Let’s face it. Despite the National Education Policy and politically accepted Right to Education Act, India doesn’t seem to have a coherent framework to support the uplifting of the poor by education for the less privileged out of their misery.
95 percent of children now have access to a school within half a mile or so. So, the enrollment rates have also been ever–increasing; however, the absenteeism is ubiquitous. When the benefits become high, the enrollment goes up automatically without having to push it. The idea of students attending the classes is indeed sensitive to the rate of return to education. The poor quality of schools makes the situation grimmer.
The first step towards tackling this abysmal condition of education for the less privileged is invoking a sense of enthusiasm in children to attend school—this is where the learning starts. The bigger challenge is to make the lessons easy to understand and let the child absorb the teachings. Bizarrely enough, this factor never figures in any policy declarations. The education system makes an implicit assumption that learning would follow the enrollment. Unfortunately, things aren’t as simple as they sound, and this post is intended to help resolve this dilemma.
Education for the less privileged
Here are a few viable solutions for making the world a better place by taking necessary steps towards the education of the less privileged children.
Conditional cash transfers
Offer money to poor families only if children regularly attend school. The government needs to steer clear of making education costly as it makes it difficult for families to send their children to school. Mexico worked on this ideology and managed to increase the secondary school enrollment for both boys and girls.
Increased income is not enough and parents also need to be given an incentive. Studies have shown that parents cannot be forced to send their kids to school, they just need to be helped financially. The boost in income eventually can move parents out of extreme poverty and give them the mental space to visualize their child’s future.
Improving the teaching methods
Pratham, an NGO in Jaunpur, U.P, ran the Balsakshi program to impart education for the less privileged effectively. It took twenty children in each classroom who genuinely needed help and appointed balsakshi, a young woman from the community, to work on their areas of weakness. By the end of the tutoring sessions, children, who could not read before, recognized the letters. They were 26 percent more capable of reading a short story.
In a similar program in Bihar, the NGO organized a set of remedial summer camps for school children and the teachers from government schools were invited to come and teach. The much-maligned govt. teachers successfully managed to teach well, and the results were as good as the Balsakshi program. This indeed gave a boost to the condition of education for the less privileged in Bihar.
The public school teachers know how to teach weak children and are willing to put in efforts only during school hours. The same teachers from Bihar, who did so well in summer camps, completely failed to make a difference—the constraints imposed by the official pedagogy and focus on covering the syllabus seemed to be too much of a barrier. It’s inappropriate to blame teachers for this crisis as the Right to Education Act law focuses on completing the curriculum.
Newspapers express dismay at the poor scores; academics talk about the statistics in panel discussions and very little changes. Making sure that every child learns the basics well in school is not only possible but fairly easy, with the help of these simple steps.
- A commitment to the idea that every child can master the basic skills as long as he/she and the teacher, expends enough effort on it.
- A volunteer system along with the efforts of college students and a few weeks of training in pedagogy can be quite useful to improve the reading skills.
- Re-organizing the curriculum and classrooms allow children to learn at their pace and can have large potential gains, especially for students who are lagging behind.
- Tracking the students’ grades is another way of finding out the areas of improvement and alter the teaching accordingly.
- Creating awareness programs for parents about the advantages of sending kids to school improves the test scores of kids.
- Treating students for intestinal worms, improving health facilities, proper sanitation can help minimize absenteeism.
- Introducing computer-based teaching helps every child set his/her own pace through the program.
- Scaling down expectations to realistic levels, focusing on core competencies and using technology
- Simplification of the curriculum and defining a teacher’s tasks
Unless we can fully erase the differences in income, government intervention that makes education cheaper would be necessary for a positive outcome—making sure every child gets a chance. Building schools and hiring teachers is a necessary first step to lowering the cost of sending a child to school, but it may not be enough. The government must make it financially worthwhile for parents to send their children to school. It’s crucial to concentrate on initiatives and realize that policies can become redundant.
As Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, development economists at MIT, believe, “Recognizing that schools have to serve the students they do have, rather than the ones they perhaps would like to have, may be the first step to having a school system that gives a chance to every child.”