Is just the right to education enough?

For a country reeling under various ills, we’re probably all in agreement that illiteracy is the root cause of our problems. We’re also, paradoxically, a country that prizes education, knowledge and learning. So our educated junta, say, like the OA, sometimes even have two post-graduate degrees. Because we don’t consider it a waste of time. And because for us middle class, bourgeois lot, not having a degree is a matter of shame. All we have to give our kids, is our so-called middle-class values and a good education.

When I was growing up, ‘failures’ in school were looked down upon. It was a convent school and a couple of our classmates were children of the class IV staff. The father of one was our school bus driver, of another, the guard at the school gates. And while they were given the opportunity to study with us, they could barely keep up. Pretty much a misfit in class, I spent a lot of time with these girls who the rest of the class wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. And I enjoyed the time I spent with them. Great girls, other than the inability to keep up with the rest of the class.

At PTA meetings, the class teachers complained to my parents that I was a bright kid who would fare better if I weren’t allowed to mix so much with the ‘failures’. That I must change my seat and my friends to get better marks. I remember making a token attempt at changing my seat and hanging out with the other girls, but it didn’t work out. In retrospect I realise I was a sensitive kid, quick to take offence, ashamed of my shabby skirts, let down twice and very aware of how different I was, in the UP upper caste milieu.

Anyhow, the girls failed again and were asked to leave school. Those were days when we didn’t have email and cellphones and soon I lost touch with most of them. As time went by I grew into myself, made new friends, changed schools and ditched my misfit image with it and was soon Head Girl, on the school magazine editorial board and generally living it up.

But I always did wonder what happened to the kids who were asked to leave. No other school would take them, because they had failed twice in our school. So who took a chance on them? Was that the end of the road? Did they go on to become Class IV staff too?

It all came back to me a few days ago when I was reading up on the Right to Education. How do these poor kids manage? I know that inspite of coming from a family that was far more educated (even my great grandmother was more educated than the mothers of most of my classmates, some of them not even Class X pass), I still felt like an outcast. Children can be cruel and girls can be worse than boys in terms of discrimination. Money talks. Money matters. Skin colour matters, no matter how hard we try to tell our kids otherwise.

It took immense strength, moving to a co-ed school and creating a new image for myself before I truly began to believe in myself. Labels aren’t easily cast off. As I walked the ramp, took the mike at debates, led the school and marched through the city streets carrying the school flag, I grew in my mind. Grew into a person worthy of my own as well as others’ respect.

So how hard, I wonder, will it be for these kids who come from less privileged backgrounds, forced into rich private schools, to sit alongside kids who take their summer holidays in Europe, come to school in Audis and go for piano, ballet and horse riding lessons every week.

I was also pleased to see that a father here, went to court and prevented his daughter from being expelled from school, for failing twice. I don’t want to be unreasonable so I really would like to know why this number has been picked. Why twice? Why not once or thrice or ten times? And what do schools imagine these children will do once they’ve been expelled?

Also – while there is now the right to education, are there enough facilities? Some schools don’t even have water for the kids to drink. There aren’t enough teachers and there are no classrooms, just broken down shacks. On the other hand, I hate to be the voice of doom. Something is definitely better than nothing and I am sure we will soon see each of these problems being tackled. The road ahead looks tough but I respect Kapil Sibal for every positive  step he’s taking. He has my vote, every single time.


74 thoughts on “Is just the right to education enough?

  1. It’s interesting you have this post today. Just yesterday, I was speaking to a lady who has been a teacher in one Private school in Delhi and she agreed that it was indeed difficult to get seats in Delhi schools. So I asked her the same question, what to children not so priviledged do? She said there are some govt. schools and the children probably go there.. But her final statement rang true.. “If a child wants to learn, he/she can learn in any school..!”

    So my point is, I think exams are in place to ensure that children do understand what is being taught. I know of children who came from very poor families but who are doing really good today because of the determination of the parents and the children to do well in life.. So if the girl failed, and the family collectively did not help her in identifying the problem, and she failed again..really whose probelm is it?

