By Geeta Ramakrishnan
After a long winding journey all the way from Bombay, I finally landed right into the lap of nature!
Hamirpur, where the people are as soft and pleasant as the winds, is a quaint little town in the country’s Himalayan state. Here education is a passion and government jobs a coveted ambition. The state boasts of a high literacy rate that would lead anyone to believe in the promise of a strong labour force, diligently contributing a huge share to the economy of the country. Further as I toured the various schools and colleges in the district, the brilliance of government school infrastructure and extent of support provided by the local MP Mr. Anurag Thakur came as a pleasant surprise to me. Most government schools were plush with basketball courts and ICT labs. Brand new science centres were instated and there seemed to be no lack of facility to ensure a 100% success rate of the wards studying in these schools.
At the onset, I pondered on what could possibly be impeding these students from landing their dream job. Just as I began to believe in the district’s immaculate state of education, I met with the principal of the Tauni Devi Government School. He took pride in the fact that the Honorable Chief Minister of Himachal had completed his schooling from their institution. But as I reared the conversation from the school’s USP to possible hurdles faced by the school, he spoke in meek tones to let out a huge exposé.
“We have 9th standard students who do not know their alphabets or basic math operations,” he said matter-of-factly. The look of disbelief on my face only managed to evoke a stoic nod from him. I wondered how schools that are provided with the best of facilities even in the remotest of areas could face such a serious and basic problem. As I prodded, the walls were lifted to unveil the stark reality of our education system.
The Right to Education Act 2009 dictates that no child be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education i.e. every student be passed irrespective of his/her grade until Class 8. This mandate promotes education as a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14. However in the process it has also induced apathy among the students. The assured promotion till Class 8 works as a double-edged sword and has resulted in lethargy and lack of motivation. The logic was simple: “Why would I study if I knew I could do without it and still reach Class 9?”
Even the teachers came out in full force opposing this golden ladder. This system not only affected the student’s aspiration levels but also hindered the teacher’s motivation. “We have students who do not report in class for 15 days in a month and when caught on the streets are forcefully bought to school only to disappear the next day”. “ How do I teach a child addition when I have to teach him trigonometry as per the 9th standard syllabus??” asks another teacher. The perennial struggle of molding such students with the added responsibility of catering to the below par knowledge of basic concepts is an arduous task.
The complexity of this situation made me realize the innumerable components that constitute the education system of a country. Here was a district that seemed to have everything working in its favour: great infrastructure, well-paid and highly qualified teachers, free uniforms for students (twice a year), mid day meals, up-to-date technology and much more. Yet the “quality” of students was far from our expectations. The irony of the education and labour situation in Himachal is that there seems to be a need to obtain security in all phases of life. Security in school to ensure no failures and aspirations to obtain government jobs to ensure security for life. It appears that the seeds for this risk-free life are being sown at the primary level.
Change in policy is a long drawn process and at best only provides distant hope to these schools. Hence at the beckoning of Mr. Anurag Thakur who is extremely keen on bringing immediate positive changes to his constituency, the Swaniti team proposed corrective actions by introducing remedial classes to make up for the grade loss of these students and experiential learning processes to introduce children to the private sector and its operations at the nascent level itself.
The stage is set and we are raring to go! And as we embark onto the implementation stage of our project, I can see that the goal of making an impact in the lives of these children is just on the horizon.