*I had written this when the reservation debate was in full force but somehow it got lost in a sea of articles. Then last evening I was talking to a friend who told me that it was only when he went to the States to study that he understood how to 'learn. Unlike learning by rote which is the way things go in India, in the States you apply the knowledge in real life. I have to agree, because outside of McGill and Westminster, only Mrs. Dayita Dutta of Welham Girls (my boarding school) showed us how to imbibe... not just memorize. Anyway, thats my little background to my little theory -- the importance of trickle up education.*
The questions of reservations have been growing; they went from employment to education to politics- they grew from OBC to Muslims to Women. Those that support reservation believe that the less privileged need a leg up; others believe that solid primary education is the key. Concentrating on the OBC's and Muslims as the only disadvantaged groups is a grave mistake. And counting on reservations alone is even worse. The Left points out that despite more private educational institutes in the country- the criteria for admission has remained money and that same goes for many high school and college performances; the secret is the after school tuition. The clamour and frenzied debate reflects birthing pangs of a developing country- where mercifully, two of the most coveted resources are education and employment.
This key element- the demand for education is what the government needs to tackle. Because, we will end up derailing the progress that India has made because we will have less merit based candidates in the educational sector- that means their performance cannot be guaranteed.At the same time, if the employment sector continues to grow, it will be essential that we have a work force up to the challenge.
But here's the rub: does all this reserving and arguing actually translate into quality education? The International Herald Tribune answered this question [26/11/06] claiming that only the top tiered universities forged the way to well paying jobs while other second tiered universities led students to meager paying sales jobs. As one student lamented, it is almost the same as not getting an education. While companies need candidates for their jobs, the kind of student
that is getting churned out across the broad spectrum of India's educational schools and colleges, is simply not good enough. It's the spark of creativity and initiative that is missing.
So what is the real reason? Is it the syllabus- is it the method of teaching? Is learning by rote totally obsolete in a world where questioning and independent research is the norm? The quality of teachers needs to be called into question. Does the government have an internal audit system by which they check the performance of the teachers in their schools? Are teachers sent for further training so that they understand new teaching methods and have new tools that they can use? Does the government provide books for all students? These are very basic questions at the very basic level that need to be addressed.
Despite the argument of reservations; a very basic point is this: why are we not making the efforts required that if a student needs to be accepted into a college, he can get accepted on his own merit? And for all students to be capable of acquiring the marks that are needed for this to happen, reservations are certainly not the answer. Now, imagine this: a student who studies in a primary government school, be it Hindi or in the regional language, finds that science and economic technology- which is in English after class 10, is completely alien to him. He learns English, but is uncomfortable to speak the language because his peers do not speak it either. In this case, the education is there, but the support structure needed to truly imbibe this learning is not. Now, take the example of the child of a migrant worker. His child, now in an urban center, goes to school- the first generation to do so. Again, he has the same problem. There is no money for tuitions, his family cannot help him because they are illiterate themselves. Now, just because he may not be an OBC or a Muslim, are we to assume he does not need help from the government? Observations such as these from NGOs operating in urban slums, such as CASP, need as much attention as vote mongering educational politics.
What we need to decide as a country is where we see ourselves in another fifty years, perhaps even another hundred and fifty years. Unless India aims long-term, other efforts will always fall short. The demand for educations and its necessity has been realized. In the midst of talk about trickle down economics, the reality (or perhaps the lack of) trickle up education has to be addressed. Accountability in the classrooms and support outside it- including adult education, which goes hand in hand with development- is crucial. Sure, reservations are one thing. But wouldn't it be wonderful if we could hope to become a merit based society and not crutch based?