Is Quality education a right or a privilege?

Our school level NCERT books would begin with a very thought provoking statement, “Education is a right not a privilege!” But does this small sentence live up to its meaning in the Indian scenario? It is high time we start mulling over issues that have been long forgotten in the midst of the sensational politics and corruption allegations and subsequent futile movements, promising to bring a so- called change. Coming back to school, I remember in class 8th, writing skills like articles, speeches and letters to the Editor of a newspaper, were introduced in our syllabus. The favourite topic of our teachers for practice questions would be – Comment on the contemporary education system in India which MUST include value points like lack of proper schools, poor enrolment ratio, unsanitary conditions and government freebies like midday meals. Our suggestions in the last paragraph, we were instructed, must include the government introducing various schemes to attract more and more children to schools in order to augment the enrolment ratio. Let me make my thought more coherent and relevant – we were always told to focus on the secondary issues in order to attract parents to encourage their children to avail the benefits of elementary education in government schools that run on subsidized fees. But once these issues were taken care of, what was the next challenge? What would be the next step of the government? We were so engrossed in solving these ‘other’ problems that we completely forgot about the central hurdle, the core and quality of education, and the teaching methods employed by these government school teachers.

Now I would like to acquaint you with some mind numbing evidence which supports my argument. In an article by Chetan Bhagat, a reference to some figures was made which are astonishing but true. In the Annual Status of Education Report or ASER 2014, which gathered the data from around, 5,70,000 children in villages, the current enrolment at school level is 96%, over 85% schools have a functioning midday meal programme, 75% of rural schools have drinking water and 65% have toilets! This sounds amazing to boast about our success in bringing education near the doorstep of several children in rural and urban India.

CAUTION!

We can flaunt the figures as much as we want but the crux of the matter remains what exactly the figures are depicting. It will be reckless to conclude that India has made significant advances in the domain of education. I say this because the same report also reveals that class V children cannot read simple sentences nor can they solve basic subtraction problems.

Adding to this data, I want to share my personal experience which was the actual reason why I was provoked to make education a relevant issue for a larger audience of readers. As a part of my honour’s degree in the Delhi University, we have to render services to an NGO under the National Service Scheme (NSS). During my weekly visits to the NGO where I tutor kids from classes 2-7, I have noticed a lack of enthusiasm in their studying habits. On asking them, whether they feared failing their exams, an emaciated girl replied to me, “ Didi, we go to elite schools (sarcasm in her tone)! The teacher dare not fail us before class 9, as per our school policy, otherwise he would be threatened to lose his job. So stop teaching me, and let’s play snakes and ladders”. Not surprisingly these “elite” schools are run by the government. All the kids in the NGO attend the same school and have difficulties in counting up to 30, let alone dodging numbers for predecessors and successors. Reciting tables from 2 to 12 is a grand mission, which when accomplished, is met by a huge round of applause for a student of class 7th. When asked to solve dodging tables on paper, they always claim to be ‘tired’. After a one on one conversation with three-four kids separately, I could infer that their ‘elite’ school teachers focus on rote learning. This is a clear indication of faulty teaching practices that prevail under the realm of government schools.

My main motivation was to make you introspect about the progress and development in our age old education system, which has been monotonously dragging on for decades. Not only are the instruction methods tainted, but also the syllabus. The contemporary curriculum defeats the whole purpose of education for a child from a disadvantaged background, imparting employee friendly skills to the children and preparing them for a brighter future outside their rotten slums! They are neither comfortable with Hindi nor with English and speak an amalgamation of the two, namely Hinglish. They find it troublesome to join two and two, let alone the capacity of developing sound logical reasoning. The system certainly does not hesitate in making ‘Reservations’ for these children in schools. It promises “the greater good” for the whole society in response to protests that demand undoing such reservations in educational institutes. But is it fulfilling the whole motive behind its claim of “the greater good”? When the teachers in such schools are promoting mugging up not only facts, but also concept based subjects like mathematics, I think it is high time we start questioning. We can’t wait for India to approach its doom. It is not hard to think of a time when their will be adequate employment opportunities for inefficient youth who lack the basic criteria for employment for a skilled job, thereby coming under the category of underqualified.

These are merely the problems with elementary education system which are yet to be tackled. There is an entirely separate debate about sending children for graduation. But what motivates them to think about higher education when even their primary education is not polished.

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