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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 41

Education for All : An Introspection

Wednesday 1 October 2008, by Arvind Kumar

More than two years ago Krishna Kumar, in an article published in the The Hindu, had fervently argued for our collective responsibility towards children and making a legislation for universal elementary education. Since then the government has gone a long way in enacting a law to this effect and allocating budgetary support for education separately. The government has taken a right step in ensuring universal education upto the age of fourteen years under the programme ‘Education for All’. Internal resources as well as foreign assistance canalised for this programme are giving a helping hand to the resource-crunched States. Decline in the ‘drop-out rate’ of students at the primary level and increase in the enrolment of students in schools at this basic level has emboldend the government to take more solid steps in realising the dream of a fully literate India. However, the ‘Education for All’ programme has also left certain questions before all those involved and these need to be answered very earnestly with adequate measures.

The ‘Education for All’ programme relies more on increasing numerical strength and does not emphasise on quality improvement in the same vein. Maximum enrolment and discouraging the ‘drop-out rate’ is a welcome step, but the same should not compromise with the quality of education. The qualitative aspect is equally important to reduce the gap between privately and state-run schools. As a recent survey showed, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi-run schools had such students who did not know even the basic components of mathematics and writing correctly. Compromising with quality at the elementary level would only widen the gap between the ‘privileged’ and ‘non-privileged’ ones. In such a situation, a child, apart from losing interest in studies, would become the victim of a system having its own inherent defects. The same child would be branded as a ‘weak student’. In fact, if a child loses interest in a subject or drops out of the school, the latter’s role cannot be overlooked.

The need of the hour is to avoid creation of ‘two worlds’ in the education system. The children studying in the state-run elementary schools often lose self-esteem in comparison to those studying in private schools. In the elementary government schools we encounter students who do not take the government-sponsored mid-day food served to them and bring their own simply because they/their parents feel hurt and take it as a mockery of their poverty! The low quality of food served may be another factor but in any case they do not want to take it as a ‘dole’. Is it not a fact that by serving food to them we sometimes taunt at them or point at their poverty and sad state of affairs which, in turn, severly affect the child’s psychology and hurt his self-esteem? Some parents refuse to take the facility of free uniforms, books etc. Here, the need is to create a positive attitude not only among the students but also among ourselves and not regard the benefits provided as a sign of ‘charity’. They should be made to realise the merits of the food served and other facilities being provided by the governments.

ENROLMENT of students in schools becomes ineffective if the school has no basic amenities or even a proper space for the students to sit. There are hundreds of schools not only in the Capital but also in the countryside where students, in absence of proper school buildings, study under the shadow of trees. Schools are run in tents or insecure buildings which create distraction among students. Lack of drinking water, toilets etc. in schools further result in a gloomy picture of our education system. Frequent change of curricula and books lead to situations where children get books only when examinations are two-three months away! Insufficient number of properly trained teachers only aggravates the situation. We often see reports where the students get sweaters not in the beginning of the winter but when it is nearing its end. Facilities of free uniform and textbooks need to be provided in the beginning of the academic session itself. The callous attitude and dilly-dallying approach of some officials should not deal a blow to the future of the nation. To avoid such delays a budgetary allocation may separately be made and each school be allocated the required amount at the very beginning of the year. Further, to make our education system more meaningful and keeping in tandem with the times, computer-aided learning needs to be encouraged. Computer-savvy teachers, with input of new tools and technological devices, would lend a great fillip to this approach rather than relying on traditional knowledge and methodology. Orientation and training programmes for teachers to enable them to cope with the changing educational scenario must get utmost attention. In the fast-changing socio-economic and cultural milieu it is essential to adopt new tools and methodologies.

Recently the Delhi Government made a right move in this direction by introducing CAL (Computer-Aided Learning) for imparting education to children, but the same needs to be emulated in other States too. Moreover, a new concept, that is, BALA (Building As Learning Aid) needs to be popularised more as it would create interest among students. Emphasis should be on designing school buildings and class rooms in such a way that by simply observing their schools and classrooms students would be able to learn the basic rules, calculations and contents of mathematics, sciences and other subjects. Ensuring these facilities appears to be an uphill task for some of the financially-crunched States and most of them, therefore, shy away from taking strong measures. Moreover, there prevails a great deal of the disparity in the distribution of schools in different States. Children have to travel several kilometres to reach their school. Leaving aside the computer-savvy teachers or computer-aided learning, even basic amenities are not available to them. If such conditions persist for long, we are going to make a great blunder as whatever we sow today would be reaped tomorrow. When news pour in about the death of malnourished children in States like Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, the challenge before us becomes all the more difficult. Without proper nourishment of such children the Right to Education becomes a meaningless and cruel joke.

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