    I guess I have rambled on, just felt like sharing my thoughts.. 🙂

      • I have to disagree Shankari, with what the teacher said about “a child who wants to learn will learn anywhere.” As a journalist myself, I’ve done stories where I’ve been to schools and seen the teachers in government schools. In my opinion, and a lot of other educators’ opinion as well, it’s best not to learn at all than to learn wrong. I don’t mean they should be taught perfectly, but teaching wrong notions, incorrect facts, completely unacceptable ideas is the worst thing. And the attendance of the teachers there (i am not saying all, but many) is abysmal. In places like TN, most children go to school for the one full meal they get and it breaks my heart. They don’t go for the education.
        Also, in first generation school-goers, poor results are bound to happen. They don’t have educated parents who can guide them. They don’t have means to get extra lessons. The bright ones might manage but the not-so bright ones may just need some help to cope, just like the not-so bright ones from second-generation school goer homes. And as teachers and educators, who ideally should be dedicated to the cause, it IS their problem if a child from a lower strata of society, with parents who are uneducated hasn’t been able to cope.
        And here I am not thinking about households who need their children to help out with whatever tasks taht need to be done after their school time. Education, as far as I am concerned, is the responsibility of each one of us who cares.

        • @Restless Quill – I agree with you on the point that educators need to be decicated to their cause. After all a good teacher makes the most boring subject also a favourite among students. However, in the case that MM has pointed out, the father seems educated enough to read, in the video he reads out what is written in her progress report. They also seem quite assumptions from the video. So my theory is, rather than let the situation deteriorate till second failure, should the family not have checked in with the girl often..made sure she was on track with her studies. Or maybe she was never interested in studies at all, and is interested in arts and stuff. Which is also great.

          I agree I don’t have the full story with me and this is all theoretical, but what I feel is the parents as well as teachers play a very big role in a child’s development in school also. A teacher especially in India will not be able to concentrate on each and every child. So parents who are educated should take on some onus in teaching kids rather than just blame teachers.

          This will definitely give the teachers(who are inclined to teach) some time to concentrate on the lower strata students. Now, teachers that are just doing this as a job and nothing else.. I’m afraid what you said hold true 🙂

          I rest my case!

          • yes you’re right shankari. neither you nor we have the entire story. but with a certain section of the middle class or even the poorer class, the problem is that the parents dont know much themselves. even if they’re educated, they’re not sure how to deal with a problem, while we might turn to books, the internet, family or even a psychologist.
            my only problem here is that kids who fail, should not be thrown out of the system. the system has to be inclusive. if we’re working with special kids, blind kids, then why not kids who are unable to keep up? i just feel they shouldnt be given a cut off… 😦

            • not to seem nitpicky(is that even a word??) 🙂 while I agree that they should not be given a cut off.. what is the guarantee that they will perform? and by perform I don’t mean they have to excel..

              anyway, just wanted to throw this discussion here.. I don’t mean to tread on anyone’s toes 🙂

            • LOL! please be nitpicky. otherwise why would we blog?
              there is no guarantee.. but i think if at all, maybe the kids and parents should be allowed to decide when enough is enough. the school shouldnt say – okay – you’re not EVER going to get it, so get out.
              i’m open to other ideas …
              we’re the mango people. this is about us. so why shouldnt we talk about it?
              and babe, you’re not stepping on any toes. you should see some of the nasties who comment here – they may have a valuable point, but its lost in their vitriol!

          • If you are being case specific then okay; I perceived your comment on a more broad general canvas. Also I believe wrongly that in almost all families one parent or another, if they can, tend to assist in learning. I could be wrong. And like MM said, you aren’t stepping on any toes, as far as I am concerned. It just upsets me to see kids getting thrown out of school because they cannot pass. And as for your question, what is the guarantee they will perform, well, I think if a school is willing to throw a non-performing child out, then it should also be willing to provide remedial classes to really weak students. I know the burden on the teacher doubles. But let’s not go there, because, honestly, the minute we open up other issues, things just start seeming worse and worse. Whereas what I want is to feel optimistic about education.

            • not all parents can help. its only in a certain class that parents are educated enough to help. so these kids are pretty much on their own.
              and yes – why should there be a guarantee that kids will perform. all we should guarantee, is that they get the opportunities!

        • I have to disagree with one part of your comment. You mention that kids go for a meal rather than education. The point is that they get educated int he process. It is pathetic that the govt has to lure them with two meals a day to come to school. But better they go for food and get schooled before and after meals rather than spend that time in the quarry breaking bricks or in the mill working on yarn trying to earn for that same meal which they eventually get less off. Even a reluctant student can develop interest, but an absent student cannot.

          • exactly. which is my point, that they dont understand the value of an education. it doesnt matter. lets get them into the schools, any way we can. what matters is that we get them there and keep them there and educate them.

