it is not in their interest to ensure everyone gets education

It is disturbing that much of what I have often expressed over the past years on this blog is being stated by those one calls experts. How I wish I would have been wrong. In a recent article entitled: Has India lost the XXIst century an educationist writes: “It has not been in the interest of any government to ensure universalisation of education,  why would a government deny its people universal education? Because education gives you access to ideas, rights and opens doors of abilities. Education upsets the status quo and if, as a government, you stay in power by virtue of votebanks that you create and nurture, it is not in your interest to ensure everyone gets education.”

When we began pwhy, I was naive enough to think that all was well in our education system. The things that disturbed me then were the fact that children went to school for half a day and the fact that they had to spend the other half either loitering around (boys) or in household chores (girls). What upset me was that these children had no place to play, no one to help them with their school work etc. I wanted project why to be the place where they could have just that and be children! I imagined pwhy to be a large space with books, toys, games, computers and some teachers to help with the homework and teach them spoken English. I also dreamt of an open space where the children could play. I even dared the large community centre with sprawling grounds that lay vacant and desolate. I was told it was the old labour court that had now shifted. There was even a large auditorium. Time and again the community hall was spruced up and used for a wedding. Once the party over the hall remained littered with used plastic cups and plated till the next wedding or party. We too used that hall for our only two annual day. I also learnt that two rooms were used for sewing classed and for a creche though I never saw any proof of that.

That is when I thought that maybe one could suggest to the authorities to use that space 'intelligently' and for the benefit of the community: proper creches, a library, computer classes, etc as well as sports for children as the grounds were ample. Of course the powers that be did not want that! Soon after there was a lot of activity. The building was being given a makeover. A few days later there was a big inauguration with delhi's who's who! But as always in this land of ours, everything was undercover, behind locked gates. One did peep and saw a huge signboard that had all the possible heads under which one can get funds if one runs a NGO: education, health, HIV AIDS, special needs children and adults, revival of art and craft, you name it and it was there. WOW. It seemed that the organisation was run by one of heirs of an important individual. Well the story was short and bitter. I was told of some horror stories that happened behind those walls where mentally challenged women were kept hidden and abused. And then that do stopped. The building lies unused behind a lock. I guess the said individual has collected all the funds he could and moved on.

This was an aparte that fits in. Let me carry on with my story. The idea of the large space where kids could be kids was soon sacrificed to the alter of a very loud WHY! In tune with my initial dream and because of lack of resources we had begun humbly with spoken English classes for a handful of kids. It was not long before the outrageous and shocking reality of State run schools: little or practically no teaching, overcrowded classes, no drinking water, no toilets, corporal punishment. Still naive, I  attempted  to address the corporal punishment issue with friends in the press and visits to the school. This is circa 2003. I learnt the hard way when I hard that pwhy children where being targeted by the teachers and beaten even more! I beat a quick retreat.

I had however l realised that it was not a happy child centre that we needed, but space to teach as many children as possible. I again tried to seek political help as, many of you may not know this, I had worked for the ruling party and had entrees in many circles, did I wish to use them. The saga of that chapter is told here, should you wish to read it. I do not want to recall the details as they still make my blood boil.

The first incline of the sad yet true reality that the powers that be were not interested in education at all came when local politicos decided to declare 'war' on me after they had failed to insidiously try and get a foothold in my organisation. When they knew I would never accept that, they brought the big guns out. Our school that run in an erstwhile pig park that we had cleaned and accepted to share with our porcine friends, far kinder than the human ones, was bulldozed one fine day. We shifted to the roadside and thus began our nomadic existence. But we refused to give up. I had finally understood the game. Mrs B was dangerous because she upset the status quo: she employed teachers from the slums, the very ones who were till then part of the nurtured vote banks, she gave education to slum kids and more than that gave them dreams - the most outrageous one being that of Sanjay, a young gypsy kid born and brought up on the roadside who first became a teacher at pwhy, then acted in a movie and is now an International model recently signed by a well known Agency - something that they felt was dangerous.

They did it all: bad mouthed me in public meetings, accused me of swindling funds, accused me of evangelising because of my short hair, threatened my daughter. But I stood firm and never stopped my work. The only thing I stopped was to seek help from the authorities. They had taught me one thing and I thank them for it: you have to find your own options yourself.

The education system has many aberrations that can only be explained if you are willing to accept the premisse that the state is not interested in giving education to every child in India. The schemes and programmes and rights that are voted at selective times are just an eye wash with a wonderful cherry on the cake: sources of making illegal money. The sound good, fool uneducated people and get them the votes they need. Voila! End of story. Everyone is happy.

What is frightening is that while making all the right noises: right to education, right to whatever, the state is promoting commercialisation of education which is the most dangerous way to go. The recent 25% reservation for poor children is a farce. The really poor parents are unaware of the scheme and totally at a loss to put together the formalities needed, it is the middle class who is taking advantage of it. The difference between the two is: education!

The examples are plenty. Why is 33% still the pass percentage needed to succeed in an examination when it opens no doors. Affordable universities are now seeking 90% and more and in most cases jobs, even in the government want a 50% pass percentage. The recent mushrooming of private universities is proof of the fact that it is a good business proposition and with the phenomenal fees it is only for the rich. Higher studies are not for the poor. Why are state run schools in poor areas run abysmally when the same state runs central schools for its own kids. Every school should be run like a central school. Only then will all children get what has been promised to them in the much heralded Right to Education!

There is a proliferation of second and even third rate institutions that provide degrees in a wide range of subjects. They churn out unemployable graduates. The same article says: some 200 management schools have shut down in the past few years due to poor placement. Of the 1.5 million engineering students in India, over 70 percent are unemployed. The IT sector has also suffered, with 75 percent of graduates going unemployed. Degree holders are being churned out in a factory-like manner by institutions, and there is a genuine skilled manpower crisis for jobs that do exist.

What we need is to relook at the entire education story. We need to impart skills that are needed and not  dreams that will never be fulfilled. We have failed our youth miserably. Will we have the courage to set things right. No. Not as long as political paries need vote banks they can manipulate.