Monday, July 2, 2012

When Dust Settles

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 30th December, 2011 Maharaj writes, "It has been one year the Gadadhar Abhyudaya Prakalpa started and the unconditional love of the holy trio changed our notorious/ hard-to-bear Rohim Molla to a front-desk boy of the class, and it is reflected through the improvement he himself made on his progress report of 2nd standard in his school, which follows as-

(Full Marks/Previous Marks/Present Marks):-

Bengali-(100/59/94); English-(50/26/47); Math- (100/57/100).

Now he doesn’t go to pick garbage and resell them any more ... Rohim busy to complete the home tasks of Netai sir. After all the tough discipline of Netai sir has shown its result. We pray for the continuation of the success of both the teacher and the student."

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-

First, the story of Ankita, which is the continuation of an earlier mail depicting the success story of her. She is not only a well-known performer in our so called education system but also she is a roll model of divinity. Few months back when she was awarded for her highest attendance,  she politely refused the prize as there was someone else with higher attendance. Similarly after visiting her house repeated times, it was decided that she would be honored for her brilliant academic performance with a solar lantern to help her to study in the evening time. When she was offered the solar lantern, again she politely refused to accept it as the electricity was given to their house 2-3 days back. In spite of her poverty and childishness, she has shown her Excellency and finally boosted up with the award to carry forward it in her forthcoming life also.

Secondly, the story of Najma. The motion of her upliftment resembles that of some supersonic jets. In earlier days Najma used to be quarrelsome, very often cheat but now she hates even to tell the word ‘lie’ ("Mitthya"), rather she tells no more ‘wrong words’ ("Bhul Kotha"). Recently in their singing class, when one of the rids of the harmonium was somehow damaged, their teacher wanted to save them by hiding the original fact and instructed Najma to bring a glue stick by showing some different reason, Najma refused to tell the ‘wrong word’. The teacher became overwhelmed with the reaction of Najma and got the lesson of morality which engraved in her mind for the whole life. Afterwards when Najma was asked the event, she tried to hide her Excellency but everyone was well aware of the real fact and it is decided that she would be awarded to keep her glowing image up. (The picture of Ankita and Najma now and before appear by the side)"

The April 18, 2012 mail says, "In spite of giving anti-pox medicines, two days ago some of our gadadhars were found to have some symptoms of pox. In the middle of the compact schedule of ongoing academic internal assessment yesterday three pupils were surely diagnosed with pox, one of them in a worst condition. At first they were told not to come for few days, but when they told that they have examination next day and moreover considering their environment unprivileged situation we decided to let them come to the ashrama along with others, so that they could have proper guardian, care and love in this weak condition. Najma and Faruk still were in a better position, but Fatema was hard even to look at! She struggled tough only to swallow a mixture of milk and biscuits. Yet when asked whether she wants to go for the examination, the prompt reply was: ‘yes’. Later when maharaj told them to take a good proper bath, she dis agreed and reminded that she has an examination ("Porikkha aache na?!!")! And then the others also insisted to go for the examination. During examination  a special room was arranged for them.

However, when the examination ended they took bath here, and a separate arrangement for diner was made  at vivekanana dham  for three of them. When Fatema was offered to stay at the ashrama at night, she refused because when tomorrow all of his family members will go for work she will have to take the responsibility of her sister’s  child, an infant."

The May 20, 2012 mail tells, "Yes !! Still our little Gadadhars of Gadadhar Abhyudaya Prakalpa are
regular in coming on the non-GAP days and Instead of coming at 4 pm now many days they are coming at morning to spend some extra hours from 8am to 4 pm.

Some of their engagements are as follows :

Ankita trained harmonium to her sisters of lower classes
Playing carom after finishing the home task
Washing their garments in a group
Telling stories by siting rounded on the green ground
Talking making video chatting with some of their teachers who now staying abroad
Some time visiting our Homoeopathic dispensary for their health checkup

An interesting matter : After seeing the film, "I Am Kalam", one of our student of class I, Abdul Kalam replying " I am Kalam" when some one asked - What is your name ? May be he can touch the sky, because not so studious Kalam is now very much particular not only about his studies but also his cleanliness."

The June 11, 2012 mail talks about Puja. "Puja Singh, one of our Student of Class I of Gadadhar Abhyudaya Prakalpa. You can see her photo (video appears below) nearly one and half years back, when the Gadadhar Abhyudaya Prakalpa Starts. Also can see her present photo in the attachment. At that time she is not going to School, now she is a Spirited student who scored 79/100 in Bengali, 40/50 in English and
94/100 in Math in his last School Examination. She is also giving teaching to her mates."

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.

Knowing the hard reality none of us could tell her to study, but she  was told to bring all her materials and her sister Laxmi (also a Class IV student of our Gadadhar Abhyudaya Prakalpa) here at the ashrama, so that they would be helped to work in a cool, sound circumference, apart from other noises of their locality."

I shall end this post with June 24, 2012 mail of Maharaj, "When we told Ankita (Student of Class VII - in the picture to right) and Payel (Class VI - in the picture to left) of our Gadadhar Abhyudaya Prakalpa to write something which would be read-out at the time of making video in English on Gadadhar Abhyudaya Prakalpa, they wrote it from their own and read it in Bengali. Attaching the original writings in Bengali and also the free translation from where we can feel their dream ..."

All of us experience and feel many facts from our birth till we die. In my life I also want to feel pains, miseries, happiness of others. Of course I didn’t want this since I came into so called worldly consciousness, neither did I thought of this. I used to think of myself only.  Don’t know why , what happened but I wanted to feel those things. Still now I want that and try to do that way. I want to a Doctor. There are many reasons behind it. I am trying to write some of those. Becoming a doctor I want to do good treatment of poor people. I have seen such people that – son is suffering of fever and the mother sitting beside him has nothing to do except helplessly crying as she has no money for the treatment. Not only other people, such incident had occurred many times in my home too. Now such days don’t  come as I come here at the mission. I’ll be a doctor, help poor people in distress, and also help those who want to study but unable to afford it.
-Ankita Dey

I want to do a lot of study. I know that misery and pain accompany our lives. We’ll clean all them. But I want to be a teacher. But would my dream become true? Will we be able to feel the miseries of poor people? I have to go a long distance. We dream of many things. When I’ll grow up, I will help to study those who can’t afford it, free of cost. But can these dreams be fulfilled? We’ll think of our country. Who will believe our words?  Don’t know.  When we see people in sorrow I think one day we were one of them. But when we think of my thoughts I feel a deep pain in my heart: who will understand our  feelings.
-Payel Das

The G.A.P. is targeted towards children between 5-12 years of age. The one and half year's care for children of one slum shows what is possible with love and care. Can a society which calls itself civilized remain aloof and think that Ankitas and Payels, Rohims and Kalams should not dream? I am not sure if Ankitas will be able qualify in medical entrance examination given the hardship they face and they will be pitted against highly coached students of affluent family, but I am sure that they will be better than many other doctors in serving the nation if given an opportunity and do more public good. Isn't that the aim of public funded institutions, the question I posed in the first paragraph? Let us try to give some of our time, may be as little as one hour per week, to reach out to them. Our smallest contributions too get counted. We have a responsibility. Let us believe in ourselves and work together towards an inclusive society.


Subhendu Maity said...

I wish some of these stories also come in the main pages of the leading newspapers..

Subhendu Maity said...

I wish some of the facts can come in the main pages of leading newspapers..