            • Its not the kids go to school for food. It is an incentive for the parents. In a lot of cases, the parents take their children t o work and deprive them of an education (however poor that might be) just because they want to be able to earn enough to feed their family two square meals a day. By offering food, the govt. is trying to lure the parents into giving their kids an education while feeding the children so as to prevent mal-nutrition.

              It is appalling that such steps taken by the govt. to reduce malnutrition in kids is highly marked by corruption at various steps of execution. The govt. is not perfect, but so aren’t the people who implement public policies. It is the poor children who bear the brunt of such misdeeds.

  2. You know its not only the right to education that makes the difference, it is the right to quality education that is important. As per surveys, every village in India has a school but very few are actually fully functional with teachers, classrooms etc. So when we at the Foundation started the Satya Bharti School Program, the management was very clear that we would do quality and not quantity. Initially we had set out on a mission of 1000 primary schools but then somewhere we realized that primary schools was not enough- where would the children go after CLass V? thats how the revised target of 500 primary and 50 senior secondary schools came about- today we are 236 schools , 30,000 children and more than 1200 teachers strong- now the focus is not on expanding rapidly but more on consolidating what we have and strengthening our program and making sure that every single classroom , every single child gets QUALITY education. I dont want to keep bragging about our program- you can read more about it here-

    and…to add…we dont have exams in our primary schools and we’ve just started our senior secondary till 6 this year. We do remedial classes for children who are weak…we ensure teachers do home visits to ensure students dont drop out of schools. we;ve even had staff from Gurgaon actually visit parents when teachers or state staff have not been able to convince parents to send their kids to school.
    long post…but thought u might be interested…
    but every time I visit a school, every time I interact with our kids, I am so so thrilled at the work being done by the Foundation and I am thankful I chose to work here…

  3. Oh MM,

    You rake up issues so close to my heart. U’ve hit the nail on the head- why this act when we know and have experienced many children of marginalised sections of society struggling to cope up. Schooling, education is about the envt too and being able to relate to it. Exceptions always prove the rule. Having said that, the RTE is in the right direction – any system when introduced is not perfect; must be perfectible. RTE is perfectible. I work in an organisation which focuses on skilling and we believe that education must also sensitize the importance of being skilled and giving livelihood and not just getting a degree. I mean, thats what our caste system was actually based on but somewhere along the way got corrupted.
    Its a rambling debate and could go on…but thanks for bringing it up.

    • totally. and i’ll disagree with you. this is not a debate – because i think we’re all on the same side. these kids all have a right to education. who would disagree with that? as for the problems? well, as i said, every system comes with problems and like anything new, even a scientific invention, we need to work on the model to perfect it.

    • I am sorry but I have to disagree a little here. I am not entirely for skill based, livelihood focused, vocational education. At least at the primary and secondary level. I would really be unhappy if education also became entirely market driven at the school level itself. It should not change according to the latest market demands right?

      Just a thought. Would love to hear another side to this argument.

      • oh no.. i agree with you. it should only be livelihood focussed well after a basic level like class 10. i understand that at a certain level the parents need their kids to pitch in and earn early. and kids abroad do it all the time – get a job after school. so why not? give them a good basic education. and then the option of something vocational. whats the use of all our BA pass unemployed youth? the other day i read about a BA pass guy who is a coolie at the railway station.

        • reading comments now after ranting away to glory. Bombay mein, rickshaw drivers are also BA pass. It’s good for dignity of labor but what do you do when you can find no other job. Paapi pet ka sawaal? Someone made a comment on quality of teachers. I listened horrified to tales of my 14 year old cousin while in Bbay earlier this year! Within 12 years of me being out of school, the system has degraded and HOW! We had our share of bad teachers, but none of them we felt were “dumb”. Now with the slew of lucrative call center jobs, who would want to settle for a teacher’s salary?

        • For one- education need not only be knowledge based ; it must be application based. For eg- if my son is introduced to carpentry in Class 3 or 4, it sensitises him to the imp of skill. Later on, after whichever is the right age ; give the child the envt to make the right choice. Also,we are talking of a large base of people who are pursuing a BA only to get a govt job but then riding a rickshaw! No- this country needs skilling as well and knowing the dignity of doing a good job; whatever level it is. For eg my cousin in US will always rant about how cool the firemen are there- can you imagine doing that?

