education from 6 to 14

I have been perplexed, angry, confused, bewildered and even apoplectic at some of the aberrations of the much awaited, much delayed and still far from being implemented Right to Education Bill. The bill has many aberrations. And to the uninitiated they may seem incomprehensible. Why only from 6 to 14? What about preschool which is so important? And is 14 is the right time to be freed of compulsory schooling? Many can also question the wisdom of no failing till class VIII particularly keeping in mind the state of education in schools today. And there are many more questions...

I cannot answer these as I am neither competent nor privy to the hidden agendas of that steer such legislation. I can only share some of my experiences and observations gathered over the years, from the time I decided to dirty my hands educating the poor. Our dream and objective to start a children centre where children would come and reclaim their usurped childhood and spent time doing what children do after school rather than aimlessly hanging on the streets (read boy) or being overwhelmed by house work (read girls). But when we saw that children studying in class III and IV could barely recognise their alphabets, even though at that time no law stipulated that children were not to be failed, and this was probably because stakeholders wanted to look good and field workers shirk their work, we had to put our dreams and goals on hold and bridge the gap. We thus became what is normally called a tuition centre, something I abhor. Now with the new law I do not see us retrieving our dreams in a hurry.

But before I go one let me share an incident that happened just yesterday. A friend who is also an eminent CA had dropped by to discuss some legal matters. In the course of our conversation I discovered that his wife was a Government school Principal and that she too seemed to share some of my views and musings. He told us a story that had happened recently in her school which is located in slum area. A young boy, all of 13, came one hour late to school every single day. In spite of much reprimanding by his teacher he never changed his ways, and never gave a reason for his lateness but retreated in sullen silence his eyes smoldering with anger. He was, as is always the case, hauled up to the Principal for further action. She asked him the question again and was met with the same taciturnity. She then asked the teacher to leave, sat the child down on a chair and gently repeated the question. The boy revealed that he sold eggs every night near the local watering hole till 1 am. After some more gentle prompting he said that he was the sole bread earner of the family as is dad was a drunk and his mom did not work.

The Principal did not call child labour activists or officers. She just told the boy to try and wind up shop and hour earlier and get some sleep and come to school in time as education was the best way to better help his family even if it was selling eggs! You see unlike insensitive and uncaring law makers she understood the plight of the child and the importance of finding a middle path. Laws for children are often made in haste, to look good, to get international kudos, to meet world standards and in that haste the stark reality of survival is too often forgotten. It seems though that some like this kind Principal apply the laws with sagacity and humanity. Thank God for that!

Sorry for the digression but I had to share this story. I must admit that it also opened my eyes in some way. But let us get back to where we began. The 6 to 14. Now imagine the scenario I child gets into school in class I at age 6 and leaves in class VIII at age 14. During these years there are no Board examinations that are externally assessed and by law (s)he is not allowed to fail. Now in a good school this is not and issue. Honest assessments and internal examinations will ensure that (s)he learns what (s)he is meant to. But in the kind of school where our kids go this will not be the case. Even if there are examinations - as stipulated - the answers will be written on the Board and diligently copied. This happens with impunity. The 14 year old will come out of school as illiterate as ever and nothing will have changed. Had their been had of at least one final Board exam. things would have been wonderful. Wonder why our eminent law makers forgot that? Call me a cynic but my answer is that no one really wants education for the poor, it is part of a hidden agenda. Our 14 year old class VII will just join the teeming millions he was born in.

Is this the right to Education that the children of India deserve? Where is the elusive common school? Why waste money in another futile exercise? And finally how many more generations will the children of India have to wait for a real Right to Education?