It is unfortunate that the country did not really notice Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's birthday again - Nov 11. It is supposed to be celebrated as National Education Day.
Education is a unique need of human beings whose demand for more is not seen as greed, but as a sign of progress. Advanced nations are trying to grow further by improving the scope of education. Take a look at the questions here. This is a standardized test administered in the OECD countries to compare and contrast educational levels of children across nations.
A cursory glance will tell you that we in India have a long way to go. I believe even city kids fortunate to have good educational resources will find these tests difficult. A large part of our educational system has not equipped us to think but to remember and rote things.
What ails our educational system? At a very high level, we fail on both quantity as well as quality. Quantity continues to remain the primary obsession of governmental bodies to justify their existence. They try to create a positive image with their higher echelons and friends at United Nations by screaming 89% primary school enrollment ratio and improved youth literacy rates above 85%. When they realize that excess good news can reduce funding that in turn limits their power, they scare the world saying “even today, more illiterates than the entire population of the country at Independence” or “more than 50% of the kids drop out before school completion”.
Most times, facts hide more than what they reveal. At best, they reveal the end state. It does not tell us how we ended up at that state. We can get that insight only by understanding the quality of the educational process and the impacting variables. Due to sustained efforts largely in the nonprofit space by innovative thinkers, there is a growing realization of fixing the quality part, not just playing into the number obsession of bureaucracy.
Here are a few interesting issues that tells us why we are where we are:
- Kids don’t listen when they are on a hungry stomach.
- Kids don’t learn when every other teacher in the nation has completed just managed to clear higher secondary school.
- Girl kids drop out when they realize that there is no proper toilet in school.
- Kids don’t come to school if a 3 km commute takes an hour’s walk in either direction.
- Kids perform tasks at levels three years below their age only because education and fun have become mutually exclusive.
- Above all, kids stop learning at some point when they realize it is only for the rich.
1. Food – There is a growing realization that this brings the kid to school and makes her to listen to the teacher’s words. It has also taken the worry of feeding the kid from the poor parent’s mind. Akshaya Patra is one such organization in Bangalore that is working along with the government’s Mid-Day Meals Programme to make all the difference. Parivaar is another NGO in West Bengal working towards this goal.
2. Teacher – Finland gets its school teachers from the top 1/3rd performers at college level. In India, that would effectively mean, the average software engineer should be teaching 5th standard kids. We are definitely not there. But we have someone who appreciates the need for improving the quality of this key ingredient. The Azim Premji Foundation and the Azim Premji University are the first baby steps in that direction. The Teach for India initiative aims to get Fellows who will spend 2 years of their lives teaching to the underprivileged. If you want to leave a footprint that remains forever, here is an opportunity.
3. Health – At this moment, this largely remains the responsibility of the government. Certain state governments are actively pursuing some effort in this area by taking advantage of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan funds like building more toilets, frequent health checkups, dental exams etc. While NGO like Akanksha do it as part of their portfolio of services, there is definitely an opportunity for a proactive, focused approach by NGOs.
4. Transportation – Another issue where the responsibility resides largely with the government. Some key initiatives worth mentioning include free bus service in several states and free bicycles for rural kids whose schools are not connected by bus service. Any interesting idea would be worth experimenting.
5. Creativity – For a very long time, JK and his Rishi Valley schools remained to be the lone voice for making education an open experiment. In the last few years, certain parts of the nation have started taking advantage of this through a collaborative effort between the schools, government and NGOs. Akshara Foundation, Eureka Child from AID and Agastya are a few who have some interesting ideas. If you are a parent, you are going to find some interesting ideas.
6. Financial Aid – Since the 19th century, industrialization drove demand for education, and commercialization drove up the financial demand from the education providers. While we can complain for ever about this dark truth, Foundation for Excellence India Trust is doing something about it. It has offered close to Rs. 20 cr. in aid to more than 10,000 deserving poor students.
Any amount of support to enhance our educational system is most welcome. While money is an important part of the puzzle, we also need more creative solutions that help us to bridge the gap with the rest of the world.
We want to remind you of the French poet Victor Hugo’s words – “No one can stop an idea whose time has come”. We all need to remember that.
Today's post is from one of our volunteers, Sriram Hariharan who is thankful to the nation for subsidizing his education, all the way from secondary school to post graduation. He intends to contribute back by creating some awareness about issues that would eventually impact all of us. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are the other ills that ail universal education in India especially for the underprivileged? In your opinion, what solutions could get more children to school and keep them there? Do share your thoughts, ideas, comments with us. We'd be glad to hear from you.