          • Also – dignity of labour can be imparted only when as kids we are sensitised to it. Its the empathy that someone talks of in a later comment

            • Also think about a farmer’s kid who is so knowledgeable on how to cultivate crops having to learn statistics. Yes, if they want to, they should be able to. But, if we let them branch out and learn more about their specific needs we probably might be able to keep them in school longer.

  4. Too many expertises are speaking here i cannot argue,but right school for education is something of my own experience.
    My mom since being born as a girl was deprived of college education.So she put me n my sis in a costly school where kids come by car to school and throw big b’day parties @ home for classmates.When i was in class III, there was a inter class competition and my opponent was a rich girl,whole class supported her,but atlast i won,bcoz i did my job well and teachers were not partial.But still that rich atmosphere was daunting.
    Later i joined back in a school which would suit us middle class,and i got my professional education in college.
    So if you want to learn you can learn anywhere,provided the environment is conducive for learning,atleast good teachers,if not for infrastructure.
    (Sorry for the long rant)

  5. With RTE came a brilliant ray of hope. For a country like ours, any such program will take years to bear results, like the polio eradication drive. And these years provide us a wonderful opportunity to better the system and the model, as MM and manu of you have said.
    This time and opportunity should be used to go from litercay to education.There is a huge difference between education and literacy. When we in India talk about education for all, at the most basic level like the RTE, more often it is actually literacy that is being talked about. Though being literate is the first step towards quality education, but thats not sufficient. There are millions of literates around but how many of them are truly educated. Taking cue from 3 Idiots – the ‘well trained’ vs ‘well educated’ variety.

    Another very important aspect that needs to be looked at is providing good, quality, dedicated teachers. Tecahing has to be made a profession of choice and not a profession when you have no other choice. And this applies to not just primary education, but all the way upto the highest levels of degrees. Whether it be providing better salaries, better growth, exposure etc.
    Why do only large pvt institutes and big universities have international teachers’ exchange programs? Why not at primary education level? If not international, at least within the country. It will give our teachers the chance to strech beyond themselves, give them more excitement, they will see a “whats-in-it-for-me” in it. This is just one example of how we can ensure committment from our teachers. I dont know whether this is already being practiced somewhere or not. Faster promotions, better benefits, continuing education plans, assisted personal loans… I am sure there can be many more such ideas.

    I am very glad we have a project like RTE and I am sure each of us can contribute to it in our own ways to make it a success.

    • i think this is what bhavna meant. that education shouldnt just be about teaching them to write their names. it means making them capable of actually getting a job- earning a livelihood. a useful education.

      • I just read yesterday about a couple, Ph.D holders, who decided to shun away from the city life-style, move to a village, buy some land and live off the land. Very inspiring so far! Then, this couple have 2 kids and are faced with this question – should they enroll the kids in school or home school them (Aside: does such a thing even exist in India?), and *surprise* decide to home-school them, as they feel what is taught at school is not knowledge but information, that is useless. The elder one can speak 4 languages, quite proficient in physics and what not, the younger one is getting there. (You can read about them here:

        Of course, the parents being Ph.Ds could make that decision and make sure that the kids are not wasted either, which not every parent can do. But that said, it brings up an important and a bigger question – who decides what useful education is. Is it developing skills to get a job / earn a livelihood or is it gaining knowledge to live life in your own terms? I wonder…

  6. So glad you wrote about this. It is worse for a child’s mind to know that they were thrown out of school, than to never have known school, I think. This is a very positive step taken by the government – one of the most important, I like to think.. though at the moment, it seems a little theoretical. Somehow, I have faith that they’ll work on making this real.

    But having said that – I fear that this will, in some twisted way, pave way for reservations etc based on NON-ECONOMIC parameters. It’s doubly tricky since it’s the same party that has pushed both concepts. Hope that doesn’t happen.

  7. MM,
    This issue has been close to my heart and I was talking yesterday to my mom about it. I think the underprivileged face the same wrath all over the world. Here in the US, my child goes to a public school where kids come from all classes of the society. We live in the suburbs of Detroit, which is frowned upon by the suburbia around it. The schools in Detroit are closing and parents are forced to travel to the suburbs for their kids education. I heard from one of my Indian friends, that once she has a kid she will not put her child in the public schools as the public schools are getting filled with ‘black ‘kids. I thought education made us look across these differences. If we don’t give these kids a chance, how will they be self sufficient when they grow up? I personally think a support system is what is required. The kids coming in Audis might have a tutor for each subject at home which the underprivileged kids lack. I have worked with a project in Calcutta slums in the past where they give these girls, a free meal, an opportunity to learn crafts, lessons in music and dance and scholarships if needed for higher education. Also they look after the homework and studies.The only condition is that these kids stay in schools. Sorry for the long comment.

