ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Education : Cart before Horse?

Cart before Horse? A correspondent writes: India has the world

India has the world's largest primary education system: 150 million students and 30 lakh teachers. It also accounts for over 92 million 'nowhere' children who are neither working nor in school. Between 1993 and 1997 the number of government-sponsored schools that were opened every year was less than 5,000 and, worse, the rate of growth of enrolment at the primary stage which was 5 per cent in the 1970s has fallen to 0.7 per cent. And if the situation reported in a Mumbai newspaper is more common than we like to believe, this is hardly surprising. Students of a primary school found themselves having to share their classrooms with displaced families of a local 'basti' that had been taken over by the municipal corporation. Since no temporary accommodation had been made available, the munificent corporation authorities relocated them in a school building. Learning the three Rs must have been a creative experience for the children returning to a new term amidst pots and pans and bawling babies. Very homely no doubt, but not conducive to formal pedagogy. The issue however is not whether this itself could not have been converted into a creative learning experience – which perhaps it could have been. But whichever authority allocated the school premises as lodgings had no awareness of the importance of the school system. Why then should parents, teachers and children take schooling seriously or develop an interest in learning? Clearly, school buildings are dispensable structures – they may be used for whatever purpose necessary. Again, school buildings have always been used in emergencies – in wars, during natural disasters and calamities to house the dispossessed. But this was far from an emergency situation, and the municipal authorities had no business to be rendering families homeless unless they had adequate shelter ready.

In any case, this is just a case in point which illustrates the reasons for the disaster that is primary education today. It is not that there has been insufficient awareness about the absolute necessity of building a viable primary education system, nor even of the need to improve, and rapidly, literacy levels. Several schemes have been implemented, some desultorily and others supposedly quite successfully, to bring children to schools and keep them there. But the numbers out of the school system is so vast that these have had only a limited impact.

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