By the time a child completes his class 8th schooling, he has attained age 14. It is a very precious time of life indeed. Raw data tends to suggest approximately 40% discontinue further education. There are many reasons for it- poverty and poor education infrastructure being two critical reasons. A collection of data from different segments like persons below poverty line, food security, village population, urban poor, disability and underserved population throws up the only conclusion that good education in India is a “luxury” the average household can’t afford. On the other hand the question “what is the use of education?” begs an answer nobody has been able to field so far. When high school pass (X & XII) and graduates fail to get a job, the VIII pass can’t even dream of landing up a job. Is “literacy” alone a measure of our achievement?
Age 14 is no small milestone in our country where the poor as defined under all categories mentioned above, constitute about 80% of our population. The question is: What is the age at which a boy (girl) can be considered grown up enough to be given family responsibilities and prepared to face exigencies? Thinkers in the past answered these questions after collecting the requisite statistics. They had settled for 12 years. Medical fraternity will provide due justifications regarding “maturity” at age 12 purely on technical grounds. It does not mean, children aged 12 should be loaded with the family responsibilities. If they do it, there exist compelling reasons for their plight, like the starvation conditions in the family or mother/father ill or unemployed. The sheer number of such painful cases will exceed the national population of many countries. The lesson we need to draw is this: formal or informal, education must be able to turn a child in to a “skilled workman” by the time he celebrates his (her) 15th Birthday.
It means overhauling our education curriculum and system. Presently it is a horrible waste of the whole schooling of 11 years as children enter school at 3+ these days, though the right age should be 5 years if the number of children wearing reading glasses is to be reduced. Modern achievements will trash any such demand for justifiable reasons. But ponder for a moment to analyse whether it robs the child of his childhood. We are producing trained workers because once in school, they will never have time in life for themselves, running from school to college to the job market. They are an over-burnt generation. We have successfully deprived them of Children’s Right to Life & Liberty and Healthy Growth of Body & Mind. Success too does not come to all children. What about the 40% not going beyond class VIII? What would they do? Are we not making them economically disabled? Is it the goal of our education policy?
We need to devise a system whereby children learn one livelihood skill in the 10 years in school on the job. It may be without any formal lectures on the theory or technical aspects of it. We learn to drive without knowing anything about the inside of the car. Photography is yet another trade to learn. Why should children in this period not learn to use the computer and the keyboard effectively? The list goes on, but the success rate is 100% in any trade selected with due care. It is somewhat puzzling to find tailoring or candle-making in the training programmes of most Finance & Development Corporation of the government, which aims to serve the disadvantaged groups. They need to be supplemented with skill development in first aid, physiotherapy, pre-natal/ post natal services and similar other non-traditional and modern trades for a satisfactory livelihood. Our education system has to change children’s attitude to working with hands. We teach our children contempt for trades enumerated in the foregoing and rate a government job superior, though the well trained nurse may get more than a doctor for his services, as there has always been a shortage of qualified nursing staff and the demand is only rising. Unless we start thinking for ourselves and stop merely copying advanced countries, we will be acquiescing to the colossal waste of money and manpower that has been going on all these years.
India has to rethink her children’s education up to class VIII and devise suitable policies to face the challenge before her. Let us not be too patriarchal and bossing over our children. It is our duty to ensure a healthy development of their body and mind in 14 years. They should be able to face the world on their own in their 15th year of life. Millions of the unfortunate Indians have been shouldering these responsibilities all these 69 years of Azad Bharat. Even today, children can be seen working at millions of roadside eateries throughout India. The kind of labour they have to do should be enough to draw tears in the eyes of any good citizen. It can stop if our schools also impart OJT (on the job training). Poverty can’t be removed by slogans or subsidies. Education alone is no guarantee for gainful employment. 14 crucial years can’t be allowed to be wasted so easily. Can a project be allowed to suffer non-commissioning or excessively delayed commissioning? The privileged rear their children to make it to the national cricket team, proving the potential children have. Each child is endowed with such potential, only if our school education would nurture it to deliver a finely honed young man ready to face the competition before him in life.