Needed, a giant leap forward
Nileen Putatunda

The Pioneer Home [September, 16, 2005 Updated: 03:53 am ]

Education experts from the World Bank, Lantt Pritchett and Varad Pande - in a recent presentation at the Planning Commission - said that although substantial progress had been made, a lot more needed to be done to achieve the targeted results under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan.

An interesting conclusion was that the level of knowledge of students of the fifth standard was lower in Kerala, the State which claims to have 100 per cent literacy, than in Rajasthan. The presentation revealed that, among developing countries like Zambia, Bangladesh, Peru and Ecuador, teacher absenteeism in India was substantially higher (25 per cent) than the world average (18 per cent). The presentation also brought out that corruption was creating havoc in the country's education system. It says, "In the east and west of India, education is among the top three corrupt sectors."

A few weeks ago, Amartya Sen's Pratichi Trust presented the preliminary findings of the Pratichi research team on the state of primary schooling in Kolkata. The picture was fairly 'grim' and the "overall situation of primary education in Corporation (Kolkata Municipal Corporation)-run and State-run schools in the city is certainly quite discouraging", Prof Sen said. "The parent-teacher committees need reviving and an educational plan is needed for the city to make this vital tool of good schooling arrangements to be operational and effective," Prof Sen added.

The findings revealed considerable dissatisfaction among parents with the schools' performance, high frequency of absenteeism of pupils and an "extraordinary dependence on private tuition for almost anyone who could afford it", among other factors. He also regretted that the "system of regular, cooked mid-day meals - for which the Pratichi research team has been arguing for some years now, and which has now been instituted in many rural areas of West Bengal - is conspicuous by its total absence in the Capital city of the State."
Does all this mean that the poor in our country will be condemned to inferior and third-rate education, adding to the dismal statistics that haunt us (even in the fifth grade, some 35 per cent of Indian children cannot read or write, according to Pratham)? There is a good chance, unless the efforts of two remarkable individuals, Mr Abraham George and Ms Shukla Bose, are replicated throughout the country.

Mr Abraham George launched the Project Shanti Bhavan, a state-of-the-art residential school for underprivileged children outside Bangalore, in August 1997, with the aim of unshackling a few hundred kids from grinding poverty and low social status into hopefully sparkling, global careers in the sciences and/or arts. "To break the cycle of poverty and social deprivation" and mainstream the children "into wholesome/productive members of society", Abraham George has spent a whopping Rs 62 crore of his own money. The school takes in children at age four and sees them through to age 17. The early intervention tries to ensure that problems are fixed before they become perpetuating.

Starting with 48 children, the school will eventually have 336 children. Shanti Bhavan has been granted affiliation to the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, New Delhi, with effect from March 2004. The Council is a nationally and internationally recognised non-governmental and non-profit examination board for quality education in English-medium schools both in India and abroad.

Mr George believes that the multiplicative impact of major successes for those who are trained at Shanti Bhavan and their families will be permanent for generations. The idea behind the school is the belief that "the deleterious consequences of extreme want can be overcome if the problems are tackled in the early stages of a child's development". The limited nature of the project is intentional so that it's clearly "focused, intense and has a high potential for success".
Ms Shukla Bose set up the Parikrma Humanity Foundation in April 2003 in Bangalore, with the mission of unleashing the potential of under-served children by providing them with equal opportunities. All 620 children in three Parikrma centres at Koramangala, Jayanagar and Sahakarnagar are slum-dwellers. Rag-pickers, housemaids and tea-stall workers till a few months ago, they now lead sheltered lives during school hours and beyond.

"We provide end-to-end solutions to our kids, and take full responsibility of the child till they start earning a living. Special attention is paid to kids who hail from disturbed families and may have been subject to violence," explains Ms Bose. The school follows the ICSE curriculum and English as the language of instruction. Parikrma was the only ICSE school in Bangalore to get the 2004 Derozio National Award for Excellence in Human Enrichment and Education.
Albert Einstein had once said, "I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn." Till such time that Government schools can provide quality education through inspired and committed teachers who match the best in the field, one hopes that many more people like Mr Abraham George and Ms Shukla Bose come forward to change the destiny of poor children in India.



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