Monday, April 16, 2012

The Right to a Heart (and Education, while we're at it)

I'm all for RTE. Yes, there are not enough seats in schools and yes, some of our elite babies might have to suffer culture shock (more the parents than the children it seems sometimes) but in such a segregated country, it is needed. However, I'd like to add my 2 bits to the subject. Years ago, my dhobi's son finished high school (a government school) and got into Delhi University. I think it was Dyal Singh college. Everyone was proud and it seemed like this amazing moment where barriers were being broken. However, it soon became apparent that because of the fact that he couldn't invite friends home and at times felt horribly aware that his social and financial situation was not the same as the friends he was making. His parents came to my parents to ask them for help, he was suffering severe depression. He was taken to a therapist and long story short, is totally okay now, and has a government job.

Cut to a few years later when my mom put my cooks kids in an English medium school here in Delhi. The difference is that now she sits with them practically every single day and does homework. She buys them new clothes and uniforms, and cycles and skateboards, and what have you. I get them all kinds of science gizmos and chocolates and DVDs of cartoons etc. I know a lot of parents and families offer the same support. This is not to make a hero out of anyone, but its to shine a light on a simple fact: when kids come home -- they need help with homework and with some amount of confidence building. If the parents cannot speak English, how the hell will they help with homework? Therefore, when we talk about RTE, I hope schools or the government has though about putting in place mechanisms to help these kids absorb education in a language which is definitely not spoken at home, and also, to emotionally deal with the fact that they might live in a servants quarter which is the size of somebody else's bathroom. These are not things that can't be dealt with - don't get me wrong - I just mean I hope we are sensitive to some human emotions while we go about these massive changes.

I'm saying this very specifically because some of the arguments I've read pro-RTE seem to be saying -- "the middle class is so full of itself, throw these poor children into the mix and let them suffer". Yes, we are insufferable. But please don't use these poor little kids as a weapon to punish us. Make the same argument, put do it with some heart.

On the other hand, there are those who say government schools need to be fixed, they are absolutely right. Obviously, as a journalist, I've visited lots of government schools around the country and their quality ranges from good to bad. The other day I went to meet some kids as part of an after-school activity in Madanpur Khadar J&J Colony (around Kalindi Kunj, New Delhi). My foundation and Bring Home Stories (which is Sapna's as many of you might know) are getting together to get these kids to produce a film and we were there to figure them out. Sapna had met them the week before and asked them to prepare a 3 min speech on what story they would cover if they were a journalist. The sheer confidence with which they spoke, and the fact that all of them had done their research, blew me away. Very, very impressive. I took videos, so you can see what I mean. But if you ask me, why do you think it was that these kids from a government school living in just another city slum were so impressive? Its because they have not only a good school but great after school activities organized by some local NGOs which have given them the confidence and the training to be better. Sapna and I have it easy, because we're working with such sharp kids to begin with.

My point is this: there needs to be sufficient arrangements to make sure that kids - in this case (RTE) if they are shifting over to private schools have the back up they need to survive this huge, huge tectonic shift they will experience. I just feel like too many people are focusing on the top down effect (suck it, middle class) and that doesn't help. Be productive. How will you help these kids adapt? Start learning so many subjects in English? Keep up with some amount of cultural references the other kids are talking about? Deal with the inferiority complex that might arise from such a huge change. Lets do it. But as I said earlier, lets do it with heart.


vivekstanley said...

Mahima, help should be voluntary & unforced in nature. If you want to help the needy, you can do it with your personal money. If you believe that government is an effective body when it comes to helping the needy, you can give more of your hard earned income to the government (as taxes) and thus help the needy. However, forcing others to support (pay for) a government project - which aims to help the poor but will not efficiently and/or effectively hit the target (statistically speaking) - is something that I cannot agree with. I agree that we should empower those poorer kids, but then, the means by which we do that should be free, voluntary and unforced!

egg style said...

India’s own ‘bussing’ moment, looks like. Not as dramatic as Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957, though. Much less noise too. Maybe coz Indians have a way of subverting all egalitarian projects. So while poor kids will be admitted to posh schools, their chances of class-mobility in life may not brighten much, which is really sad. Social class mobility in India is low because of the persistence of caste, which, frankly, is racism in disguise, something a court order can’t fix.

On actual service deliveries, you’re spot on, the top-down approach works only if it’s a gush instead of trickle. But then the methods used need not be a Sophie’s Choice of either this or that. On the whole, yes, whatever is done needs be heartfelt, and the heart must throb to a beat that is truly egalitarian.