Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Hope remains alive in education

Demonizing the millions in public education, trying to beat them up to improve, is just poor strategy

Let me tell you five stories from my encounters in different parts of India in 2015.

In the hot and green plains, every day, the teacher goes to his student’s house. He picks him up because the child has no legs, seats him on the bike, and together they go to school. The child is a part of the school, he is not different. Everyone makes it happen, but the teacher is at the centre. When school ends, they go back together on the bike.

Up in the mountains, she considers the whole valley her beat. She goes to each small habitation once a week to see if any child is not in school. That’s how she found Asha and Khushi, two little girls distant from hope and happiness. Their family were perpetual migrants, searching for daily wage labour. She cajoled, charmed and bullied the parents, and got the two girls enrolled in her school. She would go to their hut every week, knowing that she could never let it go. Then one day, they were gone. She didn’t know where, but surely in search of more stable daily wage labour. They stayed for a year, they learnt to read and write. Whatever comes their way in life, this year will matter. She continues relentlessly, on her beat every week, and teaching in her school every day.

He was the most senior official in the state in school education. Two months after he had been transferred into the role, rumour was rife that he would be transferred out in a month. In those two months, he had soaked in as much as anyone can in education. He had read and listened, late into every night. He had a tentative list of priorities to work on. He was methodically going about rustling up resources: money from the department of finance, good people from his own department and help from outside. On being confronted with the possibility of imminent departure and the futility of what he was doing, he just put his head down and kept on going. Fortunately for that state, he has still not been transferred out.

The lady has big, shining, laughing eyes. With the broom, she whips the place into shape every morning. No wonder, the school is clean, so clean that you can eat from the floor. This is not her job, she is the cook for the midday meal. Why does she do all this? Well, if the government is organizing free education for all kids, and the teachers work so hard, shouldn’t they do something for their own school? She forces the undrinkably sweet tea on me before charging to whip up the quorum for the school management committee.

The quiet man in the group was the first to come and last to speak. All the complaints in the room died after he spoke. He reaches the school—of which he is the head teacher—at 8.30am, opens the place. He then teaches and does everything else that is required to run a school, along with two more teachers. An hour before the school closes, he takes his cycle, rides 10km to another school. He opens that, and runs that till late in the evening, and he is the only teacher there. He will do this till the other school gets a teacher. He is not sure, but he thinks it’s just a matter of few months. He has taken it up himself, else the kids in the school may lose the whole year. He smiles and looks like the Buddha.

All these stories are from our government schooling system. Among the many privileges of my role, one is that I meet such people every week. One day, a colleague who had joined us recently asked me whether I did not understand that every time that I travelled in the field, I would be deliberately taken to meet such people, skipping all the truants and the rogues. Having seen it for years, I could respond to him immediately. If week after week, year after year, I could keep meeting such people, imagine how many good people are there. Isn’t that much more important than all the negativism that we feed ourselves anyhow? This is not only my experience. Everyone who is willing to leave their high perches, in Delhi or Bengaluru, or wherever they are, discover the same. There are good people doing good work across the country.

As we enter another new year, I am not giving some new hope. I am just suggesting any strategy for change in education will work only if we make sure that all these good people are equal, enthusiastic owners of change. Demonizing the millions in public education, trying to beat them up to improve, is just poor strategy. There is a force within us, we don’t even need to awaken it, and if that’s new hope for the new year, then so be it.

Anurag Behar is CEO of Azim Premji Foundation and leads sustainability initiatives for Wipro Ltd. He writes every fortnight on issues of ecology and education.

Comments are welcome at othersphere@livemint.com. To read Anurag Behar’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/othersphere

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