A few days ago, I scrolled over a local newspaper and found an issue that compelled me to cover it comprehensively. The issue pertains to the sorry state of primary schools in India. In the newspaper, I read that the primary school near my house is to shut down due to a lack of maintenance, so I decided to visit the school.
I went there with my friend and found some issues that I felt had to be covered. Many would be surprised to know that there were no benches for students to sit, only a single teacher for the students. Also, there were next to no clean toilets, or even proper toilets for girls.
Is this the ‘new India’? Is this an encouraging environment for the students? I doubt it.
According to Marxist theorists, modern education is a medium to spread capitalist ideology and system to young minds. It maintains the status quo of the bourgeoisie and places the proletariat in the lower rungs. The case study of primary school is an example of this kind, where children from low-income groups might not be able to afford a well-furnished private school, due to which they study in government schools, or government-aided schools.
Here, they do study of course, but, the lack of financial and social capital can force them to remain in a vicious cycle of poverty, and serve the capitalist class. This theory might not be accurate for all societies but I feel this is a reality. In India, there are only a few universities that serve to lessen the gap of inequality, such as Delhi University or Jawaharlal Nehru University, but, to reach there, a strong foundation in the early years of education is necessary.
As per Article 21A of the Indian Constitution, ‘Right To Education’ (RTE) is a fundamental right. In this spirit, there is an RTE Act that mandates free and compulsory education for all under the age group of 6-14 years. Therefore, primary or elementary education, which is provided to children between 6-12 years of age, is under the ambit of this Act.
Education is a concurrent subject, so it is the duty of both, the State and the Centre, to develop and maintain their schools. In this sense, thus, the school which is mentioned here comes under the provision of RTE Act, and the onus of maintaining the facilities and education rests on the government (Centre as well as State).
The duty should not be confined to just constructing the school and enrolling students. It should also be to provide infrastructure at par with private institutions to develop a competitive spirit as well as social capital among students from marginalised backgrounds, so as to increase opportunities available.
When I asked the teacher there about the issues that the school faces, she said that first and foremost is the problem of ‘cleanliness’. She said that “We grow with our environment. If the surroundings are adequate then the positivity comes in. The prerequisites for this are proper ventilation, clean floors, and so on.”
I wondered why the Swachh Bharat Mission has not reached the school and figured it was because of a lack of cooperation between local politicians, administration, and the citizens. I believe that it is through people’s participation that things change, but the representative authority should initiate and monitor the program, to make it a success. People will not participate without awareness.
I compared the walls and atmosphere in this school with my own school and found a major difference. Whoever thinks that reservation needs to end, or that now, inequality is over, needs to rethink the situation and the conditions that people from marginalised communities live through.
The second issue that I noticed is that there were no toilets for girls. In this era, when we hear of cases where girls face assault while going out for open defecation, isn’t the lack of toilets a concern for the authorities? Not to forget, the health concerns that lack of toilets lead to. The dropout rate for girls in school is linked to the lack of access to proper toilets. Isn’t the State supposed to protect its citizens?
The third concern I noticed was the lack of benches for students to sit. They sit on the floor, under dilapidated roofs. Where does the fund meant for maintenance go? A panelist I saw on RSTV, rightly said that our municipalities (who look after cleanliness and collection of wastes among other local issues) have become dysfunctional.
But, here I would like to add my opinion, that almost all local bodies have become dysfunctional. The reason I feel is that there is an inaccurate devolution of power by the Centre and States. Mahatma Gandhi was right when he said that we need to give powers to local bodies. He talked about decentralisation to maintain local issues. But today, we can see that despite having the laws, local bodies are not entrusted with power and finances to boost their morale and to work adequately.
The meager incomes of teachers serving the primary students also end up discouraging the youth from taking up this profession. I keep hearing how “Teaching nowadays is not a respected profession“, especially when it comes to the school system in smaller towns. There are systemic glitches in our education system that need proper reassessment and change.
As per the new ASER report, it was found that many students studying in the third standard are not able to read and write properly. The report also talks about how students in the fifth and eight standards are not able to solve basic numeracy (addition, multiplication). Then, another report on employment said that more than half of the engineering graduates are not employable. The reason is not the lack of ability in Indian students but the lack of facilities.
Slogans can help but the actual implementation is needed. “Padhega India tabhi toh badhega India”, (catchy slogan that means ‘only if India studies can India grow’) “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” (Save the girl child by educating her) among other slogans, do mean well and from this, it is interpreted that education is an important aspect of human development.
India needs to maintain its legacy of quality education. The District Primary Education Program of 1994 had highlighted the importance of quality education. The New Education Policy (NEP) 2019 is also a step towards the provision of adequate knowledge to students.
But, major success would rely relies on the proper implementation and strengthening of rural and urban institutions for pan-India dissemination of quality education. This must be accompanied by improvement in the infrastructure, including proper buildings, access to toilets, more teachers, quality curriculum, cleanliness, benches, board, and, an encouraging environment.
The government must increase the salary of teachers and layout a plan to connect the educated youth with rural settings. Finally, it is an acknowledged fact that education is the one and most important tool to bridge the gap in society, if properly encouraged by governmental policies.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.