An apologia for state run schools #GivingTuesday#India

An apologia for state run schools #GivingTuesday#India

I have always held that to bring about meaningful change, it is imperative to make state run schools centres of excellence. Only then will every child have the opportunity to change her morrows. Sadly we seem to have taken the other route: privatisation of education.

In a recent article entitled Rethink Education, Uday Balakrishnan writes: The shift to private education is not good. Government schools ought to be the drivers of change. I cannot but agree.

70 years after independence our track record in education is abysmal. To quote a few figures: only half of all students who enter primary school make it to the upper primary level and less than half that — around 25 million — get into the 9-12 class cycle. We have around a million primary schools and only half that number at the upper primary level. The number of secondary schools is less than 150,000 for a country of 1.3 billion, and even this comes down to just 100,000 at the higher secondary level. While there are around five million primary school teachers, at the secondary level the number is just 1.5 million.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to see that the equations is skewed: 1 million primary schools and only 100 000 higher secondary schools!

Education is what can bring about the social transformation we seek. It is a vital investment that requires immediate intervention. Education today is moribund. It is a rote based mark oriented beast that smothers all creativity and self development. It needs a radical and immediate overhaul. There is no scope for band aid solutions or cosmetic tweaking. The obsession on marks is killing children’s creativity and uniqueness. Our kids deserve better!

I recently saw big hoardings stating that thousands of classrooms had been constructed in Delhi. This is laudable but without stellar teachers classrooms are of little use!There are over 15000 vacancies for teachers in State run schools in Delhi. Wonder why these are not filled.

We need to take education seriously. To view it as an investment in the country’s future. Teaching has to be given a respectable status and should be the first choice on the employment ladder and not the last.

State run schools have to be the best and become the first option for parents of all strata of society. Schools have to be a playing level field. Only then will things change.

Education is sine-qua-non to growth and development. We seem to have forgotten this.

Children are meant to laugh, not kill #GivingTuesday#India

Children are meant to laugh, not kill #GivingTuesday#India

Two horrific tragedies occurred last week in the capital city. In the first one a 5 year old sexually assaulted his 4 year old class mate in an upmarket school and in the other, 4 school students slit the throat of a young man over an altercation over a phone. The boys were aged from 13 to 16. The victim succumbed to the injury.

These two terrible tragedies left me stunned. The first question that came to mind was where did we as a society go wrong? Then a host of other questions, each begging for an answer.

What compelled the 5 year old to assault his classmate in such as a violent manner? Was he a victim of sexual abuse simply reenacting what he was made to suffer? Or was he mirroring something he had seen? In this case he too is as much a victim as the girl and needs counselling and a sensitive approach. Will he get it? I do not know. Are we not the society that ‘blames’ a child for being the ’cause’ of her rape?

And what makes 4 teenagers happily boarding a bus first ‘steal’ a phone from another co-traveller and when challenged whip out a knife and slit the throat of a fellow being? Why did the children carry a knife? Where did such violence come form?

And the biggest question that begs to be asked: How responsible are we as a society for such terrible acts?

What is this society we have created and nurtured? Is it not time to accept part of the responsibility.

What are we teaching our children? What role models do they have? The answer is there for all to see. Be it the news, the movies, the idiot box shows, all are replete with violence and more. There is violence in homes, violence in schools. Children are abused in homes where the code of silence reigns with impunity. Sexual education is off the curriculum because it goes against ‘tradition’. People are judged on what they possess. So steal if you cannot get it otherwise.

And if we do not pull the brakes and slam on them hard, more is on the way! We cannot sit with blinkers on. No one is safe. No one. It is time to redefine education, parenting. It is time to speak loud and clear against anything that one feels wrong.

Our children deserve better morrows. We have to give them back the childhood we hijacked.

Will we is the real question.

Bye Bye House #GivingTuesday#India

Bye Bye House #GivingTuesday#India

So the deed is done! After months of procrastination and doubts the old now crumbling house is ready for a makeover. So bags were packed, boxes filled with memories and moved to a new transit home waiting with bated breath for the day one would move back lock stock and barrel. A few tears were shed along the way I must admit but they too are tucked away on some remote cornet of the heart.

It is in this house that I finished my studies, got married, had my kids and brought my grandchild.

It is also in this house that Project Why was conceived from a mere thought to the vibrant entity it is today.

The picture above is that of what I fondly called: the project why cockpit as it is here that I steered its destiny for the past 18 years or so. It is also where I wrote the many of blogs that were the face of Project Why for all these years. This is te first blog I write from another place. Seema a little strange I must confess.

This move is probably my last rite of passage. It is when the old leaves space for the new. Be it home or Project Why!

