My brother and I spent all our summer holidays in my grandmother's home in Trichy, a small town in Tamil Nadu. We would go to our cook's house every day and play with the children in her neighbourhood.
Tired, in the afternoons we would take a nap in the cook's place.
Today, not many children grow up like that. Children go to expensive summer camps, play on their iPads, and call their friends home for XBox sessions. They have created their own parallel reality. They are surrounded by help who are paid to do their bidding, put up with their tantrums and, of course, accompany them to the several birthday parties they attend.
The Right To Education (RTE) Act's 25% reservation for economically and socially backward children aims to change this reality and create a balanced classroom; and eventually a more tolerant society.
While everyone is looking at how the poor will benefit from quality education, maybe we should see how our children will become better people when they study in more inclusive classrooms.
They will become more compassionate, understanding and less selfish people, and eventually create an equal society free of discrimination based on caste and cash. Maybe they will willingly share their imported chocolates with their not-so-well-off classmates, maybe they will value their luxuries instead of taking them for granted, and above all, maybe they will respect their parents a lot more for that.
HT spoke to both sets of parents, parents in the slums with monthly incomes of Rs 5,000 and affluent parents.
Parents from lower income groups were excited. For them, a good education is a ticket to a secure future. They were apprehensive about the discrimination, but were sure that their children would fit in soon. Several affluent parents said that they are glad that their children will soon be part of diverse classrooms.
Of course, issues such as proper implementation, the government abdicating its responsibility of providing affordable quality education to all and the financial burden of the quota will have to be dealt with properly.
As Farida Lambay, co-founder of non-profit Pratham, which works towards educating underprivileged children, said in an interview to HT, "The gravest misconception is that some children should go to private schools and others should go to government schools. It is not about our children or their children. It is about quality education for all."
Apart from schools, it is up to parents to ensure that their children are sensitive and grow up to respect everyone for what they are and not who they are. As Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist, said, "First, parents need to stop differentiating between rich children and poor children."