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The education of a million marginalized children in India
Javeed Mirza (email@example.com)
India is seething with a humongous growth in population. It is close to 1.3 billion at present and expected to overtake China in another 10 years to become the most populous country in the world. The Indian subcontinent of undivided India (includes Pakistan and Bangladesh) has 1.7 billion population with over a quarter of them living below the Poverty line. SDG4 is most relevant to the Indian subcontinent, mired in poverty and inequality.
With the growth in population there is a needs demand, rise in expectations and the myriad complex solutions required to meet them. A basic requirement that is fundamental to meeting the challenge, is the education of its people. In India, literacy is around 70% and varies with the caste/religious composition. The poor folks coming from the lower castes and tribes and the minorities have the lowest level of education. The quality of education is abysmal. The Indian government spends around 2.5% of its GDP on education (a good portion of which is allocated to the prestigious Indian institutions like the IIT’s and IIM’s that produce brilliant engineers and scientists). It passed the Right to Education Act (RTE) in 2009 guaranteeing education for all children from age 6 to 14. However, the lack of political will to implement the provisions of the act and the unwillingness to commit financial resources towards its implementation, has stalled the educational progress. The Right to free and good quality education for all, remains a distant dream.
The Indian government is expecting the private sector to meet the educational demands. Access to education in profit- making private sector is financially impossible for most of the poor folks. They need to attend the Government. schools. The government run schools lack in infrastructure, …. students squat on the floor, girls have no bathroom facilities, absence of books and writing materials, high absenteeism of teachers and an administration that is bureaucratic and corrupt. Most students drop out before they complete high school. Read Kunal Chawla’s article “Major problems with the Indian Education system” ( https://medium.com/@chawlak/major-problems-with-the-indian-education-system-a9fafcf49281)
A rote-memorization methodology of education is followed in the government school set up. A servile educational system in consonance with the caste hierarchy gives no place for critical thinking. The Indian ruling class comes from the upper and middle castes. Their children attend expensive private schools where standard education is provided.
The functioning of the Indian democratic system has given some leverage to the poor folks as they are able to use the power of their vote to change the ruling party and choose another party. The ruling party have met this resistance from the lower castes by offering “reservation” in education and jobs (like affirmative rights in the USA) to the lower castes and tribes (this reservation is however, denied to the Muslims and Christians even though they are also extremely poor). Thanks to Reservation, there has been a limited growth in the education of the lower castes. However, their share of the quota in education and jobs is lower than their share of the population.
Unemployment is extremely high. It is not uncommon to see a thousand candidates line up to apply for a few job openings. Absence of income affects mostly the Poor. NASSCOM (The National Association of Software and Services Companies) thinks that 90% of the engineering graduates are unemployable due to low-quality education and lack of skills. Provision of relevant and adequate technical and vocational skills that meet changing demand, is another important requirement of Education. Entrepreneurial education is missing as the business oriented upper castes prefer their own family members to learn and carry on the business. The lower castes have no Entrepreneurs to emulate.
Critical minority segments that need high educational priority
Dalit and Tribal education
A thousand years of exploitation and oppression of the lower castes by the upper castes has created a built-in handicap for the lower castes. It will take many generations of educational, social and economic empowerment to overcome. A big leap in empowerment was taken by the Dalit leader, Dr Ambedkar, when he demanded separate “reservations” in the political sphere for his people. He rebelled against the mainstream leadership of MK Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other Congress leaders. With persistence he was able to incorporate the provisions of this reservation in the new Constitution of the republic of India (of which he was the architect). In the three generations post to Indian independence in 1947, the Dalits have gathered political clout and are able to exert a certain amount of pressure on the government to heed to their demands. However, this clout is marginal and has not really helped the Dalit gain social and economic emancipation. Stigma and intrinsic backwardness continue to hound them. They are still at the lowest echelons in terms of literacy, longevity and are beset with huge unemployment and underemployment. The ruling parties channelize their anger and frustration, with a mixed bag of appeasement (example, by appointing a Dalit as India’s president), of social oppression (cruel beatings, rape, incarceration etc.) and by dividing the Lower castes into multiple sub-castes and making one subcaste fight the other.
Private educational enterprises
There is a mushrooming of private non-profit organizations that are catering to the education of the poor. These are run by small entrepreneurs. They charge an affordable fee and provide a better education since they monitor the working of the teachers and are eager to show the parents that their children can read and write and take the exams.
The Madrasa education is a sub-category within the private educational enterprise and has distinct elements. It is also run by entrepreneurs but is funded by Muslim community philanthropists and works on a paltry budget. Around 4% of India’s 200 million population attend madrasas (as per the Justice Sachar committee report on Education). Here children are provided religious education that includes learning to read the Quran and its memorization. For a limited number of students, it also includes higher education in Islamic studies. The script they follow is very antiquated and limit the children’s growth in various ways. The students are not provided with basic learning of languages (English and regional). They are not taught Math or science or job oriented vocational skills. Most students come out as paupers and are thrown on the streets to eke their living. Like their compatriots of the poor castes, they are the most deprived. Secular Education of good quality along with skills training is required so their potential can be tapped and productivity harnessed. Failure to do so is increasing frustration among all strata of the poor. The politicians, unable to think beyond serving themselves and their masters, devise plans to divert the attention of the people from pressing demands and have recently launched lynching, incarceration and political isolation to demean them and build hate against them in non-Muslims.
