Dedicated to Anil Sadgopal, the irrepressible warrior trying for equality in education.
Try visiting a government school on a random weekday. There are two possible outcomes:
1. The regular teacher will be missing and the shiksha mitra or para teacher, who lacks proper training, will be officiating. The regular teacher will probably be out on some 'official' work or will have sub-contracted his/her job to someone else.
2. If the teacher is, indeed, present, he/she probably won't be teaching. That job would've been handed out to a senior/bright student.
There is no real incentive for a teacher to actually teach. Currently, the quality of a midday meal (which is sub-standard in itself) is better than the quality of teaching.
The problem was debated at Lalpur village in UP's Hardoi district. It was concluded that a proposal to make the teacher accountable to the village panchayat would be met by strong protests from the teachers' union. Further, there was the danger of the teacher serving the interests of the Gram Pradhan. Yet, this kind of provision is desirable - it would strengthen the decentralization of political power and people's participation in governance.
But if this isn't the answer to India's educational woes, what is? After more discussion, it was concluded that the until the children of the teachers themselves - as an extension of all government employees - were also admitted in government schools, the government would have no vested interest in improving the quality of primary education. This leads us to the long awaited demand of the Kothari Commission: That of a common school system and the implementation of the concept of neighbourhood schools.
I don't think there is an alternative to this. Policy makers must show the political will to implement this, even if it is a bitter pill for the larger ruling elite. Unless this is done, two streams of education - one for the rich and one for the poor - will continue to exist. This will further exacerbate the class divide, just like the economic policies of privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation have increased the gap between the rich and the poor.
The current education system in our country forms the very basis for discrimination between different segments of the population; these become impossible to correct by other means - like reservation - later on in life. To meet the objective of achieving equitable good quality education for all, any attempts towards privatization of education should be strongly discouraged.
College students must be encouraged to take a year off to go and teach at a primary school in a rural area. A volunteer teacher is likely to be better motivated than a salaried employee. Others like professionals, NRIs or housewifes can spare the time to volunteer at government primary schools.
Lastly, civil society must make the effort to take every child from shop floors, teashops and restaurants, railway platforms and households and put them into school.
Sandeep Pandey, a social activist, is the founder of the Asha Parivar and a Ramon Magsaysay award winner.