Thursday, 7 May 2015

The New Class Divide:

To be educated or not to be. Well, that will never be an existential question for anybody. It’s the question of the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of education that is beginning to bother me. I am slowly being forced to believe that the current education system, its curriculum and methods of teaching need a massive re-haul. Because now apart from all the discriminations that we have in our society, the new class-divide taking place is between those who are supposedly ‘educated’ and those who are not.

Let me explain.

One elderly farmer I met in Chamoli in Uttarakhand commented that there are no ‘jobs’ for the ‘educated’ youth, so everybody migrates to the cities. He also said that the younger generation who have completed their education did not want to work or stay in villages, as its below their dignity to study and be a farmer. A young enterprising chap I was talking to in another village in Tehri, refused to speak to me in Hindi. Working for a shipping company, he has travelled to most countries in the Gulf region and hence wanted to impress me with his English. He was noncommittal about his feelings for the mountains. Similarly, in Ganjam, Odisha, the son of one of the self proclaimed last generation of fishermen declared with a quiet pride that those who are educated will not do fishing as it’s a profession only for the uneducated.      

There is nothing wrong in aspiring and wanting a different life. But there is a serious problem if it disconnects you from your roots and even makes you despise them. There is a problem if education means that there is dignity in only a few professions. Being ‘english educated’ and getting a ‘job’ has suddenly become the big aspiration. In Bastar, a group of women looked at my friend and me almost in awe and asked: do you speak in English? Once even I, being ‘English-medium convent’ educated, used to consider Hindi or state board pass-outs inferior than me.

So I cringe when I hear children from tribal regions greet us with ‘good mornings’ and then narrate a nursery rhyme (government schools); or when I hear of children in remote regions of Ladakh being inundated with library books, games or computer aided learning all in English (NGO run by ex-corporate people). As Snow Leopard Conservancy (an NGO in Ladakh) found out, most children studying in schools could identify deer and peacocks from their books but did not know about Ibex or snowcocks in their own backyard.           

The inescapable reality is that the current ‘westernised’ form of education is already deeply entrenched and changing it would be a herculean task. On the other, a large number of children are illiterate even now, so a huge problem exists of getting them into this fold of education. But somewhere in between, we all (NGOs, CSRs and Governments) can still create a balance by giving them a little bit of both the worlds. Global with the local. Penguins with Lammergeiers. Science with traditional knowledge and practices. Two examples stand out for me in this form of education. Deep in the forest of Bastar, a retired CA from Pune opened a school called the Imlee Mahuaa School for tribal children when he realized that the Ghotul system of life-skills education amongst them was fast eroding. In this school, even though children have to sit for exams every year, they do not follow a strict curriculum. Here the children dictate what they want to learn, when to learn and for how long. Similarly in Ladakh, SECMOL was started by a group of Ladakhis when they realized that the current system of education is completely alien to Ladakh’s culture, language, topography etc. In this school, the curriculum is different from what’s prescribed elsewhere with a focus on the requirements of Ladakh.

Even in a poor country like Vietnam who got independence much later than us, there is basic dignity of labour. I would like to believe that it’s the reason why they are progressing faster and better than us. While we as a society continue to create more and more divisions and indignities in life.                    

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