real education for all

An acquaintance dropped by yesterday. He is one of those strange persons who seem to be donning a new hat each time you meet. Last time we met he was involved in defending water rights worldwide and this time he handed me a card with the acronym MDG engraved on it. MDG, I was soon to discover were the lofty Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations and our friend was meant to work on seeing how to involve big businesses, again worldwide, in the game or how to make CSR programmes relevant. Why did I catch myself smiling. I guess because once again I was faced with the bizmess of giving! My mind went back to one of my earlier posts written almost half a decade ago.

Anyway I enjoy teasing this person about his new avatars and we began a gentle banter about his new role. I asked him what the famed goals were and how he planned to involve the so called big businesses in this. We never got further than Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education. Somehow the playful mood that we had begun with turned serious and grave. We were now treading grounds I knew and had strong opinions about. This was no matter to kid about. I asked him how he envisaged involving large business houses and what if anything had he done in India? It seemed not much.

I was surprised at how militant I became. I guess I had found an interlocutor to share my extreme views on the matter with. I launched into a long diatribe about universal primary education. Education for all could only happen if state run schools became centres of excellence and the obvious choice for all - my dream of a common school. And maybe it was time that we in India ended the charade of having 33% as a pass percentage for school examinations as 33% got you nowhere. It was time to end the caste rid society of schools and come up with a school every child could attend.

Education for All targets the poorer strata of society and yet when we look around we realise that it is the poor children who have been let down again and again. In spite of constitutional guarantees, children from weaker sections are not given the enabling environment they need to grow and take their place in the sun. And what is infuriating is that they need so little. We have proved that in our ten years of existence as with very little help our children have sailed through school. And our little boarding schools stars quietly slipped into the top position of their respective classes without much ado. Imagine if all our kids could be given the right environment!

Universal Primary Education can and will only make sense if the adjective quality is added to the goal. If not then it will remain a charade played to satisfy questionable agendas or meet statistical compulsions.