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Education for all



GOPA BANERJEE

For every IIT/IIM graduate, we have thousands of boys and girls groping about for a poorly paid job

THERE SEEMS to be something seriously wrong with the education system in our country. When big industrial houses enter any "industry/sector" you can be sure there is big money. It all boils down to social service with a profit motive. Hence you have branches of major public schools opening all over the country and abroad - just as nationalised banks did post nationalisation in 1969. There appeared an interesting news item in the papers recently about how the Delhi Development Authority, in its recent auction of institutional plots, against a reserve price of Rs.114 crores netted Rs.190 crores through open auction of the plots! Obviously, the buyers of these school/institutional plots are confident of recovering not only the cost of the land purchased and the infrastructure built on it, but will also succeed in making a hefty profit. And who ends up paying for all this - the poor burgeoning middle class. It's fine we do need good schools, providing quality education, so that our future generation can hold the Indian flag high in the world - as the IT sector has done. But do we need air-conditioned schools providing horse riding, skating and sumptuous meals to the children?

Hardly any option

All these just inflate a parent's school bill and hardly add value to the education imparted. True, such schools are only for the elite, the moneybags, people who can easily afford it. But with "good schools" in such short supply what do the poor harassed/harried parents do - especially the ones on a transferable job who have to shift schools along with jobs? Try the Kendriya Vidyalayas, one may say - but you have to belong to a KV to get into one - and they are not available everywhere. So what most parents do is put the child into a "good" school near home and hope for the best. There is no such thing as a "good or bad school." A school is as good as the students it takes and the students are as good as the school they go to. Education is an ongoing process and cannot be imparted in the six hours spent in a school, 5-6 days a week. Particularly, in today's world, a teacher is overburdened with 45-55 students per class, and besides teaching the subject, has to teach singing, dancing, dramatics for the annual day, the founder's day, attend summer/winter camps or go on excursions with the children. A large number of schools also expect classrooms to be decorated with charts, news items, interesting information, snippets and for the teachers to take the students for inter school competitions. All this is fine to polish and mould a child to today's exacting standards in higher education and the job market - but where does education come in? And what about the vast multitudes of children languishing in ill equipped and ill staffed government schools? For every IIT/IIM graduate, we have literally thousands of boys and girls groping about for a poorly paid job.And English is their main hurdle. Not having studied in English medium schools, they are unable to think and converse in English and in today's world, you either communicate in English or perish, for sarkari jobs are negligible or non-existent. Besides, the language of the computer is English - so its disadvantage all the way for such children.

Two separate streams

So like most advanced nations, we too now need two separate streams in the education system - one where the aam janata or ordinary students are admitted and the second where students who are bright and show potential should be transferred. Remember the ordinary and advanced levels in the U.K.? In fact, for the first few years at school, just English, Maths and a local language should be perfected. Forget History, Civics and Life Sciences...who needs to know about Akbar's conquests in India or about the summer and winter solstice while telecalling or selling paints or soap? Rahul Gandhi was very correct when he spoke of the blank faces he encountered of children in the rural areas when he asked them what their aim in life was. I am sure he will encounter similar blank faces among the children of poor urban folks too.

Bridging the divide

One way to bridge this huge divide between the educated and uneducated is to make high profile public/private schools compulsorily adopt at least 2/3 government schools and accept responsibility to develop them and improve their standards. A percentage of their huge profits should be compulsorily ploughed back into government schools for providing computer labs, gymnasiums, sports equipment, libraries and train and motivate the teachers to produce good results. Only when the education level of the average person is improved can we talk of having arrived on a world stage.