John Fitzgerald Kennedy once procalimed, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and the best hope for its future”. These words hold their ground even today. But the alarming rate of student sucides in the recent past sends shivers down one’s spine. Believe it or not, in 2006, the most recent year for which official figures are available, some 5,857 students or 16 a day killed themselves due to exam stress (globally). In turbulent times likes these, the Right to Education Act [RTE], that came into effect on April 1, 2010 is seen as a major breakthrough. (read YKA reporters’ perspective here and here)
The Act aims to address the impending problem of illiteracy that our country is still fighting against even after 60 years of independence. The major goals of the Act are as follows:
The RTE clause also states that no student can be held back up to Class VIII. All states have pledged their wholehearted support to this Act, including the state of Maharashtra. Many a schools in Mumbai declared their results in the month of April but still there have been complaints from parents stating that despite of the Act being effective from April 1, 2010, their children had not been promoted to the next standard. A cruel proof to this are the flashing headlines of students hanging themselves to death every other day.
Divya Salunki, a class VIII students of Dadar Parsi Youths Assembly School hanged herself to death in her house at Wadala after having failed in the subject of Social Science by 4 marks. After failing to clear his class VII examinations for the second time, Shamz Merchant, a student of The Janki Devi High School at Versova also hanged himself to death at his residence in Jogeshwari.
Even after the implementation of this Act, young minds are still giving up on their lives. This clearly indicates that something much more needs to be done in order to curb this epidemic. Two major influences on the minds of young ones are their parents and teachers. The RTE Act does provide for a very student-friendly atmosphere but what about the teachers? The former is hard to achieve in absence of the latter. The teaching vocation has tumbled down miserably in the last few years. Some reasons for this are the lower wages handed out to teachers, the worsening student-teacher ratio [now standing at 100:1] and a loss of dignity suffered by the teaching community. Teaching as a profession is not considered attractive anymore and this is the reason as to why the talent pool opting for teaching is becoming lesser with each passing day. The teaching community has to be given adequate incentives like any other profession is given. Burdening teachers with unnecessary political work and ignoring their requests is going to have a devastating effect on the students.
Apart from this, one observes that though this Act exists legally on paper, Herculean efforts have to be taken in the direction of well-being of the students. As baffling as it may sound, on May 1, one student allegedly commited sucide in Malad [W] even after having scored good marks, just because he was unhappy with his performance. This scenario only points out towards taking vital steps in order to look after the mental well-being of children. For major acts like these to be successful tiny, incremental changes have to be made on that part of parents, teachers and the school itself. A friendly, encouraging atmosphere for students to flourish under, is the need of the hour. They must be given wholehearted support in extra-curricular activities that they ace in [be it singing, dancing, painting or sports] and marks should not be the sole instruments upon which they are judged. Teachers would have to essay dual roles-one being that of a teacher and another being that of a counselor to make sure that these young minds do not run astray. Providing them with essential training programmes in the same will prove to a good investment in the long run.
Quoting Annie Sullivan-“Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.” The RTE Act is one step forward in the direction of betterment of litteracy in the country. But one must remember that much more needs to be done so that this Act proves to be a geat success. Students, irrespective of their age, class or caste need to be treated with kindness and understanding so that they can bloom into prolific and responsible citizen of our country.