Sunday, October 25, 2015

Where is the school for these children?

An open letter to  Smt. Smrithi Irani

Hon’ble Human Resource Development Minister,

You are aware that natural resource and human resource are the two vital ingredients for the development of any country.  India has both in abundance. (Human resource in potential form!)  Education is the tool which transforms ordinary human beings into human resource.  Knowing this, the Government of India has rightly brought into force, ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act’ (RTE).  I have given below brief profiles of 6 children, who have remained out of the ambit of education system.  As a citizen of India, I ask you a question, ‘Where is the school for these children to learn?’  I am confident that you will respond. 

Profile 1:  The name of the girl is Bhuvaneshwari.  [Name changed on request from the child]  She stays in Ekalavyanagara [impoverished colony] on the outskirts of Mysore city.  She belongs to Scheduled caste.  Her father is an alcoholic addict.  Both her parents are illiterates.  The atmosphere at home is not congenial for studies.  Father does not stay with the family always; some days he comes home.   Mother often becomes a victim of domestic violence and the child, a silent spectator to this violence.  Bhuvaneshwari studies in three Government schools and finally bids good bye to school.  She works as a child labour in Bengaluru, first as a child care taker and secondly as a domestic help for two years.  She does not like both the jobs, comes home and starts helping her mother.   Thanks to the efforts of her relative, she again joins a free hostel run by an NGO and joins another Government school, only to drop out after a few months.  She does not have any educational documents like Transfer certificate or progress report.  She does not have birth certificate either.  She is approximately 13 years old now.  As per RTE Act, she can join any free Government school again and sit in age appropriate class.  But without prerequisites and unable to follow the lessons, she will drop out from that school also. Is it possible for a teacher to do justice for such a child, without compromising on the interests of rest of the children? Where is the school for this girl to learn?  RTE gives such children right to schooling, but not right to education!]

[In November 2012, ‘Spiritus International Trust’ spotted her and decided to build her future by admitting her into a free residential school.   Thus, she landed up in ‘Kaliyuva Mane’, a free residential Non-formal school and gained interest for studies.  At present, she is preparing to face the coveted 10th standard public examinations this year.]

Profile 2:  Swastic is the only child to their parents.  Both his parents are educated.  Father is a Government employee. Parents belong to an economically middle class family.  Swastic’s parents own a car.  They know the importance of education.  So, Swastic joins a reputed English medium school.  Unfortunately, he cannot cope up with the rigour of the mainstream schools and always lags behind in studies.  The child undergoes humiliation at the school.  Concerned parents change the school twice, but in vain.  Thanks to the prevailing education policy, he completes 9th standard from St. Thomas School, Mysuru.  But his educated parents know the truth about the academic level of their son.  They become apprehensive about their only son passing 10th standard examinations.  The boy is 15 year old.  Otherwise, he is mentally sharp.    But where is the school for this boy to learn? There is a film for the dyslexic but not a school ! 

[As a last resort, the child’s parents brought  him to Kaliyuva Mane (Kaliyuva=learning, Mane=Home) in April 2013.  School staff members advised the parents to get the assessment of the boy done by Clinical Psychiatrist of AIISH.  According to the report,  Swastic’s  IQ is 100, but academic level is 1st standard.  Is the boy mentally retarded? No, the child is dyslexic.  (Learning disability) Because of the fine emotional environment at the school, he starts learning.  He is preparing to face the coveted 10th standard public examination this year.  He has some difficulty in learning languages.]

Profile 3: Manu hails from Mellahalli located on Bannur road, on the outskirts of Mysuru. Both the parents are illiterates and belong to rural BPL Scheduled tribe family.    Manu is the second son.   Farming is the family profession.  Manu completes 1st standard from a rural Government Kannada medium school.  He loses interest in the studies and drops out from the school due to multiple reasons such as inherent disinterest, rote teaching methods, lack of guidance at home, fear of punishment at schools etc.  Manu starts helping his parents in farming and taking care of the cows.  In the meantime, Manu's uncle Shivalingu, an illiterate who had learnt reading and writing attending literacy classes, motivates Manu to continue his studies.     But, Manu does not know anything else except to write his name in Kannada.   He is now 13 years old.  Where is the school for this boy to learn?  How much can he learn in one year as RTE covers only children of age range 6-14?  At least 6 months’ time is needed for him to regain the lost enthusiasm for studies.   

[On 9th April 2007, Manu joined Kaliyuva Mane.  In April 2012, at an age of 18 years, he passed 10th standard examinations in English medium.  Then he underwent a training course at CIPET.  Now he is employed in an extruder company in Bengaluru.  Inspired by Manu’s success, his brother Mahesh, a 4th standard school dropout also has joined Kaliyuva Mane.  Mahesh is preparing to face the 10th standard examinations this year.] 

