Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dismal School Scenario

It is all very well for grown-ups to absolve themselves of all responsibilities to their society and country and dump it all on the frail shoulders of “our future generations” without providing them the kind of education to prepare them for the onerous task. Remember the aftermath of the Assam Movement that was kicked off in 1979? We are still suffering from the fallout of that major social blunder of grown-ups abdicating their responsibility and passing the buck to immature youths. And 30 years down the line the scenario is getting more dismal by the day because of what we have done to our primary and secondary schools and to our children of school-going age. It makes more sense to begin with what much-flaunted “abhiyans” have done to our children of school-going age. Almost two lakh children of Assam (199,187 out of the 5,595,095 children in the State to be precise) constituting 3.56 per cent of the State’s total child population, are deprived of primary education for one reason or the other. And even if the authorities are quick to claim that their parents do not wish to send them to school, the responsibility for this ought to devolve on the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) for failing to make parents realize how education opens up the prospects for the future of their children. Right now they cannot visualize any future for their children performing the ritual of attending ramshackle one-room schools often without a teacher for just an hour or two every day. When they begin to see schools where the kind of learning that makes them fit for today’s world takes place, they will all encourage their children to attend school without fail.

Not to speak of primary schools, what is the state of the 2,060 government-run secondary schools of Assam? Only 43 per cent of these schools have electricity, 66 per cent have libraries and only 1.6 per cent have science laboratories. Strangely enough, more schools (2.3 per cent of them) have internet facilities. Where is our sense of priority? We have a situation where some schools without science laboratories have internet facilities. Does the Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyan (RMSA) honestly believe that internet facilities rate a higher priority than science libraries? Here is a clear case of priorities being settled not by well-formulated policies but rather by the dictates of what the supplier finds easier to set up in a school or what yields better kickbacks. As with the SSA, the RMSA’s total lack of concern for the priorities of secondary education is appalling. Nothing seems to matter except how much money is earmarked for any aspect of our educational infrastructure. The human resource aspect — competent and trained teachers with aptitude for teaching — does not seem to matter at all

Does this scenario imply that children who have stopped going to schools that do not function have ceased learning? It certainly does not. They learn what is needed to cope with life today outside school. They do not always learn things very systematically or properly. But the irony is that they learn in spite of the teachers they left behind in the schools that they dropped out of. Perhaps there is scope for the question that surfaces in Ivan Illich’s book Deschooling Society: Who needs such schools? THE SENTINEL

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