One of the key mottos of both Central and State Governments is promoting education for all children, irrespective of castes, religions and classes. As per the policy of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, all progressive schools are bound to reserve a few seats for under-privileged children. But one of my recent experiences tells its other side. Here it is.
About a year back, our office sweeper had gone on a long leave to arrange his son’s wedding. In the substitute, a couple in their mid-30s had been requited.
On fine morning as I entered the office, I was shocked finding their 11 year old son engaged in sweeping the floor. I asked his parents. ‘What is doing here? He should have been in the school’.
His mother replied: ‘Saheb! Hitesh (the boy’s name) was going to a private school in our locality. But the principal of the school has stopped his re-admission and that has prevented him going to school. He is just sitting idle. The principal has asked for a hefty amount, which is not in our budget’.
I was concerned about the boy as while talking to him I had discovered that he had lots inquisitiveness. I had read about SSA and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The article 26 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948 deals with three clauses of primary education. The first one demands free and compulsory education. The second sets the goal of education to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all natives, racial and religious groups and the third states that parents have prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
I took both the mother and the boy to meet the principal. The school as I noticed was better off than most of government schools in terms of hygienic, facilities and teaching practices. Initially we were discouraged to meet the principal but after I gave my identity we were allowed. The principal, a woman in her 40s, told that the boy could not be given admission.
I asked: ‘Why, as per the govt’s rule schools are bound to reserve a few seats for BPL children. And this boy deserves free education.’
Then the argument shifted. The principal said that that this is not applicable in this state because here we have a different government than centre. Secondly, the school is not getting any government grant. So how would they sustain by waiving fees?
I replied: ‘I agree with you, but by not taking fees from a few children it will not create problem. It can be adjusted from others. Our overall aim should be to lift these groups into the mainstream’. But all my arguments could not convince her.
Then I asked the reason behind the denying admission for the boy. The principal said that the fees were not paid for years. We waited with patience, but after the management pressure we had to finally remove his name. He is a dropped out child. Unless the payment is made we can’t give him the school leaving certificate. Without the certificate he cannot be given admission in any school.
When this argument was being made the child’s mother interfered saying that she had come several times to pay the fees, but every time she was denied to meet the principal. It had turned into a conflicting situation. As a follow up, both the mother and the child were asked to leave the principal’s premise. After they went out of the premise, the principal revealed the other aspects which are fundamentals to the social psyche in India. The boy’s parents are harijans. Though the govt has given them the liberty still they are untouchables. There are complaints by other parents which we have to address as through them we are able to run the school. Because of the caste and occupation, the boy is dirty, which is affecting the learning environment. We want our school to grow and shine as other top schools of the city. It is not a refugee ground.
Through these arguments I could sense that paying fees was not a major issue. It was more of social prejudice that had prevented admission to the boy. As a result, he is just sitting idle, and is steadily forgetting the facts and skills that once he had acquired from the school. I don’t know about what lies in his future, but it is the situation of millions of kids in this country who have fallen trapped in the archaic system of social prejudice. And the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has not been able solve this issue either.
By Jitu Mishra – Educational Specialist
(Member of Test Development Team)
I am passionate about anthropology, archaeology and linking them with school education.