By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Education is the birthright of every child. As he has a right to food, shelter, clothes and protection of the parents, he has also a right to education. It is a good thing that most of the people in the present era have gradually realized the value and importance of education. But till a couple of decades back most of the children from the economically backward section were denied education. Parents thought that it was sheer wastage of money to send the child to school. Their idea was that the child could be better used by training him to earn some money for the family, however meagre that was, by doing some menial work. For them money was more important than education. Besides that, staying for hours in the school each day was a wastage of time. They could have done some work at home or at the field, which would bring some relief to the over worked parents. Hence they did not see any reason to send the children to the school. They also did not have the slightest intention to spend their hard-earned money on education of their children.
Children had to earn money by doing various kinds of degrading work to help their respective families and also for their own survival. Education was something inexplicable for them and neither the children nor their parents were bothered by them. The children worked in garages or road-side tea-stalls, but mostly at private homes as domestic servants, as there were not many garages or tea-stalls in the past. The girls had to do all the work of the household, like sweeping, washing, dusting and even cooking. If there was a baby in the family, she had also to take charge of the infant. The boys too had to do various kinds of domestic work. They were very small children, yet that did not deter the employers from making them do all the hard work. Their salary was meagre—yet they did all the back-breaking jobs throughout the day till late hours. There was no other way. The parents had to be given the money they earned. They lived in a world of their own and did not have any expectation for a better future. In spite of all that hard work there was not a kind word from their employers. They were beaten black and blue for any little fault they might have committed unintentiolly. They were given coarse rice and left over food, which did not satisfy their hunger. They were always hungry. These half-fed, half-clad unfortute children possibly did not have any dream and were resigned to their fate.
For them that was the life they would have to lead. You cannot teach morality to a hungry person. Hence these children often took the wrong path when they grew up. They turned to stealing, cheating, and all kinds of vices. Society condemned them, but none of them tried to realize the anguish of those little children. Perhaps by treading the wrong path and by doing all those anti-social activities they took revenge on a heartless society. Some of them took over begging as a profession.
After independence various governments have been making schemes to make education accessible to all sections of people, through the years. But even after so many years of independence the scheme of ‘education for all’ has remained merely a slogan. Laws have been promulgated to ban child labour and there has been this scheme for compulsory primary education. But though in this modern era most people have become aware of the importance of education, some children have not been sent to school. It seems to be ridiculous to talk about compulsory primary education at a time when the country has made enormous progress in every sector. It is really unfortute that some of the children are still deprived of education.
It is true that in this age many people from the economically backward section have started sending their children to different schools. They have become aware of the fact that education is the means to a bright and successful future. Hence in spite of fincial difficulties they have done everything possible to make their children educated. But not all the parents are so wise and far-sighted. Hence even today despite the child labour ban by the government we can still see children working in garages, dhabas, construction sites, tea-stalls and other places. Some are working as domestic servants. Often they are subject to extreme kind of ill-treatment meted out by their employers. They have to get up at the crack of dawn and have to go through back-breaking job till late night. They only get rough treatment from their employers, who are not the least bothered about the plight of these little children.
They go through all these suffering only to earn a little bit of money and to get a bowl of coarse rice and some left-over vegetables, it they were lucky enough. They remain half-starved in a dark world of their own. Often some of them run away to escape from the atrocities levelled at them by their cruel employers. But since they believe that their parents have no sympathy for them and no understanding of their problems, they dare not go back home and may have to adjust themselves to a worse kind of fate. It is like falling into the fire from the frying pan. A kind word may do wonders to their drab and dull life, but they never get it. They are more used to harsh treatment than to kind and affectiote dealings. They seem to be totally unfamiliar with kindness, even their parents may not be considerate enough towards their own children. For them money seems to speak louder than words. But we cannot blame the parents for their seemingly inconsiderate and selfish behaviour.
