Archive for April, 2011

Rethinking rural education

Sudheendra Kulkarni

Avinash Sheshare, a class VII student at a small boarding school in Yamgarwadi village near Solapur in southern Maharashtra, explained to me the concept of convex and concave lenses more innovatively than I had learnt even at IIT. He took the sole of a worn-out rubber slipper, which had 5-6 equidistant holes punched in lengthwise, put a soft drink straw in each of them, and was ready for the demonstration. “Imagine the sole to be a lens and the straws to be sun rays,” he said in Marathi. “I bend the sole to make the straws point inwards. This is how a convex lens works. When I bend it the other way to make the straws point outwards, it becomes a concave lens.”
The school where Avinash studies is meant for the children of Paradhi and other nomadic tribes, many of which the British had branded “criminal tribes” because they were the most militant in the anti-colonial struggle. Even today, people belonging to these tribes suffer from extreme poverty and social exclusion, and rank lowest in formal school education. However, it would be naïve to think their minds are uneducated. As I discovered during my recent visit to Yamgarwadi, their children have amazing knowledge of the environment around them. These boys and girls knew the medicinal properties of the locally grown “weeds”. They could identify different birds with their sounds. They could name the stars in the night sky. In a little room that served as the “science laboratory” in the school, all the various types of snakes, crabs and scorpions kept in specimen jars had been caught by the children themselves. And how incredibly talented they all were in singing, dancing, playing local sports, and using their magical hands to create things of beauty in wood, mud and grass!
Avinash and his friends are lucky because they found a place in this RSS-inspired school founded by Girish Prabhune, a social activist and author whose lifelong and widely acclaimed work for the social uplift of the nomadic tribes in Maharashtra deserves far greater governmental support than he has got so far. But I doubt if the formal primary and secondary school education system, rigidly and unimaginatively structured as it is today, can either open its doors to, or meaningfully benefit, all the children belonging to the diverse communities in rural India.
My thoughts on this subject are provoked by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s address to the nation on Thursday on the historic occasion of enshrining education as a fundamental right of every child between the ages of six and 14. He made a fervent appeal for the fulfillment of this “national commitment to the future of India”. Noble and well-intentioned words. However, it must be said that our governments, Central as well as state, have not got their act right on either of the two crucial aspects of the Right to Education in rural India—access and content.
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has no doubt succeeded in enlarging access to primary education. However, as many as eight crore children who come out of primary schools find their path blocked to further schooling because there simply aren’t enough secondary schools in the country—a reality that has prompted many educationists to comment that these children are not “dropouts” but “pushouts”. The Central government’s Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan remains a woefully inadequate response to remove the bottleneck in secondary education.
But a far more debilitating shortcoming is the quality and content of the education imparted in our village schools. Apart from the well-recognised fact that the system demands rote learning that impairs children’s creativity, it also attaches little importance to either the local knowledge resources or the specific development needs of India’s diverse communities. It functions under the premise that education is only that which is rammed into young minds by text books and guidebooks. By corollary, those who are out of the school system or have underperformed are deemed uneducated, with all the negative sociological and psychological consequences. The relevance of much of what is taught in schools does not become apparent to rural children. Conversely, what is relevant to them and their communities is not taught to them. For example, isn’t it astounding that agriculture is not a subject in secondary schools in rural areas, although most students studying in these schools come from kisan families? Similarly, the school curriculum completely bypasses the native skills, traditionally acquired learnings, and the rich artistic-literary heritage of our various “backward” castes and tribes in rural India. No wonder, children belonging to these communities perform poorly in the formal school system and end up swelling the ranks of the “uneducated” and “semi-educated”.
For RTE to become meaningful to these communities, and for it to make its fullest contribution to the realisation of a progressive vision for the “Future of India”, big and innovative changes are needed in the school education system, especially in our rural schools. Smart kids like Avinash abound in India’s villages. What they need is not just the right to education, but also the right education.

Men of straw

Men of straw
Tarun Vijay
22 March 2011,

Face it squarely. All should have welcomed handing over the cases related to any
kind of terror to NIA. Who cares? Anyone belonging to any colour, if found
violating the Constitution should be brought to book. The best statement on it
came from RSS stalwart and an icon of serving the destitute and the
disadvantaged, Bhayyaji Joshi, who assured all help to the government to have
such cases investigated. But the state power had some other ideas.

Was the real intention of a government that lies to the nation on WikiLeaks
cables and survives, as Arun Jaitley put it aptly, on a political sin, honest?

This government facilitates traitors as simply as that. And punishes patriots in
the hope that it would get some Muslim votes.

Look how a secessionist Geelani is facilitated in Delhi, given a platform to
demand India’s second partition and then allowed to stay on at the expense of
Indians to participate in Pakistan Day, at the house of Pakistan’s high
commissioner in Delhi.

Afzal’s hanging is delayed deliberately to ensure Muslim votes. WikiLeaks
cables, sent to Washington by American diplomats, corroborate what every sane
Indian believes.