    • funny – but this is the nth time i have heard this. someone else was told not to put her kids in a certain school because it had many ‘black’ kids and her kid will start speaking like them and behaving like them. i’m sorry, but i fail to see what is so worthy of emulation about white kids.

      • The most interesting thing is- Since this person is of an Indian descent-I am worried that her kids will be bullied more in a predominantly white environment.Here the division by color seems to overrule the rich-poor division.

          • I think school selection in the US sometimes looks like it is based on the race of the kids attending a school. But that is only an indirect correlation. I know most Indian parents in the US want to send kids to schools that have good scores (schools are scored based on standardized tests that kids take every year) because schools with high scores are believed to be the good schools. And there is publicly available racial data about what each race’s score is. It so happens that a school with high percentage of Asians has a higher score while schools with higher percentage of other races don’t have good scores. This is true by and large. I think the fact that an Indian parent wants to choose a school with a high score seems to be correlated with the fact that such a school has a majority of Asians but that is somewhat an indirect correlation and cannot be used to say that Indian parents prefer Asians or don’t prefer other races. I think I can draw a direct analogy and ask why parents in India don’t want to send their kids to government schools. The answer would be that the govt. schools are not good and the answer is not that the parents don’t like the kind of kids who attend a govt. school. But I do agree that sometimes this indirect correlation is wrongly cited as the main reason to choose or not choose a school. 😦

            • i agree with everything you said.. but at least in the case of my friend, she was clearly told – ‘dont put your kid there otherwise she’ll begin to talk and behave like ‘black kids'” WTf?

  8. I know everybody is debating on more serious causes. I want to comment on girls being more discriminating than boys which really caught my attention.

    That is so true. While I am all for feminism, I always worry about this trend. I hear from parents of high school children that girls are really really mean and all they want to be is popular in school. Boys just seem to mind their own business and not care about anything. When I was going to college in India, I remember that usually if there was a lot of eveteasing( I am sure it is still there). But here, it seems that girls are the worst bullies in school.

    • hardly a less significant issue. but i also notice that boys bully the weaker ones, pick on the smaller boys.
      however girls can be mean in an insidious way… and i dont think i’m above it. i just believe that in a gang, women can also get that sort of scary gang mentality.

  9. Time to delurk..i voted for your at A…something awards.[I’m forgettin the name, sorry] n then went back to hibernation…but feel like commenting on this post. Hope u don’t mind ppl who comment on n off .

    You say that education is the root cause of all the problems that India faces. I kinda agree, tho I feel corruption is a bigger cause. But one Q that this post and all the comments brings to my mind is What is education. Is it having a degree? Being a graduate? Having gone to school? Knowing to read n write English? I mean what exactly is it that we want for all the children?

    Does the current education system take care of teaching children life skills?

    Mind you, I have always been part of the group of people that believe that education is every child’s right and the one thing that EVERY parent owes their child is education. Nothing else.

    But now..I’m confused as to what exactly education is. And also am trying to play devil’s advocate.

    To explain what kinda school I went to….I scored 76% in class X and was one of the girls who had gotten the lowest percentage in school. While growing up, a family friend’s brother was asked to leave my school ‘coz he had failed twice. He then joint a smaller school where it was okay to just pass. He did not do his B.E. he just did a diploma after class X for the sake of it. And today is a very successful computer engineer. Employed by a big company. N is travelling many places in this world on work.

    For this guy..was it education that was the most important thing? What happens to children who don’t like to read, retain the stuff, write exams and pass them? What happens to children who dislike writing, who dislike math? What happens to children who are interested in arts?

    We all do agree that we don’t need all that we learn in school to be able to do our jobs right? How does one get past the initial years and succeed at or for that matter be even able to do what we have aptitude for , if we are the kind who couldn’t retain book knowledge and pass exams?

    N then..What if my school gives me endless chances in spite of me failing every year, just coz I can afford to pay their tuition fees? Am I not taking up the space meant for another child (rich or poor), who has the interest and aptitude for that kinda stuff?

