Education for all

There were two back to back discussions on education on national TV yesterday evening. One was a recording of the Hillary Clinton Aamir Khan event at St Xavier's Mumbai, and the other was a live debate with the new education minister and a handful of educationists, NGO reps, students and parents. I sat riveted for two hours as for the first time much of what I have been harping about was being debated. It was music to the ears. For the first time people were talking of school education and the need to give every child quality learning. Many new ideas were mooted. The grade system in preference to the incomprehensible and unjust percentile system, choice rather than marks to decide what stream a child would enter, introduction of vocational subjects and more.

Though the two debates were very different they touched on many common concerns one of them being quality of teachers. Both forums accepted that teaching had to be given more social acceptance. In today's world you became a teacher because you were unable to become something else. Both forums felt that this was a skewed view and needed to be redressed and many possible solutions were mooted. One person even talked of setting up an Indian Education Service on the lines of the Indian Administrative Service, something I have been suggesting for a long time. It was wonderful to hear the idea mooted on national TV in front of decision makers!

The debates continued touching on many valid points aiming at ensuring that every child gets the opportunity to achieve his or her potential: inclusive education, caring teachers, quality education etc. Many questions were asked and answered and yet something was missing. Each time one touched on the subject of giving quality education to ALL children, answers remained vague and one could even sense an air of unease. You see only one half of India was represented, the other was absent. Solutions proffered to this disturbing questions seemed more like hand outs, the zeal to reform and redress was strangely absent. Once again one fell on the value of programmes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhyan, or in other words a parallel system as one needed to respect the society of schools! To a question from a young girl on how to teach English to poor kids, as it was her ability to speak English that had got her to be present in this distinguished forum, the answer was to try and excel in one's own language. It seemed as if English, the real even field leveller was only for the chosen few.

I would have liked at least one person to talk of the common neighborhood school.To me it would be the panacea to all the ills that plague our education system. A common school where children of both Indias could learn and grow together taught by the best talent available: a pipe dream maybe, but one that I will hold on to till I breathe my last.