a dangerous decree

I would like to emphasize that while opening new schools, we should insist that adequate open grounds be provided for playing fields”decreed the Sports Minister in a recent letter to the Education Minister. Some years back I would have jumped with joy and said: way to go! But that was a few years back, before project why, before the many reality checks that came my way, when I held that private schools, specially the ones for the poor were just teaching shops and nothing short of an aberration, when I believed that only a common neighborhood school was the panacea we needed. I remember how I blogged passionately about these issues: be it the admission nightmare, the blood money sought, the lucrative education business, the arrogance of public schools, the pitiable state of state run schools and so on.

And then slowly things changed, surreptitiously I must admit. Even I did not realise how and when it happened. My diatribe against private schools became less vehement and my crusade for the more and more elusive common school became less strident. And lo and behold there came the day not so long ago, where I found myself writing a blog almost in favour of what I had once contemptuously called teaching shops. How did that happen?

The answer is complex and cannot be summed up in a single phrase. What did change things for me was James Toole's book: The Beautiful Tree A Personal Journey Into How the World's Poorest People Are Educating Themselves. The book is an apology for small private schools and, I must admit, sets you thinking. In Tooley's book the tiny private schools tucked away in sordid slums are the means for the poor to claim ownership of the education of their children, as it is their money that made such schools possible. The result is for all to see. The products of these schools fared a great deal better than their counterparts in state run schools. They are not an aberration but stem out of a very real need. It is in no way an ideal situation I agree, but it is a workable option.

Children cannot wait for laws to be enacted, for convoluted and dubious projects to see the light of day. They need immediate solutions or it may be too late. And therefore little schools mushroom at every nook and corner. Often in small cramped spaces. Many of these manage to get the recognition tag which gives them an edge. You see even the poor and illiterate knows the value of a recognised school! Cynics may say that these tags are got through shady means, and I may have been one of them in times gone by, but today I accept the fact quietly. Every such school is a place where children study and learn. Who am I to criticise or pontificate? Specially today when the new laws decree that no child will be failed till class VIII. I shudder to think what will happen to children who are in state run schools where there is scant teaching. They are better off in the cramped premises of a small private school where some teaching does happen. And yes, they do not have open grounds for playing fields.

So if the Minister's decree is accepted, no new private schools for the poor will come into being. In a city where every square inch comes at a whopping price, finding space for playing fields is impossible for such schools. I hope better sense will prevail.