Profile 4:  Both the parents of Nitin are post graduates. [The boy’s name has been changed on his request.] Their qualification is M.A., B.Ed.  Both have teaching experience.   Currently the boy’s father is a practicing astrologer in Tamilnadu.  Nitin’s mother is the head mistress of a convent.  Parents belong to a middle class family.  They own a car also.   The boy studies in English medium private schools.  He always passes with ‘A’ grade.  But in 8th standard his parents admit him to one of the reputed schools of Mysuru, viz Sadvidya High school.  Surprisingly, the boy’s academic performance starts declining.  He progresses to 9th standard.  In one of the routine academic tests, the boy fails.  The school authorities ask him to bring his parents to the school.  His parents demand school progress report.  The boy is in a dilemma.  One day, he does not return home.  His parents are worried.   Finally his parents trace him.  The boy refuses to go to the same school after that incident.  The boy is 14 years old now.   It is September month.  His parents approach 3 more private English medium schools.  Unfortunately they refuse admission for this boy.  ‘Where is the school for this boy to learn?’
[As a last resort, in September 2014, Nitin’s parents brought him to Kaliyuva Mane.   Due to a very healthy emotional environment prevailing at that school, the boy was happy and so started learning.  He is preparing to face the 10th standard examinations this year.]
Profile 5:    Prajwal’s father is not alive and belongs to a rural scheduled caste BPL family. His mother rolls Agarbathis and works as a domestic help for a living.   So Prajwal joins a rural private Kannada medium school.   Though Prajwal’s mother is an illiterate, she determines to give good education to her son.  The boy passes 5th standard and enters 6th standard.   But the child lags behind too much in studies.   So, Prajwal is brought to Kaliyuva Mane.  The school, conducts an informal test to find out the academic level of the child.   Performance of the boy in this test is dismal.   Then the child is taken to AIISH for an authentic assessment.  As per the report, his IQ is found to be 100, but academic level 2nd standard.  The boy is now 11 years old.  The boy is mentally sound, not dyslexic, but has an academic lag of 3 years.   According to the report, he shows academic difficulties that needs to be addressed by evolving a learner paced, individualized activity oriented program.  ‘Where is such a school for this boy to learn?’  
[In June 2014, Kaliyuva Mane gives admission to this child.  The school arranges bus pass free of cost for the boy.  In 2015, the child’s mother joins garment industries.  So the boy joins the school as a resident scholar.  He is progressing well in this school, though his attitude has to change a lot! ]   
Profile 6:  Sridhar belongs to Harohalli village which is 25 Kms. from Mysuru city.  His father is an illiterate and works as a coolie.  His mother works as a teacher in Anganawadi.  His parents belong to scheduled caste rural BPL family.  He joins a close by Government school, but struggles to learn there.   So he loses interest in lessons, starts indulging in cross-talking.  This disturbs teachers’ concentration.  Agitated teachers scold him and sometimes punish him.  Lacking in prerequisites, the child fails to understand subsequent lessons.   The boy remains in the classrooms out of compulsions.  Teachers don’t have any other option except to promote him to next higher standards every year.  Somehow he completes 7th standard.  His mother is aware that his son cannot read even 1st standard Kannada lessons.  He is now 13 years old.  ‘Where is the school for this boy to learn?’

[His mother came to know about Kaliyuva Mane and its impact on the children. She came to know about the free pick up and drop transport facility, arranged by the school to their village.   So, his mother brought Sridhar to Kaliyuva Mane, in April 2014. The school staff members took him to AIISH for a psychological assessment.  As per the report, he was functioning at the level of Mild Mental Retardation.  He had 50% intellectual disability and learning disability.  His mental age was 4 years less than his physical age of 13 years. His IQ was 68.  Due to healthy emotional environment prevailing at the school, Sridhar enthusiastically started coming to the school regularly.  He can read Kannada lessons reasonably well now.   He sings well also.]

Respected Minister, do you know how many such ‘OUT OF SCHOOL/SYSTEM CHILDREN’ are there in India at present?  As per Annual Status of Education Report, more than 50% of children studying in rural schools suffer from an academic lag of minimum 3 years.  Any educated person with social concern can authenticate this. It is not right blaming the children/parents/schools/teachers/Education officers for this.  The problem lies with our Education system, which considers all children as machines with equal efficiency, designed to learn a predetermined textual content within a stipulated period, at a predetermined speed. As long as children learn happily this way, there is no problem.  When this does not happen, problems crop up. 

Respected Madam, the fact is that children have varied emotional sensitivities, varied learning interests and varied learning pace.  So, many mentally normal children are unable to reach the grades in regular schools.  But these ‘Out of school/system children’ also belong to this world. Don’t you feel the education of 50% of rural children is important?  Every educated person with values is an asset to his country in particular and to the world at large.  Don’t you feel when a photo does not fit into a frame, a new frame has to be designed to suit the photo?  Don’t you feel a new education system functioning on the philosophy, ‘school for CHILDREN’ rather than ‘children for SCHOOL’ is essential for the development of these ‘OUT OF SCHOOL/SYSTEM CHILDREN’?  

I have attached some details about Kaliyuva Mane, a free non-formal school where all these children are learning now, along with 100 such children.  It is an irony of the system, that this school which has gone beyond RTE Act, in giving educational rights to the childsren, lacks formal recognition as a ‘School’ and faces plenty of  hurdles from the education department.  I request, invite and urge you to visit this village school.  Who knows, you may find a new way of educating rural kids and training teachers.

M.R. Ananth Kumar
Mysore - 570008

For chidlren’s documents (Certificates from AIISH & school records), copy and paste the link: