Thursday, 9 July 2020

Uplifting Elementary Schools

Updated: October 9, 2010 10:35 am

Some 530+ Navodaya Vidyalays (NV’s) represent one of the finest outcomes of the National Policy on Education ‘NPE-1986’. Essentially, the credit for this policy and the subsequent establishment of these residential schools, meant for talented rural children, goes to Rajiv Gandhi. PV Narsimha Rao, the then minister for human resource development worked on it with great commitment and loyalty. It is indeed encouraging that 31 more Navodaya schools are to be opened, paving the way for nurturance of talented children coming from economically weaker sections of the society most of whom would otherwise may not be in a position to continue their schooling beyond a few years. Often, teachers and educationists have visualised how India’s cognitive capital could rise many fold if all the children could get facilities on par, or somewhere near those made available to children fortunate enough to make a grade to NV’s! Could this dream ever come true?

                Sonia Gandhi has recently articulated her views on these schools: she would like every school to function and perform at the level of the NV’s. It is a great opportunity for the MHRD to strive seriously to put the existing schools on the path to move ahead towards attaining the levels of Navodaya Schools.

                One must immediately concede that the central and state governments just can’t put the much resources in one go in a project of such a huge scale. However, governments, both at the centre and in the states, can give the long overdue priority to improve schools in rural, tribal and urban slums through non-routine and imaginative ways. The plus point for the MHRD is the respect and regard that Mrs Gandhi enjoys in the present set-up and the fact that the concern expressed on schools is genuine and reflects what most of the people would like happen in school education.

                Why have these schools not improved over the last six decades? Generally, people do understand it, the answer to this query. It is the erosion of values in governance and in public life that have impacted every aspect of human activity and education is no exception. Most comprehensively, it was visualised by Mahatma Gandhi far ahead of India’s Independence. One may like to recall a letter Gandhiji wrote on January 24, 1922:

                “We should remember that immediately on the attainment of freedom, our people are not going to secure happiness. As we become Independent, all the defects of the system of elections, injustice, the tyranny of the richer classes as also the burden of running administration are bound to come upon us. People would begin to feel that during those days, there was more justice, there was better administration, there was peace, and there was honesty to a great extent among the administrators compared to the days after Independence. The only benefit of Independence, however, would be that we would get rid of slavery and the blot of insult resulting therefrom.”

                “But there is hope, if education spreads throughout the country. From that people would develop from their childhood qualities of pure conduct, God fearing, love, Swaraj would give us happiness only when we attain success in the task. Otherwise India would become the abode for grave injustice and tyranny of the rulers.”

                How prophetic and how relevant are his apprehensions even at this juncture of history! One clearly visualises the close link between the position as it exists in schools today and from that infers why three-forth of the children in schools get poor quality education and practically no skill orientation and acquaintance. This was not the education that Mahatma Gandhi had in mind when he pinned all his hopes on education in free India. These facts must be accepted by all, beyond their political affiliations and ideological constraints. NV’s are an attempt to fulfill several of these gaps. There are certain other positive features as well.

                The first aspect that the government must tackle on priority basis is to improve the existing schools is to boldly correct the “15-paise transfer syndrome” which was very honestly articulated by Rajiv Gandhi. Let the present government declare with same honesty and sincerity that it would bring it to 50 paise within one year. Once this is achieved successfully, only then the next target would be set. Obviously this cannot be achieved by issuance of circulars or orders. However, there are ways and means to achieve it, say, begin on selective basis at the district level. A young district magistrate, who enjoys a reputation for honesty, sincerity and commitment could certainly redress the general grievances of the teachers within two-three months, could streamline purchase procedures and ensure regularity and punctuality without any financial resources being sought from anywhere. He/she can certainly ensure that no money exchange takes place in transfers and postings of teachers. A strategy on this count can be worked out locally and implemented vigorously.

                The other major initiative that can make the difference would be a vigorous drive to associate and involve the resourceful and socially-conscious citizens to come forward and adopt a school or a couple of schools, if the DM requests someone who can afford to get a certain number of footballs and distribute these in schools. I am confident he would get an unprecedented response. People would agree to provide additional teaching learning, materials, sports goods, arrange for remedial coaching, once they get associated and begin to derive the sense of satisfaction in being a part of a pious and nation-building cause.

                Entrepreneurs and industrialists have established schools in their native villages; they have generally taken no interest in improving schools in their own ancestral places. Many of them would be willing to help government schools, once they are satisfied that these schools are functioning without the ever-looming shadows of corruption, rigidity, lethargy and political interference. Everyone is apprehensive of procedures and delays in government schools.

                It is the corruption, insincerity, neglect and isolation from the people that has resulted in deterioration of the government school system in India. Just a couple of decades ago, these enjoyed excellent reputation amongst people, even if there was visible lack of financial and academic resources. Most of it was covered under the sincerity and commitment of the teachers. We have lost this over the decades. People have become totally dependent on governments. Think of a village school that has close links with everyone in the community. The head-teacher there enjoys total regard and respect from all. He has the authority to put a child in a residential mode in the same school or somewhere else once he is convinced that otherwise, this child will not have future in further education. This person will have a list of those willing to sponsor fully education of one or a couple of children from their own resources.

                Another scenario: Suppose a well-known public school in Delhi that is known to charge huge fees from every parent comes forward with an idea that parents of these children shall also sponsor at least one child, if not more, from a government school! One could be confident that it would work and work wonderfully well. May be such initiatives would restore the school community mutuality once again to the levels when it was the hall-mark of the Indian education system.

                Now that articulation has come from the right quarters, MHRD, hopefully, would come forward with a pragmatic plan of action that would change the face of Indian education.

By JS Rajput

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