My boys are not even four, but there is so much they are able to do. Nish and Sid have started trying to read…albeit 3 and 4 letter words…Amu is picking up from them. They can narrate stories, tell you what they like about a book, identify names of authors, count to ten, follow and copy patterns, identify different plants and birds around us…they even have as rudimentary understanding of gravity. Not even 4 and yet they have had access to so much in these super important formative early childhood years. Its like exponential growth happening all the time…language development, curiosity and learning by discovering and doing, readiness for formal school, socialization processes…the list seems endless. So much that i take for granted till i wake up and look at the reality around me…
every visit to a low income school, an interaction with some of the school teachers from govt aided schools and the GAP hits me in the face. When a teacher of a group of 5 year old expresses to me how low her expectations are of her class, her lack of belief in them or their abilities (and ironically and sadly she actually means well), her complete dismissal of any social or cultural capital that they come with..it hits me…and i understand the meaning of privilege and feel its weight.
The right to education act is a step and i really hope that we are able to work towards it. It needs significantly more though and needs to be implemented in a way that makes sense. At least kids between 6-14 will have access to education….it is supposed to be quality education…and quality is the key, important and yet missing and elusive word. But by the time kids are 6 would they not have missed out on significant opportunity for development and learning? What about those formative years? They are not on a level playing field…there are huge gaps between them and their significantly affluent peers…even if one does not compare the kids to their peers, they are significantly below the expected learning levels for starting first grade. Also, sure -the private schools have a responsibility to educate our less privileged children..but what about the government’s responsibility? Simply palming it off to the private sector seems to me almost like a dismissal of the possibility that government run schools could achieve this basic right for our children.
I don’t have answers..just questions that make me uncomfortable, observations that make me upset…and I am trying to do my little bit to work at it…but at this point it is too little and I know I can do more.
As a country, I feel we need to focus so much more on this basic issue and basic right – education. Not just by building schools and equipping them with toilets…but by creating a true learning environment that gives kids a chance to realize and optimize their potential, a system that values them for who they are and works with them and for them, teachers who are trained and who recognize the enormity of the task ahead..yet who take each day at a time …each child at a time…to truly liberate us through education. I feel that we need to look at more than just starting at age 6…that is much too late already…we need to start younger and sooner. And while individuals and corporates have a responsibility, the government needs to recognize its responsibility too and work towards this too…on an urgent footing. This is (yes i know it is a cliche) the future of our country and this is what we need to invest in…invest not just money, but serious thought, energy, training into. We need to focus on quality, on really making a difference…not because of a law or an international mandate on literacy and education…not because of some statistics that declare a state or country literate, not as a political vote garnering gimmick…but because we truly believe that this is the way forward, because we finally recognize that our human capital is what will actually define us as a nation, because we know at the end of the day that we owe it to our kids and ourselves.
Each one of us can make a difference and needs to start…There are public private partnerships that are showing us that things can work, models like teach for India are bringing highly motivated and trained young leaders into low income schools to work with kids and make a difference, there are individual volunteers and non profits that are working with children from low income backgrounds as well…but I sincerely hope that the government also really gets this as an urgent and important area to look at and honestly focuses on more than buildings, toilets and mid day meals. Those are important accessories …not the actual thing we have to focus on.
We need to rethink our objectives, up the ante as far as teacher training courses go, invest in looking at models that have worked around the world and really learn from those as well what we already have that we can draw from. We need to take responsibility, be accountable for our kids and their learning…and by learning I am not talking about merely performing on exams…We need to start early and sustain our efforts. We need to be able to step back and reflect, give each other feedback and learn and grow. Let us not stop at gleefully declaring ourselves literate because everyone can now sign their names…there is much more work to be done and we all need to get started.
Any thought and ideas?