While a number of education schemes and policies are in place, and are excellent on paper, the results tell a different story.
Debates surrounding the educational sector and education for the underprivileged have been one of the hottest topics for eons, and remains so till date, and not without reason. The discussions range from whether there should be an increase in reservation of seats for underprivileged children, what sort of education they should receive, the number of institutions required, and even to what kind of teachers will be deemed suitable.
Several schemes have been instituted to ensure that underprivileged children receive a solid educational base including 'Samagra Shiksha' and 'Strengthening for Providing Quality Education in Madrassas' (SPQEM).
The Right to Education guarantees free and quality education to all children aged between 6 and 14, and additionally, incentives like Mid-Day Meal, scholarships and even reservations in private schools are designed to encourage maximum enrolment of students from underprivileged backgrounds.
While the schemes are in place, and are excellent on paper, the results tell a different story.
Status of education benefits for underprivileged as per stats
According to the report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), 32 million Indian children of age up to 13 years have never attended any school, the majority of them belonging to the socially disadvantaged class (2014).
And, when it comes to quality education, there is an extreme shortage of qualified and dedicated teachers. Evidently, nothing extraordinary can be expected from students.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) and several other studies reveal that more than 50 percent of class 5 students cannot even read basic text or solve a basic arithmetic problem.
Besides, a significant number of government schools have a shortage of quality infrastructure, including fans in classrooms and separate toilets for girls and boys.
There is a significant gap between policy and practice, and this can be filled by restructuring the educational system.
Learning from fundamentals
The key to reforming education for the underprivileged lies in first going back to basics. Understanding the term 'underprivileged' and comprehending the socio-economic background of the underprivileged is an absolute necessity.
The umbrella term covers multiple categories of people across various spectrums. Each category has different upbringings, views, ambitions and goals. It is necessary to segregate these various sections and then provide customisable solutions that are both viable and sustainable.
Free education, along with a mid-day meal is not enough to make education attractive.
Having worked with underprivileged children for over 5 years, I have realised that it is not enough to pull children to school with the promise of a meal or a scholarship. The problem goes deeper than that, and cannot be solved by one entity alone.
These children yearn to learn. Through a combination of informal education, skill development, co-curricular activities and regular meals, these children can build a solid foundation and can then merge into formal systems of education.
The journey is slow, but is more effective and has shown significant and verifiable results. It is only by covering multiple verticals that the underprivileged can be aided.
Collaboration for collective responsibility
Creating better educational facilities is an arduous task because there is a scarcity of resources, monetary and otherwise.
The primary way through which educational reform can be brought about is through collaboration and forming partnerships.
There are many NGOs that are carrying out commendable work in the sphere of educating the underprivileged, whether in the capacity of training teachers, creating infrastructure or initiating informal models of education.
There are multiple entities at play, and it is of utmost importance to invest in the future of these children. Education is the prime way through which the underprivileged can escape the vicious cycle of poverty.
Government collaboration with NGOs in the educational sector can make a significant impact.
Organisations that work for the socio-economic development of the underprivileged must be recognised and fuelled with appropriate funds to optimise their endeavours.
The key to reforming the education sector for the underprivileged lies in partnerships and collaborations with all players. Through this, progress will be fast-tracked, effective and will produce concrete results.
-Article by Dr. Geetanjali Chopra, Founder and President, Wishes and Blessings