Gender discrimination is rampant in India. Cases of dowry and atrocities against women can be read every day in all nooks and corners of the country. Unlike Boys education, Girls education is not considered to be of high priority. Girls are deprived of good education and their literacy is lower than the boys. Girls from the lower castes and minorities have the lowest education of all. In the government schools, provision of bathroom facility is missing for girls. They are entrusted with home chores or taking care of the younger siblings as the parents need to go to work. Fear of sexual attack also makes the parents cautious and hesitant to send their daughters to school. Lack of transportation and absence of provision of meals in school, cast a further burden on the parents. A drive to convince the parents of the need for Girls education and the provision of various facilities is required to drive Girls educational attendance. Transportation, provision of meals and of safety, bathroom facilities as well as material resources to study; provision of uniforms etc., are needed. In case of parents who are very poor and need the girls to augment their income, there needs to be a provision to give monetary support to the parents, so that they free the girls to attend the school.
The use of Technology to build mass education
Educational Technology has taken great strides in the last decade and is able to meet the challenge of mass education. Massive Free Open-ware Online courses (MOOCs) backed by international organizations, state govts., UNESCO & private institutions have opened doors for learning by the poor. The possibility of imparting good quality education at a low cost is on the horizon. However, the poor still lack the tools to avail them (computer, broadband, books and Trained Teachers). Internet is weak in most places and expensive. Of late in India, a spurt is seen in the demand for smart phones and a decrease in the cost of broadband. This is opening the possibilities for learning. Towards getting electoral support, the government proclaims that it is willing to provide more funds and facilities for education. However, there is no comprehensive reform of the education system that addresses the multitude of problems besetting the system. Bureaucracy and corruption are systemic, putting huge breaks in the implementation of any meaningful reform.
The global educational organizations and philanthropist supported education
The Indian law of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandates that a 2% contribution of corporate profit be diverted for societal benefit. The Indian corporations are mostly run by rich families and they have invested some of the CSR funds into education, health and other areas, through family-run charitable institutions. Notable exception is the Azim Premji foundation for public education. Mr. Premji, a philanthropist par excellence, has invested many billions of dollars in the improvement of the quality of the Indian public-school system and in Teacher training. The combined strength of the working of these institutions address less than two percent of the Indian school going population. There is a high need for the involvement of global educational and philanthropic associations in expanding the Indian educational outreach. The UN has stipulated global Sustainable Development Goals. However, they are guidelines only and not mandated. Its implementation is left to the goodwill of the government A few exceptional philanthropists have risen to meet the SDG challenge. Prominent among them are Her Excellency Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of Qatar, who instituted the Education Above All (EAA), an organization to help underserved areas and marginalized youth get education. An important goal of the EAA was the education of 10 million OOSC (Out of School Children’s) education. It has pursued the target diligently and achieved great success. Other philanthropists like Mr. Jack Ma and Mr. Chen Yidan are dedicated to advance the frontiers of global education to cover undeserved areas and underserved populace. There are other philanthropists also, who are fully committed to the growth of education. The strength of such forces is miniscule when compared to the vast needs. In the Indian subcontinent there is a desperate need to provide Literacy as well as qualitatively enhance the education of hundreds of millions of children and youth. Those who are deprived of education have the right as human beings to avail the same. They are imbued with the same intelligence, capability, love of learning as any of the educated. What is missing is the opportunity and the wherewithal necessary to obtain it. Humanitarian consideration demand that all concerned people take up this issue with seriousness. The philanthropist can play a far larger role than what has been attempted so far. We need to overcome the dark forces of Illiteracy and Poverty from enmeshing the lives of the poor. The greatest happiness one can achieve is not the accumulation of wealth but the diversification of wealth from the private and the state sector to the productive, essential and exhilarating sectors of health and education. It is a sad tragedy that the most advanced country in the world spends an annual $750 billion on Defense and likewise all developed countries defense budgets get bloated each year as they compete and threaten each other. The leaders who lead them have lost their sense of balance. They will leave no recognized legacy except that of destructive spending and denial of justice to millions of humans, who pleaded for succor from hunger and yearned for education.
Proposal for the education of one million minority children
My proposal is to provide education for one million children of the marginalized segments of India. Towards providing this mass education it is proposed that Free and open-ware educational tools like Khan academy and MOOCS (Massive Open-ware Online Courses) be availed. Organizations like UNESCO, EAA (Education Above All) have supported the growth of educational tools that benefit education. Government institutions in India like the distance learning Ambedkar University and IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) as well as the prestigious Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT’s) have, like the Harvard, MIT and Berkeley sponsored EdX, kept their course work in the open for students to avail them for free. Hujiang in China provides technological solutions for mass education spread over in different corners of the country. Pioneering work is being done in this area and companies like Allison, Rachel etc. are offering technological tools at low prices towards furthering mass education.
