Tuesday, April 6, 2010

E for Education

Though the Constitution of India guarantees free and compulsory education to children upto the age of 14, a third of the 200 million children between the ages 6 and 14 are not in school. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that there are just not enough schools to cater to all the children of school-going age, and the few schools that are there are so short staffed, the children don’t learn much in school and so are pressured to drop-out.
Studies have borne out the existence of the high drop-out rate. While enrollment in Grade 1 is nearly 85%, by the time they reach Grade 5, the figure drops down to less than 60%. Families that send their 6-year old children to school take them out almost as soon as the children become functionally literate.

The government machinery has failed totally where it comes to making education accessible for all.

Rather than look for viable alternatives, the Parliament of India, last week, passed the Right to Education Act making education a fundamental right of all children in the age group 6 to 14 years. In a nation which already guaranteed free and compulsory education, the intent of the Act doesn’t go much beyond semantics.

The only significant change is that the government has made it mandatory for all private schools to reserve 25% of their seats for economically disadvantaged children at the entry level. Since privately run schools necessarily need to make profits, the government would reimburse the expenditure incurred by the schools in making the seats available to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

On the face of it, it seems like a great idea- when private schools are flourishing across the country, why not use that infrastructure to provide education for all? But is it really such a great idea? Tution fees account for only a small proportion of the total expenditure incurred in sending a child to private schools – there are uniforms and sports uniforms, books and stationary, field trips and costumes for annual days. Will the government reimburse all those expenses, and if it does not, will the parents be able to afford it?

Even if children from disadvantaged backgrounds enroll at the entry level, they are sure to drop out before the end of the year, leaving them no better off than they would have been in the absence of such reservations.

The situation seems almost hopeless. The government doesn’t have the infrastructure to provide education for all, and if accessing private schools is not a workable solution, does that mean children are destined not to get an education?

Not at all. The solution is there for all to see, but for some reason, the Government chooses to ignore it. Non-formal education!

Across urban and rural India, there are non-profit organizations that provide basic education to children of various backgrounds. There are organizations that conduct classes in workshops that employ child labour and there are organizations that conduct lessons within school buildings beyond school hours. There are organizations that train volunteers to conduct classes for small groups of children, and there are organizations that replicate the government system of one teacher schools in rural areas.

Instead of offering to reimburse private schools, if the Government pumps the same amount of money into non-profits, primary education for all need no longer remain a dream. I can only hope that the Government realizes it sooner rather than later.

I believe that “Education for All” is neither a slogan nor a dream- it is a basic entitlement, and while the Right to Education Act recognizes the fact, it is unlikely to go very far in actualizing it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Rayna, this is an excellent post and so very sad.

Thanks for the award :o)

Anonymous said...

I really hope the government wakes up and goes beyond semantics.. After all, having an educated population brings nothing but benefits to a country.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

What a fantastic post. non-profit education would be the best bet. But you know what govenments are like. If there's nothing in it for them, they won't do it! So sad the state of the world today.

Cruella Collett said...

Thanks for educating us on this important issue! It is sad that good intentions doesn't pave the way to easy solutions. Education is as you point out a basic right, and without it a country cannot prosper. So it really would be within everybody's interest to work to find the best possible way of assuring that this could be realized!

Great post, Natasha :)

Al said...

Wonderful post.
This situation is a tragedy.
Not enough money for education is always the call.
But how many billions were spent on developing an Indian A-bomb and then still more on an H-bomb.
There is a slogan that was doing the rounds here a while ago: "A perfect world is where every school has all the money it needs, and the air force has to hold a cake stall to buy a new fighter".


Education is so important in any part of the world, here we are fortunate to have a preety good system . What really annoys me is here many children play truant from school if only they realised many children in other parts of the world have very little or no education what soever.
Loved your write. A very important "E".
Take care.

Jemi Fraser said...

That is so sad and frustrating. Governments seem to rarely see the simple solutions. Hopefully these kids will soon get the help they need - education is power.

Not enough hours! said...

@ Niki - you are welcome. Pleasure passing it onto you.

@ Fiona - at the TED Summit in India, there was an entire section on learning, but when so much needs to be done, you need the government pumping money in the right places. Wish people realise it.

@ TAA - you hit the nail on the head- there is nothing in it for the government (or individual government officials) if they support the non-profits. Even if they do fantastic work.

@ Mari - it is sad, isn't it? A couple of years later, there is sure to be another hare brained scheme from the government, and another generation growing up illiterate.

@ Al - wouldn't that be fantastic? Frankly, if we had education, there is likely to be less hatred, and no further need for bombs and guns and fighter planes. Not only does our defence budget go up in monetary terms every year, the percentage devoted to defence goes up too.

@ Yvonne - Kids in India do it too. In colleges, you are not allowed to sit for exams unless you have at least 30% attendance - most don't till the last few weeks when they cram in enough lectures to make the grade. And then there are kids who can't even write, but who would love to go to school if they could.