 

As Delhi chokes #GivingTuesday#India

As Delhi chokes #GivingTuesday#India

Delhi is facing a critical health crisis. The pollution rate is alarming. It is believed to be off the charts. Some call the city a ‘gas chamber‘. Experts suggest evacuating the city. But is this a viable option for the millions who live here/

The causes are many from  burning  crop residue in neighbouring states to industrial emissions to cars and construction dust.

This happens every year and every year panic sets in and short term measures are taken. But then winds blow and take the dust away. The problem is forgotten till it hits again a year later. Memory is short.

We are in the midst of a crisis and witnessing the short term measures: schools are closed for three days, trucks have been stopped from plying and people have been told to stay indoors. Closing schools may be an option for children from better homes, they can sit in their room with air purifiers, but what about children from slums who live close to polluting factories and whose homes are dark and insalubrious and so small that you can barely stand. Such children have no option but play outside in the haze and dust. Where else can they go.

With schools closed, many of the younger children will miss their midday meal something they look forward to! But notwithstanding this, it is certain that slum children will breathe in more toxic air while schools are closed. But does any one care?

And come to think of it, do we really care about the environment or do we too only react in times of crises by blaming the government and demanding remedial measures.

The sad reality is that when there is no crises each one of us is a big polluter. How many of us will take public transport? Far from that, in rich Delhi people of a same family got to the same wedding in different cars! How many of us do not use plastic, segregate garbage, do not litter, save water and so on. Not any is any. So are we not all at least a little responsible for the mess we are in?

Is it not time that we take action and commit to play our part in saving the environment.

In the land of silence and raised eyebrows #GivingTuesday#India

In the land of silence and raised eyebrows #GivingTuesday#India

Came across an interesting article on the need of sex education in India. Sex education is a highly controversial topic as for some it is seen as offensive to Indian values, and concerns that it might lead to risky sexual behaviour and promiscuity. What its detractors do not understand is that it is quite the opposite. UNESCO defines sexuality education as one that  “provides opportunities to… build decision-making, communication and risk reduction skills about many aspects of sexuality…. encompasses the full range of information, skills and values to enable young people to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to make decisions about their health and sexuality”.

Wonder why those who oppose it do not see the situation on the ground with rape, teenage pregnancies and sexual abuse on the rise in a alarming manner.

Adolescents need to be taught age appropriate sexual behaviour or else they will be unable to reign in the raging hormones. If not in homes, then the only alternative is in schools. Some feel erroneously that if there is sexual education everyone will only talk of sex. But that is not true. Sexual education is about knowing your body and its changes, about understanding consent, about learning to interact with the opposite sex.

One cannot be prudish about this.

A very pertinent spoof was made on what would sex education look like in our patriarchal society.

It is so true. We are even afraid of mouthing words like sex!

At project why we have regular workshops on adolescent issues. We feel these are an intrinsic part of growing u in today’s world where teenagers and even tweens have access to unrestricted internet via the smart phone. Teaching age appropriate behaviour is an absolute must. Gender equality has to be taught albeit in our patriarchal society.

Sex education has several benefits:

1. It can help students understand that attraction to the opposite sex is a biological phenomenon.

2. It can do away with the taboo and stigma surrounding sex.

3. It can educate children on health issues related to sex and lower the rates of teenage pregnancy.

4. It can prevent gender and sex related injuries and violence.

5. It can enhance the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of students.

But the Government is even weary of using the word ‘sex’ in any programme on adolescent issues. Some feel it is against vedic values, and a top cop even said it would increase the number of rapes.

Sex education is taken seriously in many countries.

In Holland ‘Lentekriebels’, a government subsidised programme for children aged between four and twelve, is carried out every year. Under this programme, children are taught about relationships, sexuality, the act of cuddling, friendship and also about new born babies.

In Denmark children are made aware of what sex is in a very simple and clinical way. They even have picture books for little children to understand the process of having safe sex. The process is explained factually through cartoon-like graphics.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education  (CSE)is much more than sex education: It covers the physical, biological, psychological and social aspects of a person’s being and sexuality. It covers issues like bodily changes and differences, and relationships with other youngsters, teachers, and society at large, to discussing important social issues like bullying, abuse, infections, and breakups. And yes, it also provides information about sex along with the importance of consent and safety, all in age and stage appropriate terms.

Efforts are being made by the Government but civil society has to back it up.  2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched the Saathiya resource kit for young people. It is a progressive approach and covers six important adolexent issue: nutrition, sexual and reproductive health, non-communicable diseases, substance misuse, injuries and violence (including gender based violence) and mental health. However it relies on peer educators and an app and thus cannot reach every adolescent.

CSE is essential to help a child navigate through puberty to adulthood, more so in a country where questions are met with silence or raised eyebrows.