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Education for the poor:

In our country, high-achieving, school grads have unpacked their shower caddies, flip flops, and smartphone chargers, and begun to settle in at elite colleges. On campus, they have a chance to discover countless resources, bright peers, and illustrious faculty. And for the rest of their lives, they’ll enjoy the benefits of having a top university tattooed across their transcript and resume. But many intelligent and deserving students will be left out of this experience. Those excluded come disproportionately from families on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

They say, a sound education system is the foundation for a sustained growth of a country. But what if the education system has loopholes and is so expensive that the underprivileged cannot afford it?

Everyone is quick to jump on the broken home bandwagon; claiming it to be the sole reason why underprivileged children find it hard to “come up” in the school system. The education system is, in a way, is stifling the progress of many. Students, who are underprivileged, find it difficult to compete with their more affluent peers.

The ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009)’ is a classic case study in the short-sightedness of the previous UPA government. It actually proves how long the repercussions of a bad policy can last. This act does not deal with the root of the problem in India. By some estimates, private schools’ attendance accounts for only about 30 percent. So, 70 percent of the country’s school students still depend on inadequate government schools – where teacher quality is not up-to-the-mark, attendance is poor, infrastructure non-existent, and corruption rampant.

If we go to the grassroots levels, decently-qualified professionals need to be paid a hefty salary, which not all public schools can afford. Most of the underprivileged children attend government schools, so the education for the poor takes a back seat. The World Absenteeism Survey found that in villages, private-school teachers were more likely to be in school on a given day than public-school teachers in the same village. Children who go to private schools also perform better. The gap in performance between private and public school students is extremely higher than the average gap between the children from the highest and lowest socioeconomic categories.

Most of the poor students simply cannot afford to go to school or college. Today, subsidized loan schemes exist, but their efficacy is questionable. Successive governments have spent millions of rupees to subsidise education for the poor. But this move has only benefited the non-poor because the poor, despite the subsidies, still find education unaffordable and are often forced to drop out. India’s gross enrolment ratio (GER) falls steeply from 49 per cent for senior secondary education to 21 per cent for higher education.

It’s not surprising that government institutions are the cheapest places to study at, with annual expenditures ranging from less than Rs 1,000 to around Rs 1,500, except in North and South India, where the average is above Rs 2,000. Both private and private-aided institutions are quite costly, making them difficult to access for the less fortunate ones. Poor families are spending a lot of hard-to-find cash to get a half-baked education for their children. The underprivileged children are often trapped in low-quality education. Although free education is provided at the school level, it is almost non-existent at higher levels. Poverty is certainly a major barrier to education. Additional costs for uniforms, textbooks, teacher salaries and school maintenance, create financial barriers for many families.

What’s the need of the hour? Our country’s education system has to become poor-friendly. This means coming up with a mega-scale need-based grant programmes that would take care of the students’ basic living as well as education expenses. Such programmes will increase the GER (Gross Enrolment Ratio), enhance social equity and raise the academic standards of institutions.

When earning a livelihood and taking care of the members of the family becomes a primary matter of concern in one’s life, education stands a little or, very often, no chance of pursuance. For the underprivileged people in India, education is perceived as a high-priced luxury, and this negative outlook needs to be changed. The underprivileged students certainly need to be given an opportunity to excel in life and that cannot be done unless they get educated. So, it’s about time we give them a fair chance.

Cost of education for the poor is a big problem we are facing at the moment. Read about some of the things which need to be rethought concerning it here.

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