Tata-Dhan Academy: PDM


Programme in Development Management

Educating ‘Nirbhayas’… Whose ‘Karthavya’?

By Vinay Sankar

Note: The following article originally appeared in a slightly modified form as an OP-ED column in the Hindu on March 1, 2013.

A lost childhood, a run-away mother, a broken marriage, a 13 year old son, and an elderly father to take care of. None of these deterred Jaya Rawal from continuing her education. Jaya, whose voter id shows she was born in the year 1979 and yet, she says, she is not sure of her real age. In her fragile physique, she conceals a dogged determination to continue her studies and to get ahead. It is said, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough gets going’ and that is absolutely correct in the case of Jaya. When her mother left her in her early teens, Jaya had to take charge of the family. That meant discontinuing her studies and taking care of her siblings. Her father was with the Telecom Department, but due to lack of a minimum period of service, is not eligible for pension. Presently, she does nearly four to five hours of tailoring every day, earning around Rs. 3,000 per month, to meet her family’s needs. She hardly gets to eat three rotis a day! In spite of all these and more, she wakes up at four in the morning and studies for three hours, and in the evening, she is with books for another three hours until midnight, in order to pass her Secondary School exams under the Rajasthan State Open School (RSOS) Board.

Now, imagine two friends. They were studying together in the same class at the Secondary School in 2006. Fast forward to 2012. One of them became a teacher, while the other one became… guess what… her student! This might sound filmy, but it did happen to Jayashree Khairvasiya and Deepika Vyas. While Jayashree is a tutor, Deepika is her student. Deepika could not clear her ninth grade exams and thereafter, she discontinued her studies. Meanwhile, Jayashree continued her studies and she is now in her final year of graduation, where her main subject is astrology. Unfortunately for Deepika, stars did not smile at her. But, she is quite determined that she would clear her secondary school exams this year through RSOS.

These are just a few of the dropouts who I met as an intern in Pratham Education Foundation, Rajasthan, and their cases are not exceptions. The most outrageous statistic I found in recent times is the huge gap between the male and female literacy rates in Rajasthan: while 75.7% males are considered literate, the corresponding figure for females is a mere 43.9%. That is a difference of over 30 percentage points difference: the highest for any state in India!

Contrary to the popular perception that the medieval ‘purdhapradha’ culture is hindering the process of female education, I found the girls eager to get themselves educated and their parents were quite supportive. This is evident from the fact that there is hardly any significant difference in the enrollment figures of boys and girls at the Secondary and Senior Secondary levels, here in Rajasthan.

It needs to be mentioned that it is no easy task to pursue higher education here. The schools are scattered and are accessible mostly by private vans only. In most places, roads are in pathetic condition. The distance between schools varies from 8 to 35 kilometers. Students, both boys and girls, travel to their schools even in such adverse circumstances, often hanging dangerously to the sides of private Jeeps and vans. They too are the ‘nirbhayas’ of this country. Nonetheless, many of them drop out due to various physical, social, and economic reasons.

On the supply side, the teaching fraternity is a mixed bag. Seven out of twelve Secondary Schools I visited in just one block of Rajasthan have teaching positions in core subjects lying vacant. From my interactions with teachers, I found that many of them are knowledgeable, competent, and sincere. Yet, there were many who were just sitting idle and chit-chatting over tea during class hours. They say, because of the ‘no fail’ policy followed until eighth grade, students coming over to the Secondary level have such poor basics and therefore, it is beyond them to ‘repair’ them.

They are right, too. On the 14th of February, 2013, a reputed local daily ran a front page news article of the District Collector’ inspection in a Government Primary School in Jalore district of Rajasthan. It was to no one’s surprise that almost none of the students in the sixth grade could write their names in English or do basic multiplication. The shocker, though, was that a teacher in the fourth grade of that school could not write a particular word in Hindi! Even the HM of that school failed to write it correctly. That word was ‘karthavya’, which in Hindi means duty. Now, how do we expect a teacher, who cannot even spell the word ‘duty’ correctly in their mother tongue, to do their duty?

Still, girls and boys continue to hang on to the sides of the Jeeps and vans to go to school… only to get ‘dropped out’ in the middle.


Filed under: Development Practice Segment, Non-Academic, PDM 12, , , , ,

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