When Good Quality Education Remains a Pipedream

Amidst all sorts of dismal news, this story was such a heart warming read. Little Lakshmi, all of nine years, ran away from home in November, in an effort to study in an ‘English School’.

Luckily for her, it all ended well. She finally got admission in a reputed International School in Bangalore under the RTE act. Which is, of course, wonderful. Of course, she has to travel a long distance, and everything might not be all rosy, but she’s got a chance that she so desperately wanted. And hopefully, this chance will make a huge difference in her life. And seeing her grit, she probably will grab this chance and really soar high.

Having said that, I can’t help wonder if it would have been the case had this case not got media attention. Also, why is the RTE so dependent on private schools? I am all for private schools chipping in, but ‘chipping in’ must be what it is. I can’t help wonder why we can’t have good government schools, so that no child needs to run away, or travel ridiculous distances to reach school. If Lakshmi had a good government school near by, I am sure she wouldn’t have felt the need to run away to a ‘good’ school.

Also, Lakshmi is one among many who yearn for a better education. She was lucky, or more accurately, she tried really hard to change her luck, and succeeded. Many might not, many might not be in a position to, many might not even know that they have the right to something better. And even private schools will have only a certain amount of seats reserved for RTE students. This whole dependency on the private schools would disappear if the government schools are ramped up and made just as lucrative. It makes me wonder why the government seems to be least interested in doing things which will actually make a difference in the long term. That’s it, isn’t it? ‘Long Term’. Why would they be interested in long term benefits when all that matters to them is the shortest of short term ones – the next elections!

All I can really hope for is that good quality education becomes a reality for everyone, and nobody needs to resort to desperate measures to gain access to it.


The Right to Education

Some thing most of us take for granted, but is out of reach for so many of our fellow Indians.

Every since the Supreme Court ruling judgement upholding the applicability of the Right to Education Act (RTE) even to unaided schools, has come out, I have been reading up articles, opinions, blogs related to it. I have an added interest because we are moving back  to India this year, and I wanted to understand how it would affect us.

Let me clarify, that I have managed to secure admission in one school in Bangalore – not the school that I wanted – but the only school which had vacancies for Grade1, which indicates that most schools are completely full. I am happy to go with what we have got, with the hope that daughter will be fine, and where ever the school lacks, we will be able to pitch in and support her. My choices were further reduced because I did not want to opt for schools that ask for donations – as far as I could.

Now, going on to this RTE debate. I am not entirely sure where I sit on whether the 25% quota is a good thing or a bad thing. Clearly education is a fundamental right, and it is sad that so many of our children go without education. And something definitely needs to be done about it, I am just not completely sure if just reserving 25% seats in private schools is right or even enough.

In order to understand the statistics better, I was trying to look up information. According to Wikipedia(not always the most accurate, so if you have more reliable sources, please can you let me know? Would be really grateful), 80% of all schools in India are Government Schools. That makes the government the largest provider of education. But here is the interesting part, despite 80% of schools being government schools, 27% of the children in India, are being educated in private schools. Which begs the question, are the existing government schools being utilized to their full extent? Are they being monitored? Are there parameters set to figure out how the schools are performing.

My daughter goes to a state school in the UK here. We pay nothing for her education – not a penny. We could easily afford private education for her, but chose not to,mainly because good state schools are comparable to private education – at least in the primary years. Of course, all state schools might not be great, just as not all private schools are really good, but we’ve been fine, thankfully. Here, only about 7% of the children attend private schools. Since then, I have also heard of the ‘snob factor’ that is there in private schools, and it makes me happy that my daughter is not in an environment like that. I am happy for her to be in a more inclusive environment rather than a super-privileged environment. Of course, there have been times, when I wonder if I were too idealistic in my beliefs, but so far have been convinced that the school she is in, is great for her.

There are all sorts of state schools, and one thing I have noticed here is the accountability of the teachers, the staff. The fact that there are independent agencies like the Ofsted(click on the link, and you will be able to see how they work), which review and rate schools. Schools that are not performing to the expected standards are evaluated and the govt takes measures to ensure better performance. If I wanted to find out how the school works, I can find full reports with all the information I might need. Some schools still don’t perform as well as others due to other factors that affect it, but at least we don’t feel as cynical as we do about the Indian govt.

I would have been delighted if I could send my daughter to a state school in India as well, but clearly, that would be out of question for a variety of reasons.

If the real reason children do not have access to education is the lack of seats in government schools, then I would entirely agree that private schools need to do their share of giving back to the society. For some reason, it feels to me that the government is shirking its responsibility of providing education to every Indian. I would have been more impressed if it came up with a methodology to bring up the existing state schools to a level where every parent would be happy to send their child, rather than make it a refuge for parents who can’t afford better. After all, not all government schools are bad, why can’t we try to get all our schools to an acceptable level?  I do believe that some states have better govt schools than others. What stops us from replicating their success? Political will, I suppose. The RTE act itself has a lot of good guidelines in regulating the school conditions, but why have no measures been chalked out yet, that the government would undertake to ensure that schools run at the minimum acceptable standards.  If along with improvement schemes to the existing state schools, the government also included the 25% quota, I, as a parent, would have been very happy. In the current scheme of things, I can’t help feeling that this is more of a quick-fix measure, which might not really make a huge difference in the years to come. A law can only do so much. Law enforcement is as important as drafting a sensible law, in my opinion.

As for the  ‘class divide’ question which a lot of parents feel concerned about. I feel that the class divide needs to go. It might not go in a hurry, but things might change if our children grow up without the class divide in their minds(and if we try not to put these things into their minds). If they learn to accept that their friends come from different backgrounds, and just having more money or a more plush lifestyle does not make a better or worse person. I think it would do our children, a world of good, to be able to the person, rather than the packaging.

So what do you think about all this?

PS: I’ve mentioned again and again how wonderful daughter’s teachers are! And when I see adverts like this, I feel like teaching! Along with RTE, I wish we had a campaign to encourage people to go into teaching. After all, most of us will have at least one teacher, who left a lasting mark on our minds..

Edited to add: Check out this campaign by HT.