admin and marking done in the peace of her classroom. Just as she sat down and began to pull sheets of paper out of her big rattan shopper, the caretaker, Mr. Wilkins, came in.

"Miss Siddiq," he said, his bushy grey eyebrows raised in a worried frown, "you shouldn't orta be 'ere."

"What do you mean, Mr. Wilkins?" asked Narisa. "I usually come in early on a Monday to get my marking done."

"Ah, but 'aven't you 'eard?" he asked, as if afraid that a bomb was about to go off. He looked for all the world like a rabbit caught in the headlights. "Your job's been outsourced to India, innit? You've been laid orf. Didn't you get the lettah?"

"No," she replied. "The postmen have been on strike. The internet hasn't. Couldn't they have emailed me? And how on earth can they outsource my job to India?"

"I'm just abaht to bring it in," he said, then turned and left the room. 

Narisa remained at her desk until the little old man returned dragging a flat-screen television set behind him on a trolley. "How can that possibly work?" she gasped.

"Oh, it's quite simple, Miss," replied Mr. Wilkins. "I go into all the classrooms in the mo'ning, switch on the tellies, and make sure they're connected to the intanet. Then a lady in India comes on and teaches the lesson. She's doing over an 'undred at once. They're piloting the scheme 'ere in 'Ackney."

Narisa stood up. "The Tory!" she shouted.

"Well, they are in power, innit?" said the caretaker, a bemused expression on his wrinkled face.

Narisa put the papers back in her bag and stormed out.

*

Meanwhile, at the Pashtun Palace, Malik Siddiq was getting ready for the lunchtime rush, mixing spices and cooking the first sauces of the day. He looked up when he heard the sound of the kitchen doors bang on the walls as someone flung them open.

"Malik!" shrieked his sister. "We need to talk."

"What's up?" he asked, as sauce dripped from the wooden spoon in his hand. He hadn't had a chance to taste it yet.

"The Tory!" she seethed. "He's really done it this time!"

"What, has he demolished the school?"

"No, worse than that," she replied, "he's outsourced my job to India."

"But we're Indian," he said, nonplussed. Malik's world revolved around the Pashtun Palace and helping his sister when she got into fights as The Teacher. Apart from that, he really didn't pay much attention to what went on around him. "Well, Bengali. Why do that?" 

"To save money, I suppose," she said, a snarl creasing her pale brown face. "It was easier to deal with the toerag when he was trying to knock down the school with a bulldozer while the kids were in it. And that time he put mutant piranhas in the sea when we went on that school trip. We could fight him. Hit him. Hurt him. But now he's using the government against us. How can we win this?"

"How can they make this work?" asked Malik. "You can't use a call centre to teach kids."

"You know Skype?"

"Yeah."

"That, over a big flat-screen TV."

Malik swore in his native dialect.

"Language!"

"What'll we do, sis?"

Narisa sighed. "I can't go back," she said, "I'll be done for trespassing."

"As The Teacher?"

"What'll I be fighting?"

Malik tasted the sauce, then took it off the heat. "Can you see remote teaching by Skype actually working?"

"Well it works in Australia," replied Narisa, a defeated look on her face.

"Yeah, in the Outback where the kids are at home with their parents," said Malik. "They're used to it. How can they get it to work in a country where the whole idea is completely new? I think we're gonna need a Balti Special."

Narisa grinned and left the room.

*

Meanwhile, back at St. Tristan's, the children were filing into the school assembly hall for their Monday morning story. There to meet them was Mr. Wilkins, who watched as they entered the room, then looked around, surprised to not see their teachers there. To be honest, he didn't hold with this new-fangled idea of teaching remotely, even though the Australians did pretty much the same thing over the radio in their country. What the Colonials did was their business. Was it still allowed to call them Colonials?

"Good morning, children," said Mrs. Henderson, the headmistress. "Today we are introducing a new system. Due to government cuts, all the teachers have been made redundant and will no longer be with us."

Uproar ensued as some children cheered, others burst out crying, and others started asking questions.

Mrs. Henderson continued, "The new system involves having teachers from overseas. India, I believe, teaching over Skype. When you go to your classrooms, you will have a big screen television at the front. Your lessons will be taught from there. Now please go at once to your classes. Mr. Wilkins and myself will be checking on you from time to time throughout the day."

"No good will come of this, you mark my words," muttered Mr. Wilkins to no one in particular. No one ever listened to him anyway. As the children filed out, he herded them to their classroom, wielding his new power with gusto. He had never been so important before, and as this realisation dripped into his mind, he began to think he could easily adapt to the new situation.

