“Hi baaji (didi)”, this was the usual greeting by the students every time we visited ‘Hope’. My classmates and I are part of the National Social Service Programme of our college, where we have to participate in community service and complete a stipulated number of hours before we get our bachelors degree. The project, of which we are a part,is known by the name ‘Hope’. It is a centre where the slum children come after school, and college students teach there as volunteers. Though we were assigned this task in the beginning of the year itself, we delayed going there the entire year because of sheer laziness. However, when we finally realized how serious this work was, we started going regularly. Although we joined late, the children there soon got used to their new baajis.
Going there was plain compulsion in the beginning, but when we actually started working, I realized that how badly these children need help in their studies. When we were taken to the place for the first time by our Project Head, the surroundings immediately put us off. It was difficult for me to believe that now I would have to go and teach these children. It seemed as an uphill task to me. However, when I saw a lot of foreigners coming there willingly and teaching the children, I felt a little bad for myself as to how selfish I was.When we started teaching these children, we realized the quality of education which was given to these children was sub-standard, to be mild. We always read in the newspapers or listened from other people, how the teachers at Government schools didn’t teach their students. There, when we saw their note books, we were shocked because the truth was even more horrific. So much so that the children themselves didn’t know what they had written in their notebooks. Sometimes we laughed, but then we realized that the very future of these children was at stake. Their basic concepts were not just weak, but they don’t exist all together! Class 2 students could write all the alphabets correctly; but when we asked them to identify alphabets individually, we either got wrong answers, stupid guesses or plain silence. Mathematics was a problem since many didn’t even know simple addition or subtraction. Many times, I ended up shouting at them and becoming a villain for them, but I couldn’t help it. It was tough for all of us as we ended up losing our tempers after sometime when they failed to get the concept right even after much effort from our part. Another shocking example was once, when a class 4 child asked me to correct a letter he had written to his uncle, which his teacher had taught him in class. Though the letter was addressed to his uncle, it concluded as “your loving son” instead of ‘nephew’. When I told the child that this was incorrect, he refused to listen and kept on saying that his teacher had taught and corrected it, so it couldn’t be wrong. After giving him a half an hour long explanation, he finally understood the problem. Hence, that day I came to know about one more problem, i.e. of unqualified teachers. I may be over-exaggerating and using an extremely casual term, but what else can you call these teachers who don’t have their own concepts clear?Building a school and getting a big minister to cut the red ribbon is one thing and providing good and qualified teachers is another. In the past, many Government schools have carved a niche for themselves by continuously outshining private schools in various board exams results. However, recently, the results of the children studying in Government-run schools have deteriorated because of illiteracy and poverty. These continue to be the main reasons why the parents of these children remain ignorant about the quality of education given to their wards. Delhi is the capital of India and if, in the capital, the state of Government schools is this, then we can imagine what would be the level of other schools in the rest of the nation. However, we have an exception in the state of Kerala, where the total literacy rate is more than the country’s average and Government schools are the prime mode of dispersing education. Once, while going through an article, I found that there is a school at every nook and corner of the country, and poor families cut down on all the unnecessary expenditures so that their children get access to education without any hindrance. If this is the effort made by parents and their children, the Government must ensure that their efforts don’t go in vain. The Constitution guarantees free education to all children up to 14 years of age, but if it is free, it doesn’t mean that there has to be a compromise on quality. Every year millions of rupees are spent by the finance ministry on education, but where this money goes is a question to which the answer is unknown to us. In the present scenario, either we can come forward and help these children or sit back on our couches and hope for a better future. Neha Pant
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mckaysavage/2230569196/]