Nation

The top priority in school education. Part V

education

A report on Education Policy can never satisfy every section of the society and it is bound to raise stiff opposition from many quarters. Many of us keep saying this. Yes. It is true to a certain extent. But, not all objections are same.

Constructive criticisms add to the value of the report whereas the protests by the vested interests are carried out with a hidden agenda of stalling the good moves of the government thereby disrupting the smooth passage of transition.

One can find many good recommendations in the report and we have to endorse them as they would be immensely beneficial when properly implemented. We will come across many such suggestions as we go through the pages of the report.

Let us continue with the issue of students opting out. ‘It must be a top priority of the country to bring these children back into the educational fold as early as possible, and to prevent further students from dropping out.’

The report under the caption ‘what causes such large numbers of students to drop out?’ says – ‘so many students find themselves falling increasingly behind in school as time passes by – many not even attaining foundational literacy and numeracy by Grade 5 or even by Grade 8 – that it becomes waste of their time to attend school.’

What sort of ‘finding’ is this? Does it sound nice to say ‘it becomes waste of their time to attend school?’ Did the members speak to any of the drop outs and did any of them feel so about attending the school? Is a school drop-out smart enough to call it a waste of time?

I have met a number of drop-out students, mainly of ages ranging from 5 to 15. Most of them, if not all, have in fact felt guilty for not having continued schooling. Many of them were in tears for not having been able to continue their studies. Though I have not inter-acted with children from outside Tamilnadu, i can safely believe that this would be the case in any part of India, in any part of the world.

 Ironically, the younger ones or the children who missed the schooling could be seen watching the happy school going children of their age with a certain feel of helplessness. We can always sense an inexplicable yearning in them for what they had lost! How many of us have the heart to feel their pain?

We should be ashamed of having failed to provide a happy environment in schools and having driven away thousands of children from an illuminating field of education to the dark world of ignorance and illiteracy. Unless we admit our unpardonable indifference to these innocent children, we would never be able to be honest in finding a long lasting solution to this most inhuman ‘development’.  

The problem of access to schools also remains a major concern – says the report. This might be true in some of the states but not in Tamilnadu – thanks to Kamaraj the great. Many other states particularly in the South and West have achieved great strides in establishing neighbourhood schools by the government to the maximum. North and north eastern states might still have a problem in this regard. This is our general perception and we might be wrong too. There again, it might be at the middle or secondary levels and not at foundational schooling. The report does not give region wise break up of number of school drop-outs. So we are not sure of it.

‘Socio-cultural and economic issues also play a significant role in dropout rates’. ‘Harmful practices like child marriage, perceived roles of gender / caste, the need to take care of siblings preventing the older ones from attending school, poor hygienic conditions, lack of good sanitation, unhealthy food habits making children prone to chronic illnesses, inadequate infrastructure and lack of safety… are some of the causes identified by the committee.

We can readily agree that these are the real causes. But we do also know that we complain of these problems for the past 70 years or so. The committee seems to have played it very safe in this area thinking that these are perennial problems and that nobody could find fault with it if mentioned as some of the causes for school drop-outs. We do not require a ‘committee’ to tell us what we all know pretty well. But, when these problems do really exist, what can they do? That is the point.

‘Many children, especially girls, drop out due to lack of working toilet facilities; others – particularly girls and children from various other Under Represented Groups (URG) – drop out due to problems with harassment and safety.’

The problem of non-provision of toilet facilities must have been almost fully addressed by now – thanks to the Swachh Bharat Mission of the Government of India carried out so vigorously all over the country.  

The problem of harassment is yet to be solved as the culprits are, in most of the cases, the near and dear ones of the children at home. The government or any organisation or individual could only go to the door step of someone’s house and could not get inside and stop the actual act of harassment and exploitation against the children. This predicament, the limitation rather, hampers further progress in this regard – to the advantage of the wrong doers and to the detriment of the suffering children.

Strict enforcement of relevant laws, closer watch and participation of neighbours, creating awareness among the elders / parents and swift action by the local authorities against the reportedly offending parents or other relatives should help eradicate this menace.

 The committee prescribes ‘two basic initiatives’ to prevent further dropping out of children. 1) ‘to provide effective and sufficient infrastructure’ and 2)  ‘universal participation in school by carefully tracking students’. The first one is understandable but the second ‘initiative’, sorry to say, is nothing but a sort of bureaucratic jargon not meant to carry anything worthwhile. ‘Tracking’ part is fine but ‘universal participation’ needs to be explained a little more.

However, the committee has found the best solution too. It requires ‘a strong channel for the best teachers to be deployed to areas where dropout rates are particularly high’. Yes. This is the only way out and so there could have been more emphasis on this recommendation.

Taking the help of social workers of the locality, supporting transport, hostel facilities, ensuring security, monitoring students and their attendance (being done already) tracking out-of school children… are some of the suggestions by the committee.  These are not ‘out of box’ ideas; but, these are the ones that would effectively work to reduce the number of drop out cases.

There IS of course an excellent recommendation that deserves to be appreciated – ‘Second chance education programmes for long term out-of-school adolescents’. It is a really wonderful thought and it has been very well explained too. What does it really mean?

(to continue…

Baskaran Krishnamurthy

Mail: [email protected]

34 Comments

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