Afroz (name changed) works as a domestic help in the apartment complexes of Noida, Uttar Pradesh, and stays in a rented accommodation in an urban village of the city. Many years back, in search of a livelihood, she had migrated from Bhagalpur in Bihar to the National Capital
Region (NCR) along with her husband.
The city did not disappoint her and she was happy that she no more had to mill rice on dhenki (a traditional rice mill made of wood and iron), which was her routine work in the village. But within a few months of staying in NCR she realised that to better the living condition of her family, she will have to work.
“My neighbour worked as a domestic help and often brought home sweets and gifts. I thought why shouldn’t I? My husband was reluctant but I convinced him,” says Afroz. Afroz has three children now who study in a private school and also go for private tuition after school hours. She and her husband work very hard to pay their fees.
Ask her why is she not sending her children to a government school where education is free, and she says, “Sarkari school me achhi padhai nahin hoti. Didi soti rehti hai. Aaj kal sab ghar me Angrezi bolne lage
hain. Kal ko log apne bachon kaa khayal rakhne ke liye Angrezi bolne waali kaamwali dhundenge. Kamsekam mere bachon ko kaam to mil jayega. (They do not teach well in government schools. With the English-speaking population increasing in the country, there would be a time when people will look for educated English-speaking maids and caretakers. My children will at least get that job).”
Afroz has high aspirations for her children but is very
practical in her approach. Free or cheap quality education in India is still not a reality of Afroz and her kids.
RTE Act, 2009 for Quality Education in India
When the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, came into effectin April 2010, it incited hope that India’s public education system would be strengthened if it has to be ensured that no child in the country is deprived of a quality education in India.
The government reports looked fair till the pandemic forced the physical closure of schools and learning shifted to the online medium where a computer or a smartphone and internet connection became a requirement for parents if learning of their children had to be continued.
Many children across the country were deprived of elementary and secondary education not only because their parents could not afford it but also because many schools lagged behind in basic technical
As per the Unified District Information System for Education (UIDSE+) Report 2020-21, in 2019-20, only 5.5 lakh schools in the country had functional computers. It increased to 6 lakh in 2020-21. Likewise, only 3.36 lakh schools had internet facilities in 2019-20 which went up to 3.7 lakh in 2020-21 with 40 per cent of the schools having functional computers.
Enrolment in Schools
However, the Gross Enrollment Ratio improved and the total students enrolled in school education from primary to higher secondary stood at 25.38 crore. If the UDISE+ report is to be believed, 39.7 lakh students of government-aided, private school students, shifted to government schools during the 2020-21 academic year.
Enrollment in private schools dropped at the pre-primary and primary levels by 22.28 lakh and 11.6 lakh respectively while enrollment in government schools saw a rise of 18.82 lakh and 9.28 lakh in the primary and upper primary classes respectively. The reason was obvious: Job loss, death of parent/s or a family member, salary cut, or loss in business increased the financial vulnerability of parents and guardians during the pandemic.
The government report stated that admission of young children in schools during the pandemic was postponed and more so it was noticed among vulnerable kids like children at pre-primary, class 1 level, and Children With Special Needs (CWSN).
Even as the scare of a fourth COVID-19 wave still looms, private schools that were stalled by the government from hiking the fees for the last two years, have declared an increase in tuition fees leaving those parents still coping with the stress caused due to the pandemic, baffled.
Article 21 (A) inserted in the Indian Constitution through the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act made free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years, a Fundamental Right.
NEP 2020: Quality Education in India
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 which came up after a gap of 34 years and is aligned to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all, also emphasizes guaranteeing universal access to school education at all levels.
Over the years, the school enrollment rate has increased in the country but dropout has not stopped completely. The annual dropout rate of secondary school students in 2020-21 was recorded at 14.6 per cent.
To bring back children who have dropped out from school and to prevent further dropping out of children from school, the NEP 2020 stresses providing effective and sufficient infrastructure so that all students have access to safe and engaging school education at all levels from pre-primary school to Grade 12.
In alignment with SDG 4, some states have taken infrastructure development in schools seriously. Delhi has already set an example. In Odisha, as of now, the makeover is limited to high schools as it is primarily funded by the school alumnus under the Mo School Abhiyan. An
all-inclusive change in the education ecology is being brought about by states like Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh.
Kerala has always been way ahead of others but even Haryana has made an effort to make 80 per cent of government school students in elementary classes saksham (grade competent) through the state’s flagship programme Saksham Haryana.
Education which was once a State subject was shifted to the Concurrent List by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act. Though the Centre has powers to bring uniform educational reforms, it is on the states to ensure proper implementation of the laws and policies, be it RTE or NEP.
It would not be very fair to compare the outcome of one state with
the other given that the economy and ecology of states differ, but an effort to improve the quality of education in India will have to be attempted by all the states. There is mushrooming growth of private schools and hardly any efforts made by state governments to establish new government schools or monitor the quality of education in private schools.
Don’t limit Afroz’s Dreams for Her Kids
Aforz says, “Mai to unpadh hoon. Mere shauhar padhe likhe hain, lekin Angrezi me achhe nahin hain. Upar se ye project wagaira, hamare paas kahan time hai (I can’t read and write. My husband can, but he is not good in English. And do we have time for school projects).” But she finds it strange when her employers send their wards to the so-called top schools of the city and also struggle to help/do their children’s project works.
A good curriculum, advanced educational learning materials and chic infrastructure cannot ensure quality learning. Schools,
both government and private, will have to be trained in engaging children, unearthing their hidden talents, boosting their self-esteem, preparing them for life, and showing them the way forward.
The NEP 2020 also reiterates that education is a “public service and access to quality education must be considered a basic right of every child”. What we need is a strong, vibrant public education system. Charities in India supported by corporate houses are doing their bit in reaching out to disadvantaged children.
Nevertheless much more will have to be done to make universal access to high-quality education, a reality in the true sense. The number of applicants for Kendriya Vidyalayas across the country is proof that if quality education in India is provided in state-owned schools, it would be the first choice of not only the disadvantaged groups but also of the Indian middle class.
Smile Foundation and Quality Education
Smile Foundation truly believes in the holistic development of the children. Through its flagship initiative, Mission Education, it is trying to ensure that children are provided with quality education in India. Every barrier that can be brought down for the endeavor of success of every child from an underprivileged situation is taken care of dutifully. Quality Education for all will be a reality very soon!