2 Questions, 1 Answer: About Indian education system

Girl begging (wikimedia commons)

Sometimes, it is likely that an insignificant incident could leave you wondering about things that matter the most.

Two incidents in the recent past fit into the above description.

Incident 1:

It was a pleasant evening and the day had been a fairly satisfying one. On my way back home, I had stopped my scooter at a traffic signal when a young girl with an innocent face, a hawker by circumstances unknown to most of us, aged around six years, approached me with roses in her hands. She looked at me with pleading eyes and asked me for money. I shook my head. She said she was hungry and rubbed her stomach to indicate the same.

"You should be going to school, there they will also provide you food," I said without realising that her life was not in her hands.

"I am hungry," she said again.

I repeated my earlier statement "Go to school, you shouldn't be begging."

She then suddenly bent down almost as if touching my feet which made me try to lift her up. She rose up and before I could realise raised the accelerator of my scooter and walked away with a smirk on her not-innocent-anymore face.

(PS: I managed to control my scooter before it hit the car in front, thankfully!)

Question 1:

To me she was still a kid, who belongs to a generation which will helm the country day after tomorrow. But I wondered if she has lost her childhood, and never really get a chance to be a productive citizen and end up being a liability.

Incident 2:

Bengaluru roads are rarely traffic-free. When the roads are clear of traffic, one is bound to take note of it and wonder what could the reason be. Recently, while I was travelling, the driver of the car, who as per my guess would be in his twenties, asked me if the schools were closed that day as the roads were relatively free. I said 'Yes'.

He asked me the reason. "Since Vajpayee passed away yesterday," I answered.

He seemed confused so I asked him if he knew who Vajpayee was.

He said no. "He was our prime minister," I said.

"Oh, is he a Karnataka minister," he asked.

"No, he was a minister at the Centre, in Delhi," I said.

"Is he Pranab Mukherjee," he asked.

"No, he is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, our former prime minister," I tried explaining in vain.

"Had he been to Bengaluru recently," he asked.

"No, he was quite aged and had not been to Bengaluru recently," I said.

Question 2:

Here was a smart phone wielding man in his twenties, who does not know who a 'Prime Minister is'. He belongs to a generation which ought to form the backbone of the country, a generation which will control the steering wheel of the country tomorrow. But given the height of ignorance, I wonder if he will ever understand things beyond his intellect such as conservation of energy, climate change etc.

These two incidents made me realise how grave the ground reality actually is.

Digging deeper

When we talk about literacy, India has in fact come a long way. With literacy rate being a mere 12% at the end of the British rule in 1947 to achieving 74% as per 2011 census, it is commendable, but can we be content with this figure? The remaining 26% or so of the population account for one-third of the total illiterates in the world!

Achieving universal education is indeed a mammoth task, given the size, poverty and diversity of the population. We do have to appreciate the governments both at the Centre and at the states for striving to increase the enrolment ratio. The Gross Enrolment Ratio at primary level stands at 115%; at secondary level at around 81%; at senior secondary level at around 56%. The enrolment ratio at higher education was 25% in 2016-17.

The decreasing trend in the enrolment ratio is due to dropouts.

The dropouts could be attributed to students unable to clear the qualifying exams, apart from several other factors which cause students to quit studying. The sad part is that enroling in schools does not guarantee literacy.

The Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER), brought out by Pratham paints a bleak picture year after year. The report focuses on youth who are 14 to 18 years old.

The 2017 edition of the survey, released in 2018, points out that one in every ten youth could not read a Class I and Class II text in their own language, whereas it was one in every four in rural areas. 36% of those surveyed did not know the capital of India. Many could not solve basic math problems, read the clock etc.

One can rightly ask if the students enrol in schools shouldn't they master the three Rs of learning. The answer should ideally be yes but the ground reality is different. There aren't sufficient teachers, there are around 10 lakh teacher posts vacant in government schools. Teacher absenteeism and untrained teachers worsen the situation. The government now aims to train around 11 lakh untrained teachers through Swayam and Swayam Prabha by 2019.

Literacy is vital for the country's progress. But should we stop at just that?

Literacy should be used to attain education; Literacy is the ability to read and write whereas education is the ability to think and analyse a situation rationally. Education opens one's mind.

Why do we see the literates- the teachers, engineers or journalists throwing wrappers on the streets or jumping the traffic signals? The answer is because our present system aims at churning out just literates who do not comprehend what they learn in schools.

For the New India which we all dream to attain, we need to aim at educating ourselves in the true sense.

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2 Questions, 1 Answer: About Indian education system

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