Hope in an unequal world

“If we want to reach real peace in this world, we should start educating children.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar from a traditionally ‘outcaste’ community rose through the power of education to become the principal drafter of India’s Constitution. He understood first-hand the transformational magic of education that could change lives of individuals and nations. It is no wonder that embedded deep in the Indian Constitution lies the idea that every child aged 6 – 14 years has the right to free and compulsory education.

However, was that vision achieved? Is access to quality education still not a distant dream for the children of the not so well-off strata of our country? The Union government was reminded to reinforce that commitment from a mere aspiration to a legal one through the Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009, which still didn’t accelerate the process significantly.

The project is no doubt huge. India is the second most populous country in the world after China. With a staggering 370 million people below the poverty line according to a 2019 UN report. For years the government has been setting up free schools across the country in hope of providing education to all the children of our country. However, this thought hasn’t taken the shape that the makers of the constitution would have wanted. Even now, after more than 60 years of independence, these schools are still nowhere close to the category that would be picked by parents for their children. Poor infrastructure, lack of facilities in addition to the casual attitude of the government teachers has branded these schools as ones for the poor and the marginalized.

According to the U-DISE report 2019-20, around 6500 government schools did not have a proper building, 35 buildings were dilapidated and not safe for use and over 4400 schools were still under construction. This report also stated that at least 30000 schools did not have drinking water facilities in the school premises and that 77% of them did not have a functional electricity connection. The gap between private and government schools’ students’ learning ability has widened with time and that almost 29 per cent of rural students choose to pay money to private schools to get their children educated. They are even willing to pay for the private tuition of their children. This has time and again reiterated the fact that government schools are the worst performing, pan India.

Over years, committed individuals and the state governments have tried relentlessly to improve the quality of these schools and to bring about an enduring change in the system, the overall objective being, providing a positive learning environment and enhancing the level of student achievement. The NEP 2020 has been designed to provide a comprehensive framework for elementary education to higher education, as well as vocational training in both rural and urban India. The latest Annual State of Education Report (ASER) released by PRATHAM (a Delhi-based non-profit organization (PRATHAM), which has been surveying 15,998 government schools across 596 districts of the country to gauge the status of elementary education since 2005), on January 15 this year, shows improvement (though not uniform across the country), in infrastructure like playgrounds, drinking water facility, toilets, pupil-teacher ratio as well as serving of mid-day meal. The proportion of schools that comply with RTE pupil to teacher ratio norms has also seen a steady increase from 38.9 per cent in 2010 to 45.3 per cent in 2013.

To add to this, recently, the Delhi state government signed a MoU with the International Baccalaureate Board popularly known as IB to bring in the IB curriculum in the Delhi government schools. The IB methodology is of the highest international standards. It is an enormous opportunity for the children of the economically weaker sections of the society. They will receive the expanse of education which only the children of the richest receive. As part of this pact, the teachers of these schools will also be trained by international experts, giving them the requisite exposure they need to impart the curriculum. Under the leadership and aid of the IB board, the schools will be inspected, verified, and certified, to evaluate and decide how they can be improved. IB development workshops will provide the opportunity for these teachers to engage in rich learning experiences, and help make the school reach the highest quality. This development is expected to be the hope for these children, for the chance to create a good life for themselves and for their future generations. A change for the better. A hope in this unequal world!