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Education To End Poverty

Education To End Poverty

Mahatma Gandhi was not content with the large political or economic solutions which he had envisaged. Having helped the indigo peasants of Champaran, in Bihar in 1917, to get back the refund of the surplus land rent collected by the British Planters and save them from exploitation in the hands of British, through the first Civil Disobedience Movement, Mahatma saw the cultural and social backwardness in the Champaran villages and wanted to do something about it immediately. He appealed for teachers to volunteer for the work. Several disciples of Gandhiji came from Bombay, Pune and other distant parts of the land. Devadas, Gandhiji’s youngest son, and Kasturba, Gandhiji’s wife, arrived from the ashram to help him in this mission. Primary schools were opened. Kasturba taught the ashram rules on personal cleanliness and community sanitation.

Even after a century of the above given episode, majority of India still lives in villages and so the topic of rural education in India is of utmost importance. Every village is not provided with school which means that students have to go to another village to get education. Owing to this parents usually do not send their daughters to school, leading to a failure in achieving rural education in India. Though some of the students from villages are really brilliant, as they have a wealth of practical knowledge and know how to survive even in very harsh conditions of life, difficultly in understanding their textbooks, lack of facilities and their poverty are hurdles in their education.

Some government schools in rural India are overly packed with students, leading to a distorted teacher- student ratio. The number of primary age children not going to school in India was put at 2.3 million in 2008, but other estimates suggest it could be as high as 8 million. According to an Indian government report, the primary drop-out rate in 2009 was 25%.

Four years ago, the World Bank upgraded India from a "poor" country to a middle-income one. The country has a space programme, 48 billionaires and its own aid budget. Under its Right to Education (RTE) Act, passed in 2009, a free and compulsory education is guaranteed for all children aged between six and fourteen.

But a walk through the streets of Delhi, the capital of the country will throw up another face of education and economic condition in India. Thousands of children of construction labourers, rickshaw pullers, masons, house maids, living in huts on road sides, parks, vacant plots and pavements, do not go to school. The infants and toddlers remain at home under the supervision of the older children while the parents go to work. When their children are grown up, parents take them along for work.  They have no time to go to school. They too continue the same jobs as their parents.

If at all, the parents approach the government schools for admission for their wards, they are turned away as they neither have ration cards, aadhar cards nor any other address or age proof. They cannot get these documents made as they shift their huts quite often to wherever their work take them or at times they are forced to move out by the police, neighbours and PWD authorities.

Their huts are made up of tree branches, old flex and plastic sheets. Most of them take illegal electric connection directly from the electric line passing above their huts. A spark can set their huts on fire and their little possessions.

A few months back, a few huts located in Indirapuram, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh were completely burnt. Fortunately no human being died but they lost everything.

Having observed their plight, the management of St. Thomas School, Indirapuram had started an afternoon informal school for the kids of such floating population staying around the school. Around 104 children of different age groups attend the class every day in the same school building after the regular school till 5pm. 22 teachers from the regular school have volunteered to teach them basic things free of cost. Uniform, study materials and refreshments are provided free by the school Management. Some of them have been enrolled to the government schools with the intervention of the same teachers. Those students are given free tuition for their difficult subjects.

Three of the brighter and hardworking students were admitted in St. Thomas School.  Everything from school fees, books to uniforms are free for them. After the regular school, they take help from the volunteering teachers to complete their homework. Free medical check-up is organized for the informal students and their family members and free medicines are provided to them. Awareness classes on drug addiction and hygiene by a team of doctors is held on the same day.

Annual day, Republic day and Independence Day celebrations are also held for them to showcase their talents through various cultural program and also to inculcate patriotism in them. It is another method of identifying, developing and displaying their talents in front of their parents, invited guests and their teachers. Many emerge as good actors, orators, singers and dancers.

St. Francis School in Indirapuram too has arranged classes  in the afternoon in their school building for around 400 underprivileged children. A few other schools in this area too take such initiatives. There are many NGOs in Delhi and National Capital Region which run informal education for the underprivileged in their area. The Government should identify and appreciate such initiatives.

It is high time that special attention is given to the children of floating population in our cities. Improvement in the condition of government schools, education quality, relaxation in submission of documents for admission, committed teachers and more number of government schools should be part of government projects and development.

(Published on 16th October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 42)