which drop outs mr minister

The main objective project why set out to achieve 7 years ago was to contain the alarming dropout rates in India's capital city. Around 70 % of all school going children drop out and most dropout before class VI.

We can say with a certain amount of justified pride that for the past 7 years no pwhy child has dropped out and that last year both Manisha and Farzana crossed the 80% mark in their Xth Boards exams, one must add that Farzana had failed her class VII three times!

Our modus operandi is simply to help the child after school hours with locally recruited 'teachers' none of whom have the required certificates. However what they have in abundance is commitment and patience.

Yesterday Budget 2007 was revealed with its plethora of social programmes. We all welcome the fact that the Finance minister has recognised that the number school dropouts is high however his progarmme to contain these numbers seems a little lopsided. The National Means-cum-Merit scholarship ( class IX and above) seems to rest on the premise that underprivileged children with often illeterate parents manage somehow to reach class IX.

The reality is quite different. Most children drop out well before that class, actually by class VI and this is often not because they lack the ability to do so, but because of a variety of factors that can easily be redressed. A 70% attendance ensures that you move on from class to class till class V. We have seen children who are in class IV or V barely read or write. Another reason for poor performance is the abysmally low pass percentage (33%) as it instills mediocrity in a child who is never asked to perform beyond that figure. There are many such reasons many of which can be corrected without much fanfare.

Sadly when the government decided to hold teachers responsible for performance, instead of improvement in teaching one saw teachers dictating answers to kids during in house examinations. Needless to say the results were excellent while the children in question remain as, if not more ignorant.

My detractors would again ask me to stop harping and find solutions. My answer is that 7 years of producing a 100% result vindicates me sufficiently. And if we at pwhy with our limited and local resource can mange this, then anyone could.

To arrest drop out rates one has to start at the bottom and ensure good teaching in primary schools and realise that in municipal schools where most of the por kids go, teachers cannot expect any support from the parents. The only way parents deal with poor performance is by beating the child and hurling some misplaced abuses or recrimination. But how can one expect this 7 or 8 year old to learn on his own!

A staff member pointed out that in a city where the same building houses two seperate schools (morning = girls; afternoon = boys) teachers and other staff members worked only a half day while they were paid the same amount as a full day worker. Maybe one solution would be to find a way in whcih the other half day could be used in helping weaker children. We all know that many such teachers run very lucrative coaching classes in their free half day!

The scholarship scheme proposed by the Finance Minister aims at giving 100 000 scholarships a year. This is a drop in the ocean of children just about to dropout. And then knowing how the system works, I wonder how many wil be truly deserving candidates, and what the selection procedure will be.

Simple measures like strengthening primary education by reinforcing and improving existing schools is what will contain dropout rates in a more equitable way.