Ten years ago, Pramod Rajesh was taking odd jobs all over Delhi to pay for his sustenance, while ensuring he can get his sons educated. Today, his elder son is a student in an engineering college and a new light of hope glimmers over his family. He may have left his village in Bihar and moved to Delhi for a better life for himself, but he chose the simple route of educating his family and now he knows that his children have a much better chance at securing their future then he did.
“Humko padhne ka mauka hi nahi mila. Agar main apne ladke ko vidya de sakta hu, toh usse badi cheez main aur kuch nahi kar sakta (I didn’t get the opportunity to study. If I can make sure my son gets to study, then I cannot do anything greater than that),” said Pramod.
This shows that the importance of education cannot be understated. It is said to be the foundation of our society, and that just relays one thing. If education is as important to modern society as we have been told then, how is it alright for millions of people to be uneducated or poorly educated?
Lack of adequate teachers coupled with complete disregard towards the educational outcomes of our students have led to a significant decline in their literacy and numeracy skills. On top of that, one-third of India’s primary schools lack proper infrastructure and one-tenth lack basic materials such as blackboards. Failure to properly implement the Right to Education Act has resulted in continued deterioration of the Indian public education system.
Looking at the holistic picture in India, ever since the inception of the country in 1947, fears have always prevailed that the workforce and the electorate are uneducated. Now in 2018, as the country looks to break into the ‘superpower’ tiers in world politics, those fears haven’t been allayed. India is making a push to be the major influencer in world politics, and the only other country apart from China to represent Asia. However, we have a largely uneducated populous backing these efforts up.
Students are highly disillusioned with the public education system in India, even as 65% of them get their education from public institutions. On the other hand, other countries in the world see a much higher rate of students in the public education sphere. In the UK 93%, in USA 92%, in Finland 98% and in Sri Lanka 97% of the children are enrolled in public schools. When private education was supposed to be a system for the elite to ensure that their children stay in privilege, now it has become imperative for Indians to study in a private institution to ensure that their education is of quality.
Even though this discussion has been plaguing the general public for a while, the talk never seems to be translating into the walk. However, it does look like things are changing, as some quantifiable action is being taken.
Currently, there seems to be a renewed focus on public education in India, especially in Delhi. The State Government and the Municipal Corporations of Delhi have shown active interest in engaging with the education crisis in the capital. They have identified gaps that exist within the system and welcomed non-profit organisations and other educational institutions to engage with the problem and work together to solve them. These organisations have also taken up this opportunity and have done some incredible work inside the schools and across the larger system. One such organisation is Simple Education Foundation (SEF) who have partnered with the South Delhi Municipal Corporation to enhance the quality of education in a few schools in Delhi.
One of the schools run by SEF is in Bhim Nagri, Hauz Khas in South Delhi and what happens there is truly inspiring. The government-appointed teachers work with the SEF staff to implement advanced pedagogical practices and routines that create a holistic learning environment in the school, something that you rarely see inside our government schools today. The teachers teach with passion and facilitate spaces that are truly effective and enabling. Students are interested and actively engaged inside the classrooms, students who have joined the school in this academic year are excited to come to school.
Chandni Chopra, the School Leader of SEF has a very simple goal in mind with the organisation. “With SEF, we want to achieve excellence in education. Being good isn’t enough anymore, and we want to work with the government and other bodies to make education very good. We want to experiment with alternative teaching styles so that the kids can learn easily and we want to devise ways and methods to create equality within education and the quality that everyone receives.”
Apart from that, there is a student learning centre set up in Gular village in district Tehri Garhwal in Uttarakhand, in an attempt to spread quality education into rural spaces. After speaking to a teacher teaching in Gular, one will realise how important a project like this is to the community there. Most of the people that send their children for education in a school like this are farmers and daily wage labourers who think their children will do the same thing as them.
Watching their children and their personalities grow has given them hope for the future, that their child will do something greater than they ever got the opportunity to even dream about. The community has formed strong bonds with the teachers and now the students have believable role models around them.
Prerna Kalra, a teacher at the school in Gular has spoken very emotionally about her bond with teaching. “I didn’t think that I would be in teaching. I was doing my B.Com Degree in Delhi University and came across the Teach for India fellowship. Being part of that made me realise how important teaching is and that I am perfect for teaching. It is the best sector to be a part of and it helps me grow. I learn from my kids and they learn from me. It is a beautiful relationship.”
SEF and these teachers, along with several other non-profit organisations in this country are changing the very face of public education in India. All these organisations work tirelessly towards improving the lives of the underprivileged, as they have built strong bonds with the community that they serve in and everyone works towards a common goal. That goal is to transform the public school system into a beacon of excellence and quality.