RESHMA NC SHAH
I know a bright class XI student who sold his laptop given by the state government after Class X because his father lost his job and they could not make ends meet. Two years later, his elder brother has dropped out of college and works shifts as an office assistant at a doctor’s private clinic. In spite of clearing the Class X board exam with flying colours, these two bright minds had to give up on their dreams before they took shape.
There are numerous such meritorious ‘forced’ drop outs where laptops and other prizes given by the government are sold off to make ends meet.
So, what ails our education system? Many argue that with government sponsored education, the problem lies in lack of quality education that should be delivered by trained educators. Efforts are in place to rectify this, both by private and government agencies. But there is another angle that deserves attention.
Recently, the Indian constitution has added the right to education as a fundamental right for its citizens. Education is popularly perceived as the panacea for all social and economic diseases. It is often marketed as the perfect tool to remove disparities and create a just society with equal opportunity.
However, even if we ensure 100% enrolment at the elementary or school level, how are we, as a society, going to ensure that there is no drop out at the secondary and graduate level?
School education will open the doors to a bright future, but only a little. Therefore it is no surprise that parents wish that their child should take up a professional course after Class XII. Those pursuing higher studies are usually preparing for a career in academics and research. Then, the question is, how level is the playing field?
Are we ensuring that school education becomes a universal right and then neglecting the high ‘forced’ dropout rate? Consequently, are we then producing a society of low skilled literates and making higher education accessible just for those that can afford it?
In the current scenario, any poor student, whose parents cannot afford the high tuition fee of a science or commerce degree or post graduate degree, are forced to go for humanities, short term vocational courses or take up low-skilled jobs that require only Class X pass candidates. Whatever hopes or aspirations that the student has may never be fulfilled, simply because of their parents’ inability to pay for the next logical step.
Ironically, primary or elementary education comes at a much lower cost than a professional or college degree. Yet, it is primary education that is free and compulsory, made more attractive through free midday meals. For a country with rising income and a growing middle class, surely, free school education is not the main issue. A part time maid or a labourer may earn enough to afford to send his or her child to a decent school. What he or she cannot afford is the prohibitive cost of education after Class XII.
Ultimately this becomes the pressure point. If not checked it may lead to the emergence of a 100% literate but not 100% educated and qualified society. The sooner the government realises this and takes steps to support higher education, the better for the future of the country.