By Vijay Sanghvi
The million dollar questions without any straight-forward answers are: who should decide the line of vocation that youth are or could be directed to and under what rights? Teachers are not qualified psychologists to comprehend basic aptitudes and talents of the child. Would impart of skills in manual jobs also not mean that they were to be turned only into labourers without giving them an opportunity to flourish in academic or intelligent activities?
The scheme would have resulted in class separation by law—something parents of private school going children would have resisted because of their own compulsion. They would not have then preferred or would prefer now that their children to go through the labour mills. It meant children of poor who attended public sector schools were not be given options to choose their future. They should have been driven to be inheritors of their family trades only without an opportunity to shift to other trades.
Wealthy upper middle class prefer private schools to ensure quality education for their children. Others have no option but to bank on government-run or public sector schools where the quality of teaching faculties are bound by routines and procedures. Teaching in public sector school was reduced merely to monthly wage-earning vocation for recruits without any commitment to their jobs and dedication to students under their command. Many feel even now that skills can and must be imparted to all during their schooling years.
Obviously, they did not think then or care now that such compulsion would be nothing more than the continuation of an old social structure where new generations of lower classes were not given the option to switch to trades other than of their ancestors. In free India, it would tantamount to the denial of fundamental rights. It was the greater injustice to those who were or are not aware or conscious of their rights to fight back for their rights.
Such questions may have deterred Nehru from introducing systems of skill imparting in education. One does not know as he never shared his thoughts on the issue in public or private conversations with anyone. He was in hurry to modernize Indian society through rapid industrialization. He did not wish Indians to depend only on means of production provided by nature. It may have impelled him not to attend to immediate needs for development of agriculture and allied vocations that Indira Gandhi attended to. She was chary of standing at doorsteps of America each year to get five million tonnes of food grains to meet shortfalls in production to feed the entire population. The Green Revolution and the White revolutions she introduced liberated India from such humiliations.
Drop outs level was high, and particularly among girls as school education did not improve their employability. Similar jobs were offered to all regardless of their education up to fourth, seventh or twelfth standards. Hence poor saw no reason to spend more years in school and also force their children to work. Construction, food and motor repairs employed the largest number of uneducated or less educated working children. Parents in poor families dragged their seven-year-old child to work in order to improve the family earnings. Girls were considered to be a greater liability. It contributed to the evil practice of child marriages among poor in many states.
The two revolutions and improvements in agriculture returns resulted in some sort of miracle. More money began to pour into rural areas. It enabled rural populations to attend to other aspects of life as they did not need to worry about the next meal anymore. It generated more interest in the education of children to empower them to seek and gain dignity of life. It also made them aware that quality education of more than two children was impossible to achieve. The small family became necessary.
Dr Devesh Kapur, of the Centre for India Studies at the Pennsylvania University, has several revealing stories to tell that he collected from his research work. He points out that 94 percent Dalit households in Uttar Pradesh have dal cooked at home in both their meals. Less than eight percent get their meals from scavenging, borrowing or begging.
One of his narrations observes the transformation of mind set of the Dalit families in the state. Every day for a week he saw a 55-year-old Dalit woman and without an ability to read or write– pressing clothes of a neighbourhood in the back lane in Lucknow. He went to inquire why she was late for two hours at her workstation. The old woman confided that she was delayed at the bank where she had gone for depositing Rs. 50 on account of heavy rush. Intrigued Dr Kapur asked how much she was saving and why. She told him that she was daily depositing Rs.50 from her earning of Rs.200 as she wants to send her grandchild to English medium school. Her astounding revelation mirrors the change of mind set even among poor Dalit families. Till lately Uttar Pradesh was a state where politicians insisted that only Hindi medium schools be permitted in the state.