Today, almost every child in our country has access to primary education. It is our endeavour that every child, irrespective of whether he is rich or poor and which section of the society he belongs to, should be given an education that enables him to realize his potential and makes him a responsible citizen of our country. These words were part of the Prime Minister's address from the ramparts of the Red Fort on India 63rd Independence day.
How I wish this were true! Sadly it is not so.
Allow me to share a story with you, one that is true. It happened on August 14th 2010, just a day before our Prime Minister delivered his speech. We had gone to the I Day celebrations of the children's boarding school to be part of the festivities which were to end with the launch of a Literacy programme in a nearby slum cluster. We were very excited as this is the very area where God willing planet why will one day be seated. The rain Gods were bountiful on that cloudy morning and by the time we reached the slum cluster it was pouring the proverbial cats and dogs. The programme was to be launched in the tiny roofless community centre of the cluster where a small tent had been erected.
A few days earlier someone had visited the cluster and made a list of children interested in joining the programme. The names of around 40 children figured on that piece of paper and they were to receive a small token: a notebook and some pencils in a smart plastic folder. The show began. The flimsy tent was not able to hold the rain and soon the piece of paper was soaked and the names washed away. This was almost providential as we soon realised that there were not 40 but hundreds of children in the small tent with the same amount outside. Children of all ages. I was moved to tears when a young girl, about 16 or so, who looked married also held out her hand and said she too wanted to study! The books and pencils were soon outnumbered by the little hands held out in anticipation.
I moved away and started talking to the parents. I was soon told that most of the children did not go to school though the parents were keen they do. The reason :the sole municipal school in the vicinity had more than 100 kids in each class and even an illiterate parent was aware of the fact that no learning could happen in such abysmal conditions. Children passed from class to class without any learning! This was the situation a day before the PM's speech just a few kilometers away for the Red Fort. Where was the access to primary education the PM announced with such confidence. Was this the way Independant India hoped children would realise their potential and become responsible citizens!
There is a universe of difference between what is on paper and the reality on the ground Mr Prime Minister. The children of your own capital city do not have access to education, let alone quality education and nothing seems to be really happening. It is time we did something. I do not know whether you will, but we at pwhy certainly will.