We have no idea about the situation in which they are placed. It is easy to condemn somebody without knowing the facts. Only dire necessity may induce parents to send little children to work for a living. I suppose hunger often makes a person irratiol and irresponsible. May be, that is the reason why parents send their children to earn money. But still I think that innocent children must not be used as pawns in their struggle for survival. It is the solemn duty of the parents to do everything possible to protect their child from every adverse circumstance to work for their better future.
However the importance of education has been fully understood and recognized by the people of the present era. There are instances of parents even selling land for the education of their children. I persolly know that some children from the economically backward section have done very well for themselves. You see I happen to own a school in this city, which I established 25 years back, that is, before my retirement from service in Cotton College. There are a large number of students from the economically backward section. I have found that many of the past students from the under-privileged section have established themselves as doctors, engineers and other professiols. Only the other day a past student of the school came to me and informed that he has been doing post-graduate course in medicine. He happens to be the son of a milk man. Others like him are also having a flourishing career. I feel proud of them.
Actually every child has some potential talent in him and it has to be made actual by the parents. In recent years the government have taken several measures to make primary education compulsory and have strictly advocated the ban on child labour. No doubt the intention and the endeavour of the government are laudable. There must be compulsion in the implementation of the scheme of “education for all”. Unfortutely even today some children are working in various places to earn their living and hence they have not been able to join any school. Education is the key to knowledge and knowledge is the key to success and happiness in life. Hence it is a crime to deprive them of education. The working children’s life is like that of Plato’s prisoners of the cave, who live in total darkness and get a wrong picture of the world. The children must be trained properly to be the worthy citizens of our great country. After all, the future of the country depends on the shoulders of these young children. So we have to make every attempt to make education accessible to these children. For that some incentives have to be offered to lure children to the schools. They have to be dealt with tact and understanding, so that they get attracted to the idea of education.
It is universally recognized that incentives in education have always been a powerful tool in the scheme of the reformer, whose aim is to make children interested in learning. These incentives are offered to achieve the objectives of education. The United tion’s Task Force on education and Gender Equality” in its report titled, “Towards Universal Primary Education Investments, Incentives and Institutions (2005)” stated that, “Most countries are unlikely to achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2015, (based on historical trends), because they face two challenges. First, they must significantly accelerate enrolment and improve their ability to keep children in school. Second, they must improve the learning outcomes and educatiol attainment enough to have an economic and social impact. These countries need to simultaneously increase access and improve quality. The two reinforce each other, because if schools cannot offer quality education, parents are far less likely to send their children to school”. One way of increasing enrolment and retaining children in school is to plan some incentive schemes, which would bear the cost of education and act as deterrent to drop-outs.
India too is trying to make elementary education compulsory for each child. For that the government has offered several incentives in recent years. Most of the approved schemes were initially formulated to reduce the cost of education, so that the parents were not over-burdened with fincial problems. Yet even after all the incentives children of poor families drop out of school to engage in child labour and become an earning member of the family. This has become a critical issue in India’s incentive programmes. Certain things like socio-cultural activities, economic problems, vast geographical boundaries, centralized system of policy-making, accountability and control may have been significant hindrance to the realization of the objectives of such incentives.
But certain incentives have been successful to a certain extent. Actually all incentives have to be infused with fresh insights and creative vision. In India the incentive of school-feeding programme, commonly known as mid-day meal scheme was very successful in bringing children to the class rooms. This scheme is still doing a great job. Children get their lunch in the school premises because of this scheme. But though the scheme was successful in bringing a large number of students to the school in many states, the benefits in terms of educatiol achievement are not satisfactory. Studies in the matter in some states have apparently revealed that though in some states many students attend school during the time allotted for the mid-day meal, they move away after taking the meal. Obviously such behaviour cannot do much good to the children. They want the lunch and not education and hence they vanish after consuming the meal. It has also been noticed that in some schools mid-day meal has become a kind of picnic. Students are more interested in the meal than in lessons.