A lost childhood, a run-away mother, a broken marriage, a 13 year old son and an elderly father to take care of -- none of these deterred Jaya Rawal from continuing her education. Jaya’s voter id shows she was born in the year 1979 and yet, she says she is not sure of her real age. In her fragile physique, she conceals a dogged determination to continue her studies and to get ahead.

It is said, 'when the going gets tough, the tough gets going' and that is absolutely correct in the case of Jaya. When the mother left her in her early teens, Jaya had to take charge of the family. That meant she discontinue her studies and take care of her siblings. Her father was with the Telecom Department, but, due to lack of a minimum period of service, is not eligible for a pension. Presently, she does nearly four-five hours of tailoring every day, earning around Rs. 3000 per month, to meet her family's needs. She hardly gets to eat three rotis a day!

In spite of all these and more, she wakes up at four in the morning and studies for three hours, and in the evening, she is with books for another three hours till midnight, in order to pass her Secondary School exams under the Rajasthan State Open School (RSOS) Board.

Now, imagine two friends. They were studying together in the same class at the Secondary School in 2006. Fast forward to 2012. One of them became a teacher, while the other one became..guess what, her student! This might sound filmy, but it did happen to Jayashree Khairvasiya and Deepika Vyas. While Jayashree is a tutor, Deepika is her student. Deepika could not clear her ninth grade exams and thereafter, she discontinued her studies. Mean while, Jayashree continued her studies and she is now in her final year of graduation, where her main subject is astrology. Unfortunately for Deepika, stars did not smile at her. But, she is quite determined that she would clear her secondary school exams this year through RSOS.

These are just few of the dropouts, I, as an intern in Pratham Education Foundation, Rajasthan, met. And these cases are not exceptions. The most outrageous statistics I found in recent times is the huge gap between the male and female literacy rates in Rajasthan. As per Census 2011, 75.7% males are considered literate, while the corresponding figure for females is a mere 43.9%- almost a whopping 32 percentage points difference, the highest for any state in India!

Contrary to the popular perception that the medieval 'purdhapradha' culture is hindering the process of female education, I found the girls eager to get themselves educated and their parents quite supportive. This is evident from the fact that there is hardly any significant difference in the enrolment figures of boys and girls at the Secondary and Senior Secondary levels, here in Rajasthan.

It needs to be mentioned that it is no easy task to pursue higher education here. The schools are scattered and are accessible mostly by private vans only. In most places, roads are in pathetic condition. The distance between schools varies from 8 to 35 kilometers. Even in such adverse circumstances, students - boys and girls - travel, often, hanging dangerously to the sides of private Jeeps and vans, to the schools. They too are the 'nirbhayas' of this country. Nonetheless, many of them dropout due to various physical, social and economic reasons.

Coming to the supply side, the teaching fraternity is a mixed bag. Seven out of twelve Secondary Schools I visited in just one block of Rajasthan have teaching positions in core subjects lying vacant. From my interactions with them, I found that, many of them are knowledgeable, competent and sincere. Yet, there were many, who were just sitting idle, chit-chatting over tea, during class hours. They say, because of the 'no fail' policy followed till eighth grade, students coming over to the Secondary level have such poor basics and therefore, it is beyond them to 'repair' them.

They are right too. On the 14 of February, 2013, a reputed local daily ran a front page news of the District Collector' inspection in a Government Primary School in Jalore district of Rajasthan. It was to no one's surprise that, almost all the students in the sixth grade could not even write their names in English or do some basic multiplication. The shocker was, even a teacher in the fourth grade of that school could not write a particular word in Hindi! Even the HM of that school failed to write it correctly. That word was 'karthavya', which in Hindi means duty. Now, how do we expect a teacher, who cannot even spell the word 'duty' correctly in their mother tongue, do their duty?

Still, girls and boys continue to hang on to the sides of the Jeeps and vans to go to school.. only to get 'dropped out' in the middle.

Vinay Sankar is with the Tata-Dhan Academy, Madurai, Tamil Nadu and an Intern, Pratham Education Foundation, Rajasthan. vinay.sankar@gmail.com

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