Owing to the current crisis created by the pandemic COVID-19, the debate on India’s health and education infrastructure is again under the limelight. Despite having 4.1 doctors and 3.4 hospital beds per 1,000 persons, Italy has almost collapsed due to an overwhelming number of patients. In comparison, as stated by a World Bank report collating global healthcare indices between 2011 and 2017, India has only 0.8 doctors and 0.7 hospital beds for 1,000 persons. India, which has now crossed the 4,421 mark and faced 117 fatalities (as on April 7), is now ‘reacting’ to ensure that things do not get out of control. But as experts are saying, “India’s coronavirus crisis was decades in the making.”
A report released in 2018 by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation indicates that poor quality education and the relatively high prevalence of certain diseases amongst the population means India is risking its future economic growth by underinvesting in these two key areas important for workforce productivity. The demand for investment in both health and education infrastructure has always been existent from both the social sector and from people whose voices failed to reach the policymakers. However, it is the social organisations who have, in the last few years, transformed the quality of education in India especially in its rural and urban-rural regions.
Hailing from a small village in Rajasthan called Ghasi ki Dhandi, Guddi Bano, is one of the million children in India who have longed to study but have had to compromise with their dreams due to poverty. There are nine members in her family. Apart from her parents, she has the company of four sisters and two brothers. Her father sells blankets in Maharashtra, while her mother is a homemaker. Her eldest sister never went to school while the other three dropped out early in life.
One of her brothers is a graduate and works in Dausa while the other brother helps her father in their business. Being a huge household with a very few earning hands, it was difficult for the family to make ends meet. With no awareness and support, getting the girls educated was the least priority of the family. However, despite Guddi’s willingness and interest, she was forced to quit going to school.
Guddi was identified during the ‘Pehchan Shala’ Survey organised by Centre for Unfolding Learning Potentials (CULP) that work towards ensuring access to quality elementary education to children (especially out-of-school girls) of deprived communities. This is when she shared her dilemma with one of the workers. Responding to the situation, workers contacted her father over the phone, but he disconnected the call saying that he’d rather get his daughter married than waste money on her education. The workers called him again the next day and after explaining to him that they will be taking the responsibility of Guddi’s education, they convinced him to allow her to continue with her education.
Guddi, who was then admitted to class 11, was finding it difficult to cope with the English subject. To ensure she receives proper guidance, she was informed about the coaching centre run by CULP at Shreerampura. She started taking lessons in English Grammar from the centre. With sheer dedication and support from CULP, she managed to pass Class 12 with 70% marks. Today, Guddi is enrolled in the second year of a Bachelor’s programme and wishes to become a trained teacher after her graduation.
Enrollment drives organised by the government do bring students to schools however, to retain them after elementary education remains an uphill task. The report ‘Children in India 2018’, released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, suggests that over 30% of girl students drop out of schools by the time they get to Class 9 and the number rises to 57% in class 11. Guddi could have been one of the 57% dropout girls but due to efforts of CULP, she was saved.
It is about time that we focus on two of the most critical aspects of budget allocation – to commit high spending on basic infrastructure of education and the healthcare sector – especially in rural India and secondly, to ensure that the implementation is executed in the right direction. It is better to be prepared to respond to situations like these than to react and regret as and when the time comes.
This article has been written by Dr Naresh Kumar Sharma for Charkha Features.