By Vrinda Singh:
A few days back, while having a conversation with my housecleaning lady, I came to see the reality of the abysmal state of education that poor people in the country receive in the name of ‘free and compulsory education’.
The frail old woman named Rajpati lives with her family in a village in Haryana. She talked about her two sons. The elder one is a carpenter and the younger 13-year-old son helps his brother with his work. On being asked why she was not sending the young boy to school, she replied that it is a waste of time to send children to the government school. “Na teacher parhaate hain, na bacche parhte hain (neither do the teachers teach nor do the children study),” were her exact words. She pointed out further that she doesn’t have money to send her son to a private school which apparently provides better (or, at least, some) education.
While listening to her, another incident came to my mind when an old helper at my grandmother’s house had approached us for help. He wanted us to take one boy from his village and get him admitted to a city school. He offered that in return the boy could do small chores at our house. The said boy, Rajinder, was a 12-year-old and had been ‘sincerely’ studying in the village government school since childhood. Ironically, when we asked the boy to read his own name, he couldn’t. His parents probably realised that the village school wasn’t helping in the education of their child but due to lack of money they couldn’t educate their child in a better school.
No doubt there are many others like Rajpati and Rajinder who desire a good education but are not able to attain it. Problems regarding the quality of education that arise in the way of educating poor people are extremely worrisome in the presence of ‘right to education’ enshrined as a Fundamental Right in the Constitution of India. Article 21A of the Constitution provides that “the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years.” Further, the Right to Education Act, 2009 imposes a duty on the government to establish schools (Section 6) and provide free and compulsory elementary education to every child (Section 8). One of the duties of the government, as established under Section 8(g) of the Act, is to “ensure good quality elementary education”.
Clearly, as per the above guidelines, there are schools in every village, trained teachers maybe, and children are enrolled. But, what remains to be seen is whether there is any ‘education’ at all or is it just a facade. A common situation of the government schools as shown by Rajinder’s case includes dilapidated classrooms and uninterested teachers. The efficacy of the education system in place for the poor can be determined by the mere fact that the recipients themselves are unwilling to avail the service.
A 2011 UNESCO report reveals that more than 16 million young adolescents of lower secondary school age were not enrolled in school in India. For those who were enrolled, 90% of children from poorer households remain illiterate even after completing four years of school. The problem is worse for illiterate parents who find it difficult to question the education provided in such schools.
In such a scenario it will not be wrong to say that our institutions claiming to provide ‘free and compulsory education’ are far away from the goal. The indigent people of the country are desirous of an efficacious system, where schooling is not limited to just giving examinations and attaining a 12th pass certificate but rather a wholesome and challenging learning environment. In the absence of the state providing such satisfactory education and without adequate funds to afford private education, such people at the receiving end like Rajinder and Rajpati remain helpless.