    I don’t have an answer to these questions. But I think these are things to ponder over. There is no easy solution, but we’ll get there someday?

    Ps: sorry for the longish comment.

    • not at all !! Its lovely to have people who comment regularly. i get the pleasure and privilege of getting to know them through their comments. but once-in-a-whilers are more than welcome too!

  10. MM,
    This post has touched many sensitive issues. It reminds me of a classmate who was not allowed to sit for the class X board exams because the school principal thought that he won’t be able to pass the exams and will consequently bring down the reputation of the school!! I could not believe when I came to know that. He was definitely among the slow-learners and had a speech problem but everybody could see that he was trying hard to learn. I don’t know what happened to him afterwards and how he is doing now. But how cruel it is to admit a child in the school and then not give him the admit card for the exams!! I still can’t gauge what is worse: to not admit such a child/throw him out of the school or not let him show his ability and mar whatever self-confidence is in there. Somehow this incident left a very bad impression of the whole schooling system in my mind.

    • when i was in school, an inordinately large number of kids would flunk in class 9. later on we realised that they failed any kids they thought might flunk the boards and spoil the school’s reputation. this is a very common thing in schools. sickening.

      • It IS very common. And it makes me fume. Shouldn’t schools be set up to help each child do the best s/he can whether its 40% or 99%?

        Every annual day when I see the prizewinners and medallists on stage, I think the schools should also have prizes for students who climbed up from a bottom position like a grade E to even a grade C. Just catering to the achievers is not right.

        • It was such a common practice – to maintain the pristine 100% pass-rate for the board exams. Didn’t think of it too much as a kid, but makes me sick now. And mind you, the school I went was a private school for middle-class kids – it would have been very easy for the school / teachers to spend some extra time on these kids to make them score the required 40%, not very difficult. And so would it be for the parents, to put in some extra effort to make sure their children learn. As Shankari said above, wonder whose responsibility it was, in my school’s case at least.

        • My school used to award the most improved student in each class. However that was a prize looked down upon; students squirmed in humiliation when they had to go up on stage to collect that prize. Only later in life did I realize that was the prize I should have always aimed for.

        • I second your thoughts. Students who have shown even a little bit of progress would be so much motivated to do better if they are also lauded. But, alas, it’s not the norm.

  11. So…in the US or maybe it’s just our state, we have this “no child left behind” policy. Basically, they don’t want to fail kids that are not too bright and they hold teachers as accountable as the child for someone being left behind. The result is that if a student fails, the teacher is penalized too (paycuts or some such). While it’s noble to allow every child an equal opportunity, a lot of parents who have bright children (this applies mostly to elementary school level…) complain that their kids are getting a raw deal. Teachers will often come into class and notice that the bright students already know their tables for example and they will focus all their attention to those kids that don’t get the concept. So a lot of extra attention for not so bright kids, while the bright kids are left to their own devices or end up thoroughly bored and unchallenged at school. So while they won’t fail kids, the kids that deserve good quality education are “left behind” compared to their contemporaries in private schools.
    And this child might make it through school by not being left behind, but there’s no guarantee that college will be in the future or if they will even make it through college. At Uni level, you don’t perform, you get the F. So how much of an education are you really getting by not being held back?

    lamba sa comment…kindly excuse!

    • no no . food for thought this…
      i know the brat’s problem in class is boredom. he picks up fast and then gets bored. so what is the solution? i think its the two teachers per class one. one teacher works with the slower kids and the other keeps the brighter ones engaged.
      i know its an ideal situation. most schools cant afford two teachers per class.. but i really cant think of anything else. any ideas?

      i dont have a prob with kids being held back. i have a problem with kids being thrown out if they flunk twice, or then benig failed in class 9 so that they dont ruin the board result with their poor marks.

  12. Also got me thinking…how much of an education do you really get from the books you read. It’s that whole nature/nurture argument. Yes, you need to learn to read and write. But a child who just does not understand simple English prose or simple Mathematics, how is making them mug passages and “guide” book answers going to make things any better? I think there are several things off at several levels. The emphasis on learning in school should be on concepts and values. I remember when I went to a Calculus class in the US, that was the first time I was hearing “derivatives describe the rates of change in a variable” OKAY – why did my class XII teacher not tell me that? She just made me learn formulae and how to solve problems. She didn’t make me think or tell me why!

    • that i think is a problem with the old schools. i believe kids these days are being taught better. well, at least in some of the newer schools… but there are still miles to go before we sleep!

      • MM, on our recent trip to my s-i-l village, my niece who attends a ‘convent’ school shocked me…she was in II std at age 6, and had beautiful hadnwriting, scores top marks, does 3 hours of homework everyday and yet when I read out Brahma’s Butterfly to her, she asked me to translate every simple English sentence for her.

  13. Interesting post..There is something called community colleges in the US which help students who are not comfortable and successful in the traditional schooling and college education to get a very good vocational education. It works pretty well most of the time. My bigger problem is as you said the holding back or expelling of students because they didn’t do well. My aunt started a sort of tuition class for all the kids in her community who have parents who are illiterate and or unable to focus on their education. Most of the kids love to learn and if taught in a way that they understand and comprehend do really well. When we can have Mahila sangams and kitty parties and extravagant celebrations for children who don’t care most of the time, how difficult would it be to organize a group of women to maybe teach their own maids children. The son of the person who works at my home was often ostracized at school..a convent school by the teachers and students alike for being a maid’s kid, for having suspicious paternal background. Teachers used to call him bastard and pass comments on his mother. IT broke the kids spirit. The girl cried to my mother. My mom and dad met with the principal and threatened action on the school if the teacher in question was not corrected. They paid for the boy’s education and now coach him before his exams. Teacher’s education should be dealt with too. Where is the point in the kid wanting to learn, having the capacity to learn when the teacher is more interested in the latest gossip in the staff room. I admire Kapil Sibal for his guts in taking on the system though. Hats off to him.

    • 🙂 that is maria montessori’s theory right.. that kids have a hunger for learning. we just need to harness it. and at best, try not to kill it!

      and good Lord – i am horrified at this whole abuse of the little boy. i dont know what to say. funny though – why so much emphasis on the father. we all know who gave birth to us.. why is it so important to and so socially unacceptable to not have/know your father? strange are the ways of the world and yet, how can we comment when we’re part of it and doing nothing to change it?

      its part of the reason why i insist on my kids having my surname too. what the hell is so great about their father’s name that they must have it? arent i the one that gave birth to them? isnt that so much more important than the father that most ‘bastards’ are chastised for?

  14. While one cannot rely on the government alone to provide quality education, and well-meaning private enterprises and other initiatives should be welcomed, there is no way that the government can wash off the bulk of the responsibility of providing education to all in our country.

    The right to education has come after years of intense lobbying by child rights activists and educationists. Had we just derided the government education system, and looked towards the private sector to come in & set up schools, the government would have been only too happy to abdicate. That would have just meant more and more children out of school.

    Eighty five percent of schools in India are run by the government, the second largest education system in the world after China. That’s humongous.

    So, it’s great that CSR is doing its bit to get children into schools. But it’s absolutely imperative that government schools be made functional. I think I had said this before: our defence system works. Surely if the government has the will government schools will also work.

    And there are good government school teachers also. My brother-in-law is one. He is an artist who has held exhibitions (his father is also an artist), and teaches art to children in a government school. Often he has to teach 100 children at a time. His school is slightly outside of Delhi. There are several other problems he has to face almost daily. Yet, there are students who take the subject seriously and put in their best. That is satisfying.

    • Yes, i do know about your BIL and I think its awesome. I often tell the OA that its a pity the best teachers are only at private schools, and yet, what is one to do if they want to do what theyre passionate about and yet earn some money? why should it be a choice?

  15. Hi MM,
    The RTE is just a formal step (a big one, I agree). Education and learning mean different things to different people. So, for somebody who’s not that affluent / just manages to scrape by, learning the alphabet would be an education. For somebody in the same age group who’s been brought up in ‘comfortable’ surroundings, the basics would mean something different.

    So, imparting education also means taking into account various other factors that shape a child’s mind and then taking a call on how much can be absorbed and understood.

    And while we are stressing on learning the Rs, the focus should also be on values and developing a sense of empathy in children….these would be the bridge between the have-nots and the rest of the world, when the kids start understanding that not all kids are alike. A little bit of effort from those who can help (such as yourself trying to teach other underprivileged kids)will create a far-reaching and lasting impact, I feel.

    • i agree. what is education for me is not education for you. which is why i agreed with the vocational sort of training comment up there. theres no point giving someone at that level an MA in something and leaving them ill-equipped to support their families.