Funding models of Education have been developed and are evolving. EAC (Educate A Child) is a subdivision of EAA and it has fostered a model where it partners with highly established educational organizations in the underdeveloped countries in Africa and Asia. These partners elaborate a detailed plan and if approved, they are financially supported by EAC to an approximate tune of $100/per child per project (typically 3-year projects) for student enrollment in excess of 30,000. Educate-Girls, a non-profit in India, initiated a Development Impact Bond (DIB) in education. This ties funding to outcomes. It claimed to achieve and surpass its targets.
Enlightened organizations, philanthropists, educationists and officials (as seen at the WISE summit) have expressed their willingness to support universal literacy and applied learning as part of their commitment to meeting Sustainable Development Goals. What needs to be worked out are the implementation mode with appropriate funding and technology support.
The Indian government has data identifying areas of critical shortages (data of dropped out students and OOSC) in all districts of the country. It also has outlined educational policies (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) in support of the Right to Education (RTE) act to provide free education for children between 6-14 ages. The government has only had a partial success in the implementation of these schemes as there are endemic constraints (poor salaries for “Volunteer” teachers), absenteeism of teachers, transportation issues, lack of educational materials, non-provision of lunch and lack of motivation of students.
A coalition of non-government non-profit educational institutions is the first step. They should be steeped in educational practices and must have dedicated and trained staff. Vetting these partners for credibility in performance is important. Critical role is in the mobilization of the students in rural sectors where parental support for education is low. Volunteers are required who will constantly be engaged in mobilization of support and ensuring the smooth functioning of the schools. Wherever possible, existing infrastructure support like school buildings and educational facilities should be rented as well as government-constructed rural buildings should be availed. Government instituted curriculum can be used and improvised, so students learning here are on par with education provided in government run schools. The Coalition should have leadership with vision, dedication and educational knowhow.
Quality education should be enforced, with support for developing critical thinking skills. Universal values of tolerance, consideration for others, and amity between all humans needs to be reinforced. Education should be job oriented, sustainable and be enriching to the mind and the soul. It can be a fast track education of a couple of years for the upper age youth who dropped out from school (12 to 17 age) and in case of children, the effort should be to raise their educational level in a sustained way from the ground up.
Many of the established educational institutions need a revamping of their administrative procedures to conform to new technologies and new thinking. The implementation of the modern teaching methodology and adherence to international accounting standards and transparency in working, will elevate the functioning of the coalition partners to a high level and they will tremendously benefit from it. Over a period, as such implementation of mass education is extended to millions of youth, there will a tremendous boost in the overall productivity of the school system.
The figure of one million is audacious but in terms of the South Asian context, it is a small and doable number. Learning from this one experience, multiple similar programs can be launched, so that the vast need of educational amelioration is met within the shortest possible time. It would be a great tragedy if the potential and lives of all the marginalized was wasted for want of effort and unwillingness to address challenges. If challenges are not met today, the same will become impediments for the peaceful societal growth of tomorrow. They will come knocking in the living rooms of the happy and content naysayers and become a threat. We cannot live ignoring and denying the urgent needs of the needy. Unhappily the political Leadership in most countries is content with satisfying their own constituents and their loved ones. They need to go beyond that and understand the dimensions and severity of the global problems. The pockets of poverty in some corner will not remain isolated but will reach out to affluent areas and bring misery. The masses of the poor have nothing to lose but may be gratified in taking revenge over those who they perceive to have ignored them. There needs to be an international revival of ethical standards with global organizations and leaders placing the prosperity and happiness of humanity, high above their vested interests. Socrates, Plato, Avicenna, Ghazali, Vivekananda, Paulo Frei and other leaders dreamed of such an education. The time has come to bring it to fruition. The SDG4 objective to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” is a laudable goal in the right direction. It is for us, the educational leadership, to pool our thoughts and efforts together and to ensure that it is implemented in all areas where it is needed. It must prioritize the critical needs areas and make them the starting point.
I have had the privilege to interact with and to integrate several non-profit educational organizations working in diverse parts of India with long-standing educational experience. They cater to the education of around half a million underprivileged students of India. They have all expressed a sincere interest in implementing Literacy and in enhancing the quality of education of the marginalized. These non-profits will be the base that will collate the task of achieving the goal. They will work with the Government educational institutions that are mandated to provide education for the poor. I appeal to all philanthropic and educational institutions to help achieve this goal of bringing education to one million marginalized children of India. Innovative ideas and procedures for achieving the goal will be most welcome. Indeed, new ideas, procedures, tools and resources are essential. We cannot achieve anything without them. I would be happy to provide details and concrete plan to all institutions and individuals who share the vision and are willing to contribute to its realization.
Thank you so much
Most sincerely and respectfully
Javeed Mirza, Convener,
Coalition of non-profit minority educational institutions of India