How India's education system is breaking the country

Kumkum Joshi
Kumkum JoshiApr 10, 2017 | 16:23

How India's education system is breaking the country

The new admission season is here again, and parents are frantically searching for the best schools of the city for their wards. I find a bunch of ladies, enquiring in my neighborhood about the same.

Listening to them I get to know that one is sending her child to the school for the first time, the other two want a change. Some passers-by engage in the conversation and many school names come up.

I could not stop noticing that all school names were fancily put, with a glamour of Anglicisation. A few to mention were Pinewood International, Willow bark and our children, Saint Joseph New Academy, The Continental.

Looking away from the very informative session outside, I returned to reading my daily newspaper, which is again filled with advertisements of new and established schools of the city, presenting the whole package in the most attractive way possible to parents.

The offer includes compulsory English speaking in classes and free extra classes for competitive exams, among many others.

I found it a surprise for a small town like mine. Bageshwar, a remote hilly district of Uttarakhand, still nominally connected to major urban centres, with the highest number of rural population of the state. It is one of the smallest districts with highest migration of population.

Merely seven-eight years ago, when I was in higher secondary, I could count school names on fingertips. With six-seven primary, upper primary to four major higher secondary ones.

A visible pattern among parents of today seems to be intense apathy to government and vernacular medium of education, which was not very prevalent in the recent past. This very novel phenomenon have fuelled rampant opening of fancy private schools, with charming European names.

Certainly a mother’s pride could be best exposed by saying my daughter goes to the “Lawrence Academy for girls” rather than mentioning a kanya vidyalaya.

English becoming the measure of learning and intellect has changed the preference patters. Government schools are becoming the last resort for the most poor and most marginalised of the community, because of the perceived notion of inferior quality.

Are we teaching our children a new criteria of divisiveness and discrimination?

The anomaly is that the government of Uttarakhand spends the highest budget on school education, where teacher salary is a substantial part of it. So the most qualified, trained and best paid teachers either teach the most marginalised or not teach at all in remote places, where the entire village has migrated.

The second trend of this pattern is unstoppable migration, despite many livelihood schemes, micro-credit initiations and alternative agriculture planning. Nothing is able to stop emptying of villages and many ghost villages are coming up where not a single person lives.

May be we are not looking at the holistic picture, may be people just do not want livelihood and income, they want hope. Hope for a better future, from their children. My neighborhood alone has more than 20 families migrated from nearby villages with children, for a better education.

Education-seeking migration has become a matter of pride for families and those who are left behind are considered the least civilised or capable. A very common family phenomenon of the hills is one old pensioner from the Army supporting the entire joint family, bringing all the grandchildren of the household to nearby towns for English and private education, while the parents of the children struggle to revive the defunct agriculture at villages.

This whole process impacts childhood in a big way too. On one side, living in a relatively less socially-controlled environment than a caste-based village, they do not learn sharp religion or caste divides, but they very finely pick the class divides.

My immediate neighbour's little daughters do not play with the children living besides them, the former go to rich schools while the latter being from agricultural labour families go to nearby government schools. Ironically, both parents of the little daughters teach in the same government school.

Are we teaching our children a new criteria of divisiveness and discrimination? Speaking in English has become an important yardstick among small cliques of children, even for organising a small birthday party.

Parents and society are equally responsible for this emerging new trend, where we want to shield ourselves and our children from the poor and poverty. The real reason behind exclusion of public schools by the middle-class could probably be the fear of peer impact rather than quality of education.

Because poor children, who come to public schools might have dirty clothes, lice in hair, a smoke in the bag or might bring plates in their bags to eat school-cooked food, it is enough for a middle-class parent to shun the company. Is not this fabricated learning, where we do not show our children the reality, where we make them assume that all poor are bad and dirty, and all civilised are English?

Overemphasis on alien languages for early childhood learning negatively affects family life and shapes child’s thinking in a distorted manner. Many mothers who have themselves been educated at government Hindi-medium schools send their children to private schools with a curriculum entirely different from what they know and in a different language.

So the task of teaching the child at home either shifts to the father or to the tuition teachers. Children get this feeling from a young age that the women in their house are incompetent to teach them, and it shapes their adulthood in a big way.

Excessive tuition gives way to rote learning and kills a child’s intuitive questioning and curiosity. How would a child ask if he cannot translate and is afraid of uttering a word of Hindi, the language he speaks to his mother and at home?

So where are we all heading as a society? A self-language, self-culture hating group that wants their children to speak English, act English and yet assert a Hindu nationality? We have sharpened education as a weapon of intense class divide rather than a means to self-fulfilment.

If this continues for some more decades, there will be not be one but many Indias, gulfed far apart, hating and humiliating each other and it will prove more atrocious than the religion-caste divide we all are trying to reform.

Last updated: September 22, 2017 | 20:17
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