More than a year ago, my household help, "S." ( who has to-date been the subject of many blog posts ), came to me and requested me to write a letter for her.
Not that her family could not write. But she thought, that since it pertained to a facility on our campus, I would be able to state the facts better in the application, and also introduce her and her family.
She herself is classified as illiterate, but is one of the most naturally educated ladies I know. With a Ph.D in Common Sense. Summa Cum Laude or whatever they say in Latin.
She struggled and succeeded in educating her own kids, in municipal schools, singlehandedly , upto class X. She has a daughter in law who is a class XII graduate. The adults all work. And she was now literally mobilising ideas and resources to educate her grand kids, 2 of whom stayed with her.
Resources, because the eldest grand kid was already in school, the family having taken a loan of 15 thousand, to pay for his admission, necessities, tuitions, et al. In the local English medium school. Now it was time for the sibling to start school, and It was possible, that they could apply under RTE to our school on our campus, which was also an English medium school, but much cheaper. Both kids could apply there, and they would be set till Junior college.
I wrote a letter for her, and they found out that they had just missed the deadline for admissions under RTE, for the local campus school, and would now have to apply after a year.
This year, I asked and reminded her about the RTE and the admissions. And was surprised to hear, that the family decided that the second kid would also go to the same school as the elder kid, expensive fees and all.
Which brings to light the sad uninspiring state of primary education in India.
The appointment of Smruti Irani as Minister for HRD has so many baying from the rooftops about the absence of a degree in her CV. Scratch a sleeping person and say the word "Education" and he will respond back on auto-reply with the word "degree".
Yet, up to now, education has always meant more IIT's, IIM's, and assorted colleges. Assorted officially appointed highly qualified folks with several degrees around their necks, officially disburse crores for education. Schemes named after politicians of yore are announced , and assorted ads show up on television. Newspapers get into tangles reporting of profiles of students applying for premier institutes, and the cutoffs for various categories, of students as well as streams of learning.
In the meanwhile, spurious education institutes spring up out of nothing, with studied non-monitoring from those that should monitor. They function out of single rooms, and basically sell qualifications. The government, puts out a list once in a while listing these institutes, but does nothing to shut them down.
Education , is now a successful business proposition, thanks to the obsession of the public, and the demand , for "degrees" ...
Primary education, has always been about putting up buildings in rural areas, without associated infrastructure, absence of maintenance, lack of facilities , lack of teachers, and basically no followup. Allocate the money , show it in the annual report, and your work is done. You celebrate the girl child, but you cannot ensure sanitary set ups in schools for use by the girls, who often drop out as teenage approaches. Whatever success there has been so far, has been solely due to some dedicated folks who continue to slog in schools, despite the material shortcomings, transfers of school teachers due to ego clashes, and in the face of political lack of will , electoral politics and so on.
Can this government put a moratorium for , say five years, on the creation of more engineering and medical colleges ? Can this government study and analyse, why the government should be involved in things like fashion design ? Can this government dedicate the next 5 years, to improving primary education in India, in a holistic way, where it extends beyond decrepit leaky unmaintained buildings with stolen plumbing and unsanitary surroundings ? Can this government overhaul and decentralize the mid-day meal schemes to involve the mothers of children in the decision making process and the entire operating procedures?
Maybe we have forgotten, that mothers never go to school or college to learn how to mother . They learn on the job, with the help of family, and sometimes despite and without them.
As it happened in the case of "S." who was abandoned by her husband and left to bring up 4 small kids , all by herself. 30 years down the line, she is still asked to provide the "caste" certificate of her non existent husband, for being part of any government scheme, be it education, health or housing. That she has her own certificate, simply never counts. They do not accept it.
I think Smruti Irani will be good for the post for which she is appointed. I have heard her talk. She has mentioned initiating an involvement of parents in the education process. It is now time to give a chance to someone who is unburdened by the weight of hefty degrees round her neck.
We are always so fond of spouting sayings like " Teach a fellow something , he will improve himself; but teach a mother something, and she will help bring up the family in the world....."
This is so true.
In reality, they will teach, the mother will learn, but at the end of the day, she will be asked , "Kaunsi degree hai ?"......
Time to change .