@ Jemi - education is power, isn't it? When you look at the problems plaguing the world, most of them can be alieviated, if not solved with education.

~ Rayna

Ann Elle Altman said...

That's such a sad situation and one I commonly see here in Mexico. I know the education system here is not as good as the ones in Canada but I think the Mexican government is trying hard. They have half days for children here so that they can go to school. I feel sorry for the teachers who have to work over 12 hour days and receive little for salary.


Not enough hours! said...

@ Ann - in India to teachers are very poorly paid, which is why they are forced to take private tuition classes to supplement their income. Is it any wonder they do not teach anything in the school.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Wow, that is really sad. A friend was in the Peace Corps in Honduras for two years, teaching at the school in a small village, and her account is just a bad as far as uneducated children. Non-profits sounds like a better deal. A lot of people here in the States home school as well.

Lisa said...

What an eye-opener! Great post and one that should make us realize how fortunate to live where we do. Great post Rayna.

Have a blessed day,

Shannon O'Donnell said...

What a powerful and important post! Education rarely receives the level of importance and support it both needs and deserves. This situation is heartbreaking.

I popped over from the Alliterative Allomorph, and I'm so glad I did. I see a lot of familiar faces here. :-)

Raquel Byrnes said...

Well said. Its frustrating when the government is really just paying lip service to the idea of education for all. You arguments about tuition not being the only expense it quite true. The rest of the fees may be prohibitive...great post.

Watery Tart said...

I agree with education being a basic right, and it really DOES seem that some creative compromise would have a better chance. It's so true that tuition isn't the only obstacle, and non-formal DOES seem a good option--'training teachers' comes to mind, as does 'requiring to educate' if there are companies actually employing kids (is that legal?)(work part day for wages, receive free education part day on the company dime)

Lady Jayne said...

Oh man, those figures are utterly heartbreaking.

The private schooling situation doesn't really strike me as a very good long term solution either; one would think that the government would be better off trying to attract more people to the teaching profession and making certain that such jobs are profitable for those who choose to enter into them.

Honestly, I never really buy in to it when a government complains that they don't have the "resources" for things like this. There is always money - they just need to get their priorities straight.

And yeah, I know. That's always easier said than done, isn't it? Unfortunately.


Jan Morrison said...

Wise minds keep telling us that if we educate our children we will solve major problems like world hunger, war and racism. Yet we fail to do so. Keep on the good fight - you have lots of wonderful ideas.

Grammy said...

Dear Rayna,
What a lovely post and so very informative. A good education here is sometimes a problem, too. I am a retired school teacher and librarian. Education has always been important to me and my husband who is also a retired teacher. He has dementia, as well as your dad. He is beginning to not remember our children and grandchildren's names and faces. Sometimes he thinks I am one of his aunt's who has been long passed away. God bless you, my dear. I will be back to read more.
My best to you,

Not enough hours! said...

@ Diane - sometimes I wonder - if all of us could give up a week a quarter to volunteer, would that help solve the problem? Home schooling wouldn't work in India, because the kids who most need it come from homes where neither parents is literate.

@ Lisa - thank you. Yes, we are blessed, as I keep telling my kids when they complain abotu having to do their homework when they could be out playing.

@ Shannon - thanks for dropping by. I wonder when people would realise that education (or lack of it) is at the heart of most of the issues that ail the world today.

@ Raquel - thanks for dropping by. And it is frustrating that the governement is planning to spend so much money on something that can never work.

@ Tami - training teachers is how most of the non-formal organisations do it - people like you and me trained to take a couple of classes a week, so the kids get an education, even if they don't get degrees.
Employing kids below the age of 14 is illegal, but when most of the kids who they employ don't have birth certificates, they can be coached to say anything the employee tells them to say.
Poverty and illiteracy- I wonder when the cycle will end.

@ Jayne - they are, aren't they? And they are the official figures, so the real ones may well be even worse.
And given the amount that is being "wrongly" sent on education, if the governement just paid teachers more and incentivised them by results, I am sure the situation would be less bleak.

@ Jan - and when we solve the problem of poverty, health would be less of an issue, and educated people would hopefully respect the environment more- so really, education is the heart of everything.
When we realise it, why can't the government?

@ Ruby - thanks for dropping by. It is really sad to see an intelligent man start to lose his memory, isn't it? I hope you have all the strength you will need to cope with it.

dipali said...

The whole system is so pathetic. Such a basic right should have been delivered, and delivered decently, aeons ago. And yet we need to keep striving to improve what we can, wherever we can.

Not enough hours! said...

@ Dipali - It is so sad that 50% of Indians can't sign their names, isn't it? What is the use of our IITs and IIMs when we cant' deliver primary education? And it is not that we don't spend money on education - we do.

Aviva said...

Lovely article...why dont u submit it on http://blog.educationisinsurance.com and get it featured??


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