You know elections are round the corner when freebies tumble out the government’s secret cove even before you can utter “Open Sesame”. According to media reports, the Union government is planning to distribute more than 20 million tablets to senior school students throughout the country at the cost of Rs 8,000 crore and for reasons known to all, it wants to complete the project within the next financial year. So where will the government get money for these freebies? Officials are greedily eyeing the Universal Service Obligation Fund that is built from a share of annual revenues given by telecom operators to the government to spread technology in the rural areas. Whether the Congress will do a Samajwadi Party and load its symbol on the tablet screen is still not clear.
This story should be read together with another one that appeared in the media on the same day. A survey done by Child Relief and You, a non-government organisation, has revealed that nearly one-fourth of primary and upper primary schools in India function without blackboards. The study was conducted in 750 schools across 71 districts in 13 states. It also found that more than 75% of schools lacked furniture and in 41% of schools, students were taught in the open. The study also found that three years after the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 was rolled out, there are many schools that still do not meet the mandatory requirements. Studies have also shown that even though there has been an increase in enrolment, the quality of learning has been dipping.
Instead of spending money on such gimmicks, the government should invest more time, money and energy into improving our school infrastructure and quality of education so that children can find their feet in a knowledge economy. Computer literacy is required, but first the basic skills please.