  16. I am sad to hear about the experience at your school because to my understanding, the whole point of convent schools is to make education available to those it is not readily available to. My school, for example, is suffering badly because the government subsidy has been cut meaning they can pay teachers only 3000 a month but they still refuse to go the private route and hike fees because they feel that that would defeat their original mission. The result is that the quality of teachers has declined and most wealthy students don’t go there anymore.

    But when I was in school we still had a great mix of students from all backgrounds and that mix enriched all of us. Yes, maybe students of a certain economic class tended to band together but there was loads of crossovers with kids from very different economic and social backgrounds becoming fast friends. In fact, the experience in my school has made me very anti-international schools (I live in HK and most expats send their kids to such schools because of language of education). The thing is that fees in international schools are expensive and so only students of a certain economic class can afford it so the kids have a very one-sided view of life. I remember whenever we went on picnics, there would be a fund for kids who could not afford to pay and the whole thing was done very quietly so we never knew exactly who needed the subsidy.

    Also, I was one of those who was always topping the class and so the teachers were forever uprooting me from my chosen desk partners and making me sit with kids who were weaker at studies. I used to find this very annoying but I ended up forging a bond with whoever I sat next to and it gave me an insight into just how difficult some kids found the stuff I found so simple. These experiences – going to school with kids who were so poor they’d come to school early to use the not-so-pleasant toilets and sitting next to the weaker kids – are some of the big things I take out of school and I’d want my kids (when I have them) to have that experience. Being with kids of all backgrounds benefits everyone.

    Basically, what I’m saying is it’s a great idea to mix kids of different backgrounds and its the school’s responsibility to make sure the weaker ones survive. I’ve learned that my school now has a teatime programme where teachers volunteer to give free coaching to kids who can’t afford tuitions, and they give them a nice tea before that class starts.

      • Haha… despite that I hated school. But that’s because I found the curriculum boring and a waste of time and the emphasis on discipline like having socks of a certain length a drudge. And the school did have its flaws – they did the whole failing kids in std 9 thing, but the kids who failed were of all backgrounds. However, I never heard of anyone been asked to leave because they failed.

  17. Read this –

    The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, which came into force from April 1, has a clause which makes it clear that no student between the ages of 6-14 can be expelled or held back in any class.

    Some positive steps are being taken which give us hope that we can all look forward to a brighter future.

  18. One thing that might work is to get rid of the term ‘failure’ from elementary school. It’s difficult to handle it as an adult what to say of the lil ones who are still trying to understand the world around them.

    If a kid is allowed to stay where she is, until she gets it right to move up, she cud be saved from the stigma attached with failure. Such a kid could also use some extra help at school(after school hours specially designed for them, etc).
    I would think in a country like ours, it would make sense to exempt the tuition for the kid who doesn’t clear the exam the first time(or some not so well off parents are prone to take their kids out of school in the 1st failure).This would also put a lil financial burden on the teachers/school to help these kids move up.

    In an ideal world this should work.

    However, on a different note, ‘No child left behind’ policy in the US has actually resulted in loss of authenticity/honesty in some schools where teachers have passed every kid(or worse yet, aided students in cheating) to save themselves. So if the entire responsibility of a child’s education is put on teachers/school, we really can’t hope for better results.

    I recently got to know of a program in the US where the government pays for after school tuitions for at-risk kids(kids who are from economically challenged backgrounds who need help in school). The responsibility of ‘asking for help’ through this program still lies on the parents. They need to contact the school to ask for extra ‘free-help’ for their kids and the school then makes these highly skilled tutors available to the kids.

    So a combined responsibility of the parents, school and the government to better a child’s future would be the best answer.

    Sorry for hogging ur space..u got me started.

    • ooh. thats another side to it. i guess the US has already done everything we’re trying out now. so the idea is to look at what they got wrong and then see how we can fix that loophole.

  19. Kids repeating a year in school went through hell. They got treated badly across the board and not to be a traitor to my gender but girls can be meaner than most people would like to think. Kids can be cruel, petty and plain mean. But what always pissed me off were the teachers and horribly they behaved with these kids. In my school the teachers treated these kids differently and never failed to bring attention to the fact that this was their second year in the same class. I wonder how deep the scars run for these kids? Their self esteem must take a beating, no one wants to be friends with you, the teachers always pointed out that this time you better clear your exams and not let your parents down. It broke my heart to see the treatement meted out to them!

  20. Pingback: Indian Education – No Merit « Indu Press

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