By Ananya S Guha
An eight to nine year old girl comes every morning and afternoon in my office to help her mother serve tea to us. She is bubbly, effervescent and looks a happy child. Sometimes from her home which is adjacent to our house she waves at me. One day I beckoned to her, waving but she looked recalcitrant and grumpy. After some time I saw her sidling to her mother in the nearby tea shop which the mother owns, showing her an exercise book which I could vaguely decipher as the English alphabets, written by her. (The balcony of my office just overlooks the tea shop). She stood by obediently and a little apprehensively as the mother nodded gravely. After finishing this chore the girl skipped back happily to the verandah of her house. Obviously relieved with finishing her ‘ studies ‘ normalcy returned and the face was once again wreathed with smiles.
Every morning and afternoon she comes to my room to take back the cups. She has now got very friendly with a colleague of mine, and speaks to him partly in Khasi and partly in Hindi. My colleague seems very fond of her as she cuddles up to him. The most important thing is that she is a happy child, alert and very sensitive to her surroundings.
My colleagues in the office tell me that she is Assamese and has been adopted by the Khasi couple who own the tea shop. I tried speaking Assamese to her, she shyly responded. Ever since that time I have tried to follow her movements. She follows her ‘ mother ‘ like a strict disciplinarian.
Then I remembered the scene where the mother was trying to teach her the alphabets. The mother not being from an educated background herself, is trying to do her best to educate her adopted child, who is now her ‘ real ‘ child. My colleague told me the other day, that he heard that next year the parents will send her to school. I greeted the news with a personal joy.
In an age where we talk vocally about education for the impoverished girl child, in our country, I actually see it happening in front of my eyes, not imparted by the elite and the erudite, or the privileged, but by the poor themselves. Amidst the fanfare of the International Day for the girl child, which recently concluded we have a million lessons to learn, from people like this foster mother imparting education to her adopted child, a mother who is as untutored as her ‘daughter`.
Against the backdrop of the President of India’s address in the North Eastern Hill University Convocation on the 22nd of October the statement that he made that education in India should be more daring, innovative and path breaking such examples as the one cited above gains ascendancy and importance. The innovation and change process of education begins with school education. The Right to Education is assumptive, in the sense that it decrees that all should get the opportunities of education. That all do not get such benefits, especially the impoverished, the abandoned and the neglected is a truism. The challenge is; how do we get them into the ‘ classroom ‘. What kind of ‘ classroom’ can we create for them, for a basic education, devoid of stereotypes? For children who have not been going to school for years, a separate and distinct education system should be on the anvil, something that is imaginative, and something which encourages the child’s sensory perception: simple writing, reading or painting. The same may be true of general education, but the difference between the two is that in the former there has been deprivation, the latter is more fortunate to enter school at the right time. It is precisely this entry point which creates the hiatus in opportunities, and in final consequence.
The change must begin here, not so much in teaching methodologies but in infusing the spirit of education to the effete and the unfortunate. The prattle about technology without sorting out the ground realities such as disruption or non availability of technology in remote areas is simply vacuous. Basic intelligence is inherent in every child and practical examples, not so much research has amply proven the fact that the disabled, the physically or mentally challenged still retain an intelligence which can yield creative results. So innovation, in this context will not be so much in the domain of teaching and learning, but using all creative resources to bring ‘ street children’ and drop outs into a learning system, not so much formal but contextualized in a creative pedagogy. This is the biggest challenge. Once this is done then the chain of collegiate and higher education can follow, especially with the resources available in open schools and universities. In fact in an open university one can be a graduate without being a ten plus two passed, or even a class ten passed, provided he or she is of a minimum 18 years. We have flexible options open in both school and higher education in our country, the main thing is awareness and publicity. The National Open school has the option for vocational education as well, and opportunities for the physically challenged. There must be a well coordinated and orchestrated effort in publicity by both governmental and nongovernmental organizations. The ‘Hunar’ project for girls in Bihar of the National Open School is only one such example, but certainly a very worthy one where vocational training for minority communities has proved to be successful.
The President of India’s statement is of great import for one or two reasons. The first is the decrepit condition of education in our country; the second is the entry point and equitable distribution of learning. Instead of quibbling too much about technology and sanctimonious methods, let us look at an equal distribution and the question of opportunities. Once basic or school education is set right both for the girl or boy child, in the context of being disadvantaged higher education can follow. Every speech by a policy maker or an educator bristles with statistics; instead of this mono mania for statistics we should evolve a concerted policy, which should be inclusive, including aspects like vocational education from school onwards. Statistics need not tell us the grinding truth our surroundings evince this very clearly and loudly, a painful reality.
It is a great sign that the President of the country is thinking in terms of an inventive and creative educational system. But the edifice can be strengthened only if the foundations are strong.
The lady near my office who is educating, adopting a girl child, using the wherewithal of education and resources at her disposal, however limited this might be is a remarkable innovator. It is exactly this exigency which makes her effort a prodigious one!