“Right to Education?”

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Stuffy rooms, stinking washrooms, cracked desks and torn books. There was a strange feeling, walking down the corridor as I entered the premises. It was totally unexpected, especially from a place like this – right after a long break for summer.

It was the summer after my tenth grade. I had decided to spend a month teaching the underprivileged kids in the local municipality elementary school. It was an independently run government school, unlinked with any existing Non Government Organisation. I was appointed as a teacher for fifth and sixth grades, teaching them elementary Mathematics and foundations of English.

I had some past experience teaching mathematics to underprivileged kids for an NGO as an assistant teacher. Indeed, it was fairly easy for me to take up that class, given my love for the subject of mathematics and the properly structured course materials that were provided by the NGO itself. However, I wanted to get a real experience of how the local government schools actually functioned – something I felt that the NGO classes were lacking – which is why I volunteered here.

I was prepared; having spent the past three days studying the class materials and organising. I was confident; having assumed that it would be an easy job to teach at a government school, given my past experience of teaching. I was enthusiastic; having received an opportunity that I was really looking forward to. I was wrong. All that followed was totally unexpected.

As I entered the school premises, all I could see were empty corridors, classrooms with broken furniture and cracked walls. I met the principal, who showed me around and took me to the classroom where I was supposed to teach. There were only six students in the classroom, whereas I had been expecting an attendance of more than thirty – according to the name list that I had been given by the principal. Clearly, something was amiss.

I enquired with the school authorities, who told me that this is usually the case in government schools. Students register themselves in schools, and then seldom show up in classes – just to get the incentives that the government offers them to attend schools. Instead, they start working to earn and supplement their family income. Furthermore, the students who do show up and are actually interested in studies aren’t even given the required attention as some teachers rarely take up the classes seriously. They take little to no interest in making the class interesting. I was taken aback. This was the state of our country for those who can not afford to attend a private school to get a quality education – which is something that every citizen of our country deserves as a birthright under the Right To Education Act of 2009.

In any case, I tried to let go of the larger picture at the moment and focus on the best that I could do to teach those students. It wasn’t easy. Even more challenging was the fact that the syllabus said fractions whereas the students weren’t even comfortable with basic dual digit addition-subtraction. They struggled even in comprehending basic English sentences, whereas their books comprised of larger paragraphs and stories.

They had a huge backlog. They had never been taught the basics. Their education had to be redone from scratch. At this rate, it was pretty evident that they would later dropout as soon as they passed elementary school – till where students cannot be failed by law.

Something had to be done. I went home and spent the entire night charting out my plan for the month. I would be starting from the basics and then move up at an appropriate level to help the students catch up. I even tried contacting the parents’ of the students who rarely attended the school.

I did my best to make the classes as interactive as possible – using games and activities to teach even the most basic concepts. The students started to enjoy the classes, and so did I. By the end of the month, I was successful in completing all the basics and had finished the required course syllabus for the class. I felt happy, for I had done my best to make a difference in the lives of other children who are the future of our country.

However, at the same time I was reminded of the sobering reality of primary education in India for those who cannot afford private schools. I wrote a letter to the Bombay Municipal Corporation, suggesting them reforms that they should undertake in order to help improve the conditions of the local schools in the city. I received no reply to my correspondence. If this lack of response to a concerned and consciences citizen who donated his labor for underprivileged children is the state of the richest municipality in India, one can only imagine what the state of schools in more deprived urban centres is.

The state has neglected the education of its young minds for decades. I won’t.

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