Taking the consumer movement to schools

NORMALLY IT is teachers who teach students. But last week more than 80 teachers from schools in and around Bangalore had occasion to learning something about consumer rights and responsibilities from students. Two students from the Consumer Club of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Malleswaram, demonstrated through a skit the registration of a complaint and the filling up of a railway reservation form.

Students imparted information on their blood group, the nearest fair price shop, their ward number, the telephone number of the nearest police station, their local representative and celebrities who live nearby. They spoke on how "advertisements mislead them" and why junk food should be avoided. They listed out the addresses and telephone numbers of the five consumer forums in Bangalore.

The occasion was a workshop organised by the Consumer Rights, Education and Awareness Trust (CREAT) on "consumer education" for school-teachers. The idea was to sensitise teachers in consumer rights to enable them to set up consumer clubs in educational institutions.

There has been very little work done to catch young minds. We know about environment clubs, science clubs and civic clubs. Not consumer clubs. That is because consumer rights are yet to be recognised as important as environment or moral science and the consumer movement is seen as something applicable to elders alone.

Consumer protection involves not merely consumer law, but safety of food, drinks, toys, textiles, goods and services. "Misleading and exaggerated" advertisements, unfair trade practices and other sales gimmicks lure consumers, particularly children. It is essential that children are aware of these dangers and are educated so that they act as informed consumers in the market place.

How does one do this? Surely, not by including it as a course in the curriculum. Consumer education should not be a topic of examination burdening the student. It could be imparted through consumer clubs. Recently, the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs, Government of India, has come out with a scheme to facilitate formation of consumer clubs in schools and colleges and educational institutions are provided with financial assistance towards the same.

But in the present scenario, it could be difficult to open consumer clubs. Adequate material, particularly in local languages, is not available. There is need to prepare education modules and training kits on consumer education. There is also the need to train teachers, and finally, to forge links between educational institutions and consumer organisations.

Meanwhile, conducting debates, quizzes, and poster drawing contests could be a good start. Involving students in conducting surveys on advertisements, toys, fast food and the like are good exercises. Representatives of consumer organisations could be invited to talk to students on consumer related topics. Of late, we are reading reports on fake drugs. Students, for instance, can be asked to buy these products along with the originals to help them identify differences. We also find advertisements on television that always refer to children. Be it a chocolate or a motorbike, a child is essential. Analyzing the contents of the advertisements can also be a good exercise.

Training students to identify civic issues and forwarding them to authorities can make a difference. Writing press releases, memoranda or letters to the editor could bring in good results. All that is required is the will on the part of the head of institution and teachers.