We cannot wait Mr Prime Minister

Everyone is busy giving their bit of  'advise', probably unsolicited, to the new Prime Minister. I guess in a democracy that is what you do. You find these in debates on TV, in magazines and newspaper and of course on the social media. I often read them hoping to find some views that concur with mine, particularly on education. I found one in a recent magazine entitled Focus on Quality and Innovation. I rubbed my hands in anticipation as these were words that echoed mine and I was eager to know how the proposed changes would benefit my 1000+ kids. As I read on the glimmer of hope was replaced by a sense of despair and deja vu! Don't get my wrong, everything that is said is more than politically correct and well articulated and there is a time line that goes from 100 days to 5 years. The first thing that should shock us all is the fact that a blue print made 67 years after Independence should: outline a five-year vision and ensure every child is able to read and write by Class IV. Now this means that either we have not thought it necessary for 67 years to ensure that every child read or write or that all previous governments have failed miserably to address education as a priority or else that education has till now been a great way of garnering funds and pockets. It is sad that in 2104 we are still making a blue print for literacy. But let us go on.

The rest of the article gives excellent technological inputs and solutions that no one can argue with and even, and that was music to my years as I have been suggesting for years now, the creation of an Indian Education Service on the lines of the Indian Administrative Service. But most of the suggestions will take time and as I have always said children cannot wait.

I reread the article trying to extract what could be applied to my kids now, as kids cannot wait 1, 2 or 5 years. A 12 year old will be 17 in 5 years. This 12 year old, a girl, studies in a secondary school in South Delhi and there are 125 students in her class. A period is for 35 minutes. Now how can a teacher, however good s/he might be, teach anything in these conditions. By the way, girls are told to bring a gunny sack or equivalent so that they can sit on the floor after all the benches for 2 have accommodated 80 odd girls. In these condition, I am sad to say, none of the technological tools make sense, and I forgot that electricity often plays truant. Now as the teacher follows the no fail policy till class VIII, s/he does not feel any pressure to ensure that the students are up to the mark. You amble from class to class till class VII. You may barely have learnt to read and write. We have had students of class VII with a class II knowledge. A year later those children have caught up and even excelled. All that was needed was someone to teach them. By force majeure we too have overcrowded classes and sit on the floor, but our passion and the student's motivation make us winners.

The author of the article suggest allowing outcome-based private remedial centres to be set up. For the past 14 years we have done just that and more so done with untrained staff from within the community, limited resources, scant space and no charge. The proof of the pudding lies in the fact that since the time we began no child has dropped out and every student has passed his or her Boards, some with distinction. It does not take much to redress the situation and though we would have loved to have all the technological and pedagogical support suggested, we managed quite well, even if I say so myself. If we could do it, I am sure many could provided they had the passion to do so, the same passion that our new PM recognised in the freedom fighters who gave their life for the country. He told us we had the opportunity to live for the country. I guess what he meant was to do something for the country. Without all of us, nothing will truly change. Are we ready to make this 'sacrifice'.

What does it entail you may ask. Giving up some of your 'goodies', some of your 'time' and repaying a debt you owe to every Indian who has made it possible to live a life of ease. It would be their children that you would be helping.

The author of the article also suggests that a law be enacted  that makes parents will be liable to punishment-say with forced community service-if their children are not in school. Though again it makes perfects sense on paper, the reality is quite different as I learnt on the field at my expense. I believe that most of the parents are now quite aware of the importance of education and also of the fact that State run schools are of poor quality. This has enabled the mushrooming of zillions of private schools charging moderate fees and where many parents send their sons. The girls are still sent to State run schools. In the same school running 2 shifts (girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon) there are 45 boys in class VII and 125 girls in the same class. Get the picture. So in my humble opinion the reason why parents do not send their children to school is not because they are not aware of the importance of education but because of other realities. Girls are often kept back to look after siblings as the mother works; some parents have jobs that are nomadic in nature. Take the case of this little imp. This picture was taken circa 2003. She was one the brightest kids I have ever met and was an avid learner. However she left us soon after this picture was taken as her father worked with contractors and moved on. While in our area, they lived on the roadside like many labour do. Her father was a drunk and a gambler and her mother who must have been married at a very young age was abused by her husband. The little girl must be 15 or 16 now. Maybe she has been married off as is often the case. But the fact is that her education was truncated because of the nature of her father's job and the unavailability of any school for such children. If her parents are forced into community service, how will they eat. And how do you solve the problem of all the beggar children. There has to be a way.

So let us get back to a roadmap for our children who we are agreed upon cannot wait. Hence we need a 'band aid' solution while lofty programmes are drafted and implemented. I can only talk of Delhi as I have first hand knowledge of the ground reality. Maybe a first step would be to redress whatever shortcomings there are in schools. The picture you see is real. The desks were too big so rather than cit the legs, kids were made to study standing! You may find it funny but to me it is the saddest picture and the example of the callousness and insensitivity of those in charge. So let us have an audit of schools and sort everything that can be sorted out now so that today's children benefit. Most of the State run schools are in tents or single storied building. More tents could be erected while new floors are made. The speed at which builders erect private buildings is mind blowing. Maybe the same zeal should be applied to schools.

There are many things that can be done now. The question I ask myself is whether this hands down approach will be taken or whether everything will be lost in dreams of larger goals that may or may not be met, while children study standing or cramped in classes where they can barely breathe.

These children who remain voiceless, would like the Prime Minister to know that they cannot wait!