The Ministry of Education has, as we reported yesterday, ordered that five Grade One students each be admitted to all schools in keeping with a Supreme Court ruling. There seems to be no end to the problem of school admissions. Most schools are bursting at the seams, and at this rate, classes will be too unwieldy for teachers to handle.
A researcher in an article on environmental practices in this country yesterday argued that if we cut down on the leftover food dumped on the roadside, there would be a corresponding decrease in the stray dog population. One may wonder if successive governments have adopted a somewhat similar method Rathu Sahodarayas may call it a capitalist conspiracy to carry out family planning surreptitiously. We don t mean the method used by politicians and their siblings to keep rice prices high thereby causing the people to consume less rice. The food-dog correlation doesn t apply to humans who multiply better and faster in an environment of food scarcity, as evident from the exponential growth of slum and shanty dwellers the world over.
Governments have been driving the masses to family planning through school admissions. Anyone with a big brood is doomed. How to find schools for all the children? Gone are the days when men and women went forth and multiplied happily and rapidly without worrying about feeding and educating children. School admissions are so scary a proposition that it may even stand in the way of the consummation by a prudent couple of their marriage!
Parents woes don t end after finding a school. Free education is a misnomer. Parents have to cough up whopping sums of hard earned rupees by way of building funds or bribes for principals. Schooling has turned out to be a process of fleecing the hapless parents, who have to pay for various things from colour-washing of classrooms to expensive gifts for teachers. What do they get in return? Almost zilch! It is not in schools that children receive education, the provision of which has been left entirely to a thriving private tuition industry.
The situation is so appalling in many schools that GCE Advanced Level students are more absent than present. During school hours, they could be seen at tuition kades. The remedy the Education Ministry has prescribed is not raising standards of teaching to attract children but making attendance mandatory for sitting the examination! When students excel at examinations thanks to the much maligned private tuition masters labour, their schools grab the credit. The so-called popular schools would be exposed, as we have been arguing in these columns, for what they really are empty shells if a ban was ever imposed on private tuition.
It was only the other day that we celebrated 60 years of Independence on a grand scale. Where has the much flaunted Independence taken us? We got rid of the colonial Tsars in 1948, but our own commissars have brought the country to this sorry pass where the state cannot cope with the demand for school education.
Paradoxically, while the people are engaged in a mad scramble to admit their children to some schools, many schools are being closed down at an alarming rate for want of students! The situation has manifestly got out of hand but we still have politicians tinkering with the education system without effecting radical changes to it. It is not the symptoms that need to be tackled but the disease itself.
There is only one solution to the vexed problem of school admissions. More and more schools must be developed to the level of the existing popular schools . There are schools with the potential to help solve the problem. And there will be enough funds for that purpose if the government cuts down on the colossal waste of public funds. There must also be an equitable distribution of resources among schools without the urban schools being allowed to take the lion s share. It is doubtful whether some popular schools apparently owned by affluent old boys and old girls who squander millions of rupees on year end bashes need any state funding at all. What is sadly lacking is the political will to solve the problem once and for all.
That the government looks askance at the activist role the Supreme Court is playing in a bid to clear the mess of school admissions is only too well known. Politicians are omniscient and omnipotent and, therefore, they don t want to be told what to do. They would rather muddle along than be directed by anyone else. It is infra dig for them to rectify their blunders. But, there is a limit beyond which the Supreme Court cannot proceed in solving the problem. That warrants a political intervention in a big way in the long run.
The public has failed to goad politicians into taking action without blabbering. Most parents evince a greater interest in the third rate teledramas that drag on for years on end than in the issue of school admissions and the deteriorating standards of the state education institutions. Some parents resort to protests when they fail to secure admission of their children to their chosen schools but such ad hoc measures will hardly yield intended results unless public resentment is harnessed and properly directed to jolt politicians into action.
The biggest challenge we are faced with is not terrorism, which we have learnt to live with: It is the country s slide into a mega crisis in education. A country may survive bullets and bombs but not a failed education system and the attendant illiteracy.
The high failure rate in mathematics, science and languages at the GCE Ordinary Level examination demonstrates the severity of the problem. The so-called popular schools, too, have become seats of prestige because of extra curricular activities and powerful OBAs and OGAs rather than seats of learning.
The patently obvious problem of school admissions is only one aspect of the crisis we are heading for in the education sector. Although it must be tackled urgently, the streamlining of admissions will serve little purpose, if children are not given a proper school education.