The row related to IIT-JEE (Link) seem to be over. The debate unfolded many important points - the social imbalance, social inclusion, the state of education in rural India, the innate ability, the influence of money (coaching) making less affluent ineligible i.e. taking the eligibility criterion one more step closer to the fundamental - the coached student is no doubt more eligible for a competitive exam like IIT-JEE, but what about the eligibility (affordability) to get the coaching? The condition of cheap Govt. education is not uniform all across and appear to be many order below the standard asked for. Is it then money, affordability that make somebody more equal and eligible? Should it be so for public funded institutions which aims at the greatest good of its stakeholders i.e., benefit of masses and not classes? That is, should a public funded centre of excellence serve excellence spread out in the mass and not in the class? Why cannot IIT like institutions be made in private sector even after 65 years of independence? And everybody seems to know what IIT lacks and what is to be done. But they do not do that or there is something more fundamental that does not meet the eye. Though I find in talk-shows of television one such person, probably retired or made to retire, doling out prescription with a stamp of authority (academicians no match to them). This is not to ask people to stop debating, rather widening the discussion to include things beyond IIT and more fundamental to education and nation-building. We suddenly started talking about ills of rural education when IIT-JEE was linked to it. Why didn't we discuss it earlier? Shall we stop worrying about it if delinked from IIT JEE?
Invitation to comment on draft National Youth Policy 2012 for next 10 years is available here (Link). The last page of this 30 page draft gives the mailing address. Why doesn't nation discuss this and debate; participate to make our youth of all section feel being cared? The draft nicely portrays plight and need of different sections of the youth. The recent India Today article (Link) on very high rate of suicide amongst Indian youth occurring in more 'developed' states, among high income group who belong to 'educated' class shows all is not well with education and development associated with it. What is missing in education? Let us try to be proactive and not reactive in our response. Let us try to create examples. Later in this post, I shall talk about one Central Government funded project running in 300 centres of Ramakrishna Mission across the country for taking education to the doorstep of the most marginalized. I don't find anything comparable and in public discussion. I wonder why.
Hope, the discussion on social equality and inclusion will not die down and excellence available in villages / slums will be spotted, nurtured, recognized and given equal opportunity to avail the best facilities the nation can provide. I am not necessarily talking about reservation. I am talking about the attention, proactive steps the less privileged (not in terms of ability but opportunity made available) deserves. We NSS faculty of IIT Kharagpur visit nearby villages and slums weekly. If we compare the education and care of those kids and our kids in the campus, we cannot but say that the gap becomes wider in every class starting from Class I not because of the fault of those kids. By the time they reach Class XII, if they reach at all, most drop-out after primary school, next before Class X board exam or after that, the gap has widened to an extent that there is hardly any level playing field. Had they got equal opportunity, many of them could give the IIT-JEE eligible a fair amount of competition and could make themselves eligible.
With speculations about top x percentile, Main, Advanced exam. put to rest, the nation should not lose focus on this primary issue or origin of the debate and take affirmative action. A group of 50-100 capable people can easily adopt one village and work together with Govt. and non-Govt. machinery there to make it a model one, at least make education provided to village children much better than what it is today. The corporate sector may take their CSR initiatives to the grass root and can do even more. The Govt. can aggressively adopt IT-enabled framework to initiate and monitor development activities. Talent spotting at an early age (in Primary School, Sarva Shiksha Kendra) and following them up through various enablers are going to make difference. A few success stories in a village, the whole environment will change, there will be no lack of motivation thereafter.
IIT Kharagpur National Service Scheme (NSS) tries to make students (UG) go through an experience which brings them in direct contact with people in villages and slums and make them aware of the challenges faced by villagers and slum-dwellers. A beginning has been made but a long way to go. The making of a roof (Link) or celebrating Saraswati Puja (worship of goddess of learning) are not enough. The fund made available to the students from NSS is next to nothing. That too does not come in time. Our students forgo their tiffin allowance which they get for their weekly visit to village and use it for development work there which totals only Rs. ten thousand per village. We try to arrange more money if there is some special effort but that too is quite small. The language barrier is a big problem as there are very few students with us who can communicate in local language. Still, the students try their best and language of love is always the best (Link).
I want to sound this post forward looking. Let us not get into endless loop of blaming one another and doing just back of the envelop calculation from XYZ theory to conclude, "Nothing can be done". One project that got my attention in recent times is called Gadadhar Abhyudaya Prakalpa (G.A.P.) (Link) that started one and half year back. I got to know about how it works through regular email updates of Swami Nityasatyananda of Ramakrishna Mission Calcutta Students' Home. I met Swamiji for the first time in a seminar here few years back where he was describing his flood relief experience, the methodology adopted for relief work. He was just returning after a relief work in Midnapur villages. The attitude of service, meticulous planning, execution of plan reminded what Vivekananda told about balanced development of 3'H' as aim of education or measure of all round development - Heart to feel, Head to think, Hand to work. The further we are from this and embrace career-only education, the more we are inviting trouble for ourselves. Let us face the truth and do our bit before the dust settles.
Swamiji's emails talked about the progress of the kids picked up from utterly marginal families living in slums, making life out of garbage dump or so. A glimpse of the background and picture of Swamiji can be found in following Bengali news channel report.
The first three pictures of this post are of celebration of Saraswati Puja in a village where NSS IIT Khargpur works. The rest of the pictures are of G.A.P. shared by Swamiji. It shows living condition in their slum at Agarpara and progresses.
On January 04, 2012 Maharaj tells, "Every day the little Gadadhars teach us new lessons in different ways. The following are two brief incidents by which we can enhance our own ethics-
In another June 2012 mail, Maharaj describes the living of Saraswati, "Three of them came today in the morning, Payel, Saraswati and Ankita. ... Saraswti, student of Class IV of Gadadhar Abhyudaya Prakalpa told she had some business at home. When inquired, we came to know that she would have to make gudder-packets: 10 rubber gudders in one pouch, 12 such packets stapled, then 12 such stapled bundles in a bigger polythene pouch is to be sealed using wax-candle-flames. This whole job will give her Only Rs.2/-, though the cost of stapler, pins, candles, matches is her own . She is in hurry not only to meet a monthly target of Rs.1000/- of their house rent , but she has to make a bit bigger effort this month to contribute to the Rs.15,000/- dowry demand made by the grooms family before the marriage of her elder sister. Their father left them few years ego and due to illness their mother is not able to do any work other then light household work.