The long road to school

Dilapidated conditions don't deter everyone from doing their job

Dilapidated conditions don't deter everyone from doing their job  

NO ONE would dare deny that every child has the right to education, and the Government is duty bound to provide educational avenues not only to children but to adults as well, but when it comes to facts India's record is abysmal. Delhi being the seat of power, all its flaws - intrinsic and cosmetic - are more glaringly visible. The number of homeless children loitering in the streets or working in factories, tea shops, residences and offices is living proof if any were needed that our education system is not reaching its target beneficiaries.

Yet the city is dotted with schools. There are the teaching shops that cash in on the middle class obsession with prestigious certificates as a means to climb the economic ladder. There are the posh private - incongruously still referred to as public - schools for the rich or upwardly mobile. There are the Government aided schools, and at the bottom of the prestige pile are the ones that are completely Government run. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is responsible for the schools up to the level of class five, while schools for classes six to twelve fall under the purview of the Directorate of Education. The unenviable teaching standard and level of academic attainment ensure that self-respecting parents avoid enrolling their children here - no matter what the financial burden caused by `public' schools which are often no more than money spinning ventures.

The education business is definitely a den of scandal. Yet there are unmistakeable signs that something genuinely beneficial for children and education is happening, if only at a fledgling level, and surprisingly these stirrings are emanating from Government bodies. Provided the right people meet up with each other and manage to retain their office - since all power is attached to the seat, without which all effort is rendered a waste - they could become a movement of revolutionary proportions.

This is not mere rhetoric, for the simple reason that it is imperative that at least in the 21st Century, we get down to addressing the basic need for free and open educational opportunities for all citizens. Once we truly get down to solving this issue - criminal politicians and lumpen leaders notwithstanding - the consequences have to be on par with Operation Flood and the Green Revolution.

At the State Council for Educational Research and Training the depressing exteriors with crumbling buildings and musty corridors belie the energy of the officials. The director Janaki Rajan who has been at the helm of affairs for over two years has a glint in her eyes as she describes her regular run-ins with callous agencies her office coordinates with in implementing new pedagogical ideas and - most vitally - for bringing the standard of Government run schools on par with privately funded institutions. She also comments excitedly on the changing climate that has made possible plans for a possible child census that will document important facts about all children from infants to 14 years.

At S.C.E.R.T. it is heartening to realise that the 1000-odd schools and all the names on their rolls are not mere statistics but actually translate into real children often with serious social handicaps that deter them from realising their academic potential. The recently concluded Bridge School Programme is one of many ways in which this institution is attempting to change the academic outlook of municipal schools by reaching out to both students and teachers.

The long road to school

Last April when the schools shut for the summer, the S.C.E.R.T. arranged for 10,000 students across 90 schools who had just completed class five, to have extra classes under trained teachers contacted through NGOs. As schools reopen this month, the bridge teachers are expected to maintain the link between their wards' class five teachers as well as the new teachers in class six an discuss each child's progress.

"This level of personalisation is just not there in Government schools," points out Janaki Rajan.

A pre- and post-programme test was held to assess the requirements and results of the work, and initial results show a marked response to the coaching received in Hindi - which as most children across the class spectrum would vouch, is one of the most fear and mutilated subjects taught - while the other key area, Maths needs a more sustained effort. Of course two months cannot make up for five years of poor teaching or assimilation, but the goal is to motivate the primary as well as secondary level teachers for the benefit of future batches.

Similarly, the Twinning Programme that began in 2001 in which 89 Government run schools were paired with private schools across the city resulted in marked improvement in some cases. There also seems to be an effort wean educators away from the standard excuse of lack of infrastructure and facilities towards a mindset of deriving the best within given circumstances. With so many schools and different approaches required, there are a host of programmes and while the time span has been too short to reveal any dramatic successes, the very availability of imaginative inputs is an uplifting thought.

Perhaps at the very bottom of the scale of ill reputed Government run and aided educational institutions are the Urdu medium schools. According to Janaki Rajan, these are included like all others in the twinning and other remedial programmes, but a report published by the Forum of Friends of Education is livid at the neglect of these schools and the consequent damage to students. Let alone furniture and decent buildings, the shameful paucity of textbooks in Urdu tends to render farcical all discussion on the subject of improvements in these schools.

"The problems of the minority community such as communalism, obscurantism, fundamentalism are born out of a lack of education. This is responsible for duality in the society," says advocate Mohammed Atyab Siddiqui who was part of the surveying team. He adds, "I am not talking about literacy but education. There are hardly any libraries, no exposure to extracurricular activities. And they are making do with texts printed in Hindi or English. How can you start teaching a subject like chemistry in standard nine in English all of a sudden? If they can't provide the textbooks it is better to shut down the Urdu medium schools and retain only English and Hindi medium."

He also makes a strong case for accountability of teachers and school managements. "We should have paid social workers to see whether the teachers are doing their job. The practice of private tuitions should be completely banned. After all the teachers are getting their salaries out of taxpayers' money."

He also makes a distinction between teaching "conscious" and "underdeveloped" minds - referring to the background of the children many of whom are first generation school goers. This applies to a large majority of students across communities.

With so much available in terms of ideas and active participation from Government servants as well as innumerable NGOs working for education, the idyllic goal of a friendly neighbourhood schoolhouse for every locality seems to be hovering just within the realm of possibility. Can we take the right steps?

Photos: Sandeep Saxena M. Lakshman

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