I have been trying to educate myself on the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 bill that has been passed.
I don’t really want to go point form on this; there are several others who can argue much more logically and coherently for and against the act. However, I would like to just record what I ‘feel’ more than anything else.
There is no doubt that the act is complete and shameful proof of the fact that the government has completely failed in providing a good and comprehensive basic education to the nation. However, that said, I feel that the RTE is a ray of hope, a straw no doubt that we can clutch at gladly, given that we are pretty much sinking.
From my own experience, and from what I’ve seen, most members of the lower income section of society do want to educate their children at any cost. Innumerable stories abound about drivers, maids, auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers, sweepers and cleaners; all saving up their hard-earned money to send their kids to the nearest ‘convent’ school. During my work at EnAble India, I have seen incredible drive and desire to overcome hardships of any kind in order to make it in life.
So personally, I am happy that kids will at least have the opportunity to go to schools outside whose gates they might have lingered and watched with curiosity. I agree that the children would possibly have a really tough time, undergo a lot of emotional ups and downs because they will be acutely aware of their inadequacies in every area. There are two ways this could go: either the kids get completely depressed and drop-out, or they take it up as a challenge and work even harder to excel. School is a tough place even for children of the same background. There are always the bullied and the bullies (and I use that in a mild sense). There’s always comparison and one-upmanship. Would we ask our children to stay at home because of these factors? Why should we prevent entry of lower income group kids citing these reasons then? My take on this is that even if a handful of children are driven to aspire and achieve, that would be a small step forward for the nation. I guess it’s upto us as parents and teachers to make these children feel that they can be achievers too.
Personally, I would be happy to sponsor or pay for the education. Given that we spend so much on such unnecessary things in life, contributing a little bit towards nation-growing would hardly pinch. The rest of the 75% would probably have to pay a third more. I don’t know, but I feel that this is not much to ask of us (Yes, I know that’s what our tax money is meant for and all that… :D).
Finally, the devil is in the details. I am sure schools are probably scrambling, trying to figure out a way to handle this. The financial aspect, the teacher-student ratios, the placating of parents who feel this is ‘polluting’ and ‘diluting’ the quality of education…it’s really tough to juggle all these balls. It might not even get to see the light of day given the practical difficulties.
Perhaps a revolution is brewing in the education system. India so desperately needs a less competitive, less academic, and more practical approach to education, where students come out of institutions not just armed with A+ grades and 99.9999% marks, but also true education in life. Let us hope that these steps (or mis-steps) take us somewhere close to, if not along, the right path.