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Racing Towards the Great Divide: Forgetting history at our own peril
By Amar Yumnam
We cherish and fondly remember our good childhood friends, siblings and cousins, places we visited, and the good places where we learnt the lessons from our great teachers. Great teachers are there in every thriving academic institute and they do not look forward to the rewards and awards generally craved by modern individuals. In fact these few teachers make the academic institute they belong to a happening institution.
It is also said that an individual sees in her dreams places which had positively impacted upon her in the past and in even quite unrelated situations. During childhood the location or the school she got her first crucial lessons was so effective to leave an indelible mark in her psyche. I believe that there is an element of truth in this association of events and locations in the dreams.
Recent Engagements and Worries: I recently had two sweet dreams on consecutive days. In one, I was preparing for a lecture to be delivered in Mumbai, but the location was very much the local school where I had my education till matriculation; the crowd was however all contemporary. In the second dream again, all contemporary professional friends were there for a seminar, but the locale was again the same school. This way, I keep seeing my childhood school in my own home locality repeatedly in the dreams. Applying the principle of the psychologists and on hindsight, I do believe and feel that we did get education as students in these near the home schools of only walking distance.
The morality of the earlier phase of delivery of education, the 1950s and 1960s, was of unmatchable quality. It satisfied all the educational principles of making education available near the home. It could provide education without compromising on the scope for being childhood to the students. It was neither “All work, no play” nor “All play, no work”, but a wonderful mixture of the two. Thus it had the great power of nurturing local social capital. Further, the proportion of dropping out of school due to poverty was very few and infrequent. In other words, ensuring education at the doorsteps had the attractiveness as well as viability for the poorer sections of the population.
But something drastic happened towards the end of the 1970s; the government came into the picture as major player. While the initial entry into the sector by the provincial government as “the” major player was laudable, something went drastically wrong in the field. Consequently school education has become a sector worrying the conscientious, socially conscious and committed group of population in the land for quite a few years by now. From expectations to absolute disaster, from centres of teaching learning to centres for political favouritism, from happening centres of learning to centres for drop-outs, one can go on expanding the description of the decline in multifarious ways.
This present worry is very different from that of the 1950s and 1960s when the then societal preoccupation was with the endeavour to expand educational facilities. The worry of the last two to three decades has been one of absolute decline in the teaching-learning process in institutions which were happening ones in the previous periods. Now this decline has been happening at a time when society could least afford to do so.
The character of the socio-economic transformation of the last few decades has been not to the interest of the worse off sections of the population. First, the growth performance definitely has not been robust. Second, the political milieu has become increasingly characterised by rent seeking behaviour where the poor is always priced out by the richer from accessing into the social facilities of the land. Third, the very character of the growth has sharpened the divide between the poor and the non-poor. These are circumstances where only education can play the role for enhancing the capability of the poor to access the social facilities and thus take the family upward in the societal hierarchy.
It is exactly at this moment that the education sector, particularly school education, which has undergone a drastic transformation. Instead of enhancing the general capability of the population and serve as a factor for improving the scenario of social justice in the land, it has now become an agent for sharpening the social divide. Given the politico-economic structure of the land, the parents do value education. With the emergence of government of the province as the major player in the school sector, the very nature of governance of the schools has naturally and understandably led to the drastic decline of all the schools which were earlier providing dependable and capability-enhancing education; the government has tried over the years its level best to see to it that these schools collapse. So, that necessarily creates a demand for education services to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the schools at every locality. This takes us to the expansion of private sector education in the land. But the education provided by these schools is definitely materially costlier than the one potentially made available in the local government schools. First, it leaves very little scope for the children to be children. Secondly, the monetary fees are naturally higher. Third, in most cases, it is away from the locality of the child. These material and other costs definitely serve as constraints on the poorer parents in so far as their ability to educate their children are concerned. Further, the way education happens in the once lively but now nearly-non-functional local schools is little more than a rest zone for societal drop-outs. In fact, whereas the children in these schools need better education than any as they belong to poorer families, yet appropriate teaching-learning is not happening exactly at this point.
Sharpening the Divide and the Danger: In other words, what we are experiencing today is sharpening the divide between the poor and the non-poor right from childhood. This definitely is not a healthy and sustainable social condition. The portends are really dangerous. The society is already paying a price in terms of rising ethnic divide consequent upon unequal development. We can forget the lessons of history only at our own peril. The onus of avoiding this peril lies on the government.