So is the case of handing over cases involving one set of people. The government
of Lilliputians wants to prove something that must fetch it some Muslim votes.

They never tried to send the cases of ULFA, or NSCN, or Geelani-Arundhati Roy,
or stone pelters of the valley who attacked the security personnel, to NIA.
Never pursued the wealth looters who stashed their black money in Swiss banks.

That would have not fetched them what they wanted.

They treated Gujarat as an enemy country, mocked at its investment claims, as if
money poring into Gujarat was meant for Pakistan. And now MP is on their list of
assaults for obvious reasons.

One of their leaders shows a chestful of currency notes to a foreign diplomat.
Nothing happens and the Prime Minister of the nation tries to obfuscate the

Even Berlusconi appears more honest than our ruling elite.

A news story emanating from Srinagar, sent by a national news agency, said that
there is an “allegation” that a Hindu temple has been ransacked and taken over
by a mafia and a Hindu organization has demanded a CBI probe into that. Oh, too
obliged that someone thought that this is news worth any notice. A brief
mention, no name of the organization that demanded a probe, no name of the place
where the temple was “allegedly” desecrated and no name of the leader of the
Hindus who took up the cause, braving bullets.

Replace the term “Hindu temple” with the name of any other faith’s place of
worship and see the difference.

It pays to be a non-Hindu in this Hindu-majority nation.

Who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs where taking up a Hindu cause
needs enveloping it in a secular parlance?

Where even the supposedly Hindu nationalists are shy of saying the word “Hindu”
and a government, administration and the media empires led by those who still
wear a Hindu name, feel hesitant to come out in support of justice and fair
play, lest they should be “misunderstood” as being communal?

In a situation when temples are desecrated without creating a whimper in the
capital and the Prime Minister gleefully hands over small apartments to Hindu
refugees in their own independent country without saying a single word of
assurance that they would someday go back home and a political opposition,
barring a few exceptions keeps mum on the main player of all sinful activities
that is tearing apart the society and its core, thanks should be given to a
Assange and a Leftist editor, to keep the salt of democracy intact. In such
times choosing to publish the cables means braving grave risk to his media
empire when most of the brave hearts in media have turned “durbaris”.

Frankly, it may not be the case that the state power has chosen Hindus as its
target –every patriot, every honest pursuer of policy and programmes feels let
down today. A great nation that boasted of being the knowledge hub of the
universe has become a billboard of the most corrupt land, while China has
surpassed even the US in manufacturing.

We are nowhere near its economic prowess and military might. From shielding the
corrupt and lying to Parliament, all such charges which were unimaginable till
recently are flying on the face of our Prime Minister.

The aura is gone and men of straw seem to be holding a fort of sand.

This situation demands self-introspection by the Hindu leaders too. They have
turned into mere observers and protesters. The UPA began its journey with the
removal of the Savarkar plaque from Port Blair memorial and continued with
assaults of the bridge that Rama built, keeping eyes wide shut on Kashmiri
Hindus while pursuing a brazenly discriminatory appeasement policy for
non-Hindus. If Hindus find themselves at such a receiving end, the blame must be
borne by the leaders who claim they are Hindus. The entire babalog fraternity,
and the so-called sirens, they are very rich and influential individually but a
great failure collectively. They enjoy a power-packed list of devotees.
Performing miracles. Running huge chains of colleges and “gau shalas”.

Just ask them what was the last issue they won for the Hindus? Driven by
jealousies, hatred for each other, a killing spirit that survives on “unchecked”
eavesdropping, and an uncanny intolerance of the intellectual inputs , the
Hindus seem to be failing the Hindu cause once again, post-Ayodhya movement.

They chose not to answer the inconvenient issues of caste-based discriminations,
keeping a silence on incidences like Mirchpur. They never addressed the issue
why in India none of the so-called mainstream newspapers has been able to have a
single scheduled caste editor or why no scheduled caste leadership is finding
its way up the ladder in administration, industry and in any policy-framing
group, in spite of being in a majority within the Hindu population of the
country? Ironically except the RSS, none is besieged of the issue.

There are Hindus in the Congress and the DMK and the SP, the BSP too. Where is
the concern for any Hindu cause among them?

When an MLA from Pakistan fled to India to protect his religious freedom, who
spoke for him? Who supports the issue of taking on the main player of all that’s
wrong in politics today? Why the eerie silence? The nation will, one day discuss
the most horrendous case of backstabbing in our political life. Targeting Hindus
is like targeting the last bastion of liberty and plurality. And it’s not being
done by Arabs or Turks, but by India-born Hindus.

The temples and the gods are the same who were there when Karachi, Rawalpindi
and Kabul were deserted. The men who had to flee those places leaving behind
their gods unattended find their partners in today’s leadership that goes on
sermonising on religious channels every morning. Just bubbles.

The same way, our honorable Prime Minister has failed the nation like a failed
father. He has missed the bus of courage and forgotten that individuals are
smaller than national interest and that history is necessarily very ruthless.