In Room 4B, he watched as the children sat down at their desks, their eyes fixed on the television screen, then responded to the new teacher, who introduced herself as Mrs. Patel.

"Now open up Enjoying English Every Day at chapter 3," she instructed in her singsong accent, holding up the book in question.

Mr. Wilkins felt his stomach drop as the kids all looked at each other, then back at the screen. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea after all.

"Do as you are told, or I shall be informing your parents!" she warned, wagging her finger, as if she had been expecting this.

"But we don't have that book, Miss," said one of the children. 

"Vat is your name?" she asked sharply.

"Simon, Miss," said Simon.

"Simon, vy did you not bring your book to school?" she asked.

"I didn't have it in the first place," he answered.

"Go and share with someone else," she replied.

"But none of us have it, Miss."

"Silence!" she shouted, as the sounds of other bemused children erupted around her.

Then the unthinkable happened. A faint, tinny voice could be heard asking, "Can we change the channel on this?" followed by, "I'm going to see," followed by a flurry of calls for silence and threats to inform the parents of all concerned.

Cometh the moment, cometh the man, thought Mr. Wilkins. "Don't you even think abaht it," he said, wagging a warning finger.

"Please sir," said Simon, his dark cherubic face all innocence, "I think there's trouble in Room 4C. Can you hear it?"

"Don't any of you move a muscle," said Mr. Wilkins sternly. He turned to go to Room 4C, but when he opened the door, he saw the corridor awash with stray kids. Long streamers of toilet paper littered the floor as gleeful brats ran amok. "Oi!" he shouted. "Stop that!"

The kids scattered, squealing like little pigs, making more of a mess as they went. 

"We orta bring back caning!" muttered Mr. Wilkins. "I dunno 'ow we're gonna sort this aht."

*

The Teacher and Baltiman found the school in chaos when they arrived. Kids were running hither and thither while Mr. Wilkins tried ineffectually to herd them back to their classrooms. Narisa seized him by the strap of his grubby dungarees. "What's going on?" she asked him.

"Oh, Miss, thank Gawd you've come. It's a riot 'ere. Oo's that?"

 "I'm Baltiman," said Baltiman. "Come to help out."

"I dunno what you're gonna do abaht this," complained Mr. Wilkins. "It's a right to-do, and no mistake."

"The biggest mistake was to think you can have a classroom with no teachers in," said The Teacher. "How did they think they could maintain discipline and give one-to-one support?"

"Hey!" called a child. "It's that masked teacher."

"Run!" shouted another.

"What have you been doing to try to keep order?" asked Baltiman, a calculating look in his domino mask-framed eyes.

"'Erding 'em like a bloomin' sheepdog!" snapped Mr. Wilkins. "My rheumatism is playing up no end."

"Can you start to herd them towards the assembly hall?"

"Right away, sir." The old man toddled off.

"What's the plan, bro'?" asked The Teacher.

"Get them into the assembly hall and calm them down, then start restoring order."

"Let's do it."

The two of them hunted the kids and drove them towards the assembly hall where Mrs. Henderson was organizing them as best she could while they ran around shouting and throwing things around. When they were pretty sure they'd got them all in, Baltiman turned to The Teacher. "They're still going nuts," he said. "Get Mrs. Henderson out."

"You wouldn't!" said The Teacher, her eyebrows raised above her domino mask.

"You got a better idea?"

The Teacher seized Mrs. Henderson by the arm and led her outside, where Mr. Wilkins stood panting from his exertions.

Baltiman followed her, then bent down and faced the corridor with his posterior stuck in the room. He took a deep breath and let a loud one loose. A noxious green cloud billowed out behind him, and he quickly shut the door. "We'll leave that for a moment to take effect, then go back in and round up the survivors."

"What?" cried Mrs. Henderson.

"Just wait for a minute or so," advised The Teacher.

The minute seemed to go on forever, the sounds of coughing, choking and crying rending their hearts, but Baltiman would not open the door until he felt the time was right.

Immediately, Mrs. Henderson rushed in and began to put the children into groups, reassuring them that it was over and they were now safe. "What was that?" she asked between choking gasps.

"Judgement trump," said Baltiman. "I'd better go."

"Me, too," said The Teacher. "I don't want to be here when the cops arrive." She called out to Mrs. Henderson, "I'll call for reinforcements," then got out of there as fast as she could as the headmistress stared at her, horrified.

*

The following day, Narisa went back to school and sat at her desk, preparing a lesson for her class. Beside her, the flat-screen television set sat, the webcam stuck back on. She reached over and pulled it off, then went back to work.

The End.

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