Project Why children celebrated Independence Day! There was the flag hoisting in all centres, the regulatory speeches, the patriotic songs and of course a lot of Bollywood dancing. The children enjoyed themselves and the celebrations ended with the ubiquitous all time favourite: the samosa!
Watching the children with their innocent faces and trusting eyes was moving and bittersweet; even if one spoke of education and its importance in accessing a better future one could not help noticing the stark difference between these children and their more privileged peers. But that morning, be it on the roof of a temporary structure erected on a garbage dump amidst factories spewing toxic smokes, or on yet another roof in a crowded slum or on the banks of the Yamuna surrounded by vegetables fields, for those magic moments every dream was possible.
It was later, after the children had gone back home with memories to share and the adults had returned to their everyday life, that reality struck.
Project Why has been committed from its very inception to doing every thing in its power and more to help these children break all glass ceilings, but it would be naive to think that this will be possible for all as there are too many obstacles in this race. And yet to reassure us and make sure we carry on, miracles happen when one child breaks out of the cycle of poverty in which s/he was born and succeeds.
We remain aware that Project Why is a drop in the ocean and that there are too many children that may just drown.
And this is a reality we must accept in the land we live in. Over 1 lakh schools in India have just 1 teacher was a recent headline that made one shudder. It means that 100000 schools function with just one person who, as the article said, doubles up as administrator, clerk, caretaker, midday meal servers, nurse and sundry crisis manager. Such souls need to be saluted as they are wonder persons!
Statistics show that over 8000 children get raped in India every year. Wonder how many get sexually abused and yet the state is unwilling to include sex education in schools. Perhaps it is because it is thought that this would not make a difference.
An incident occurred recently and showed how well planned, age appropriate and straightforward sex education could contain this shameful crime.
A young seven year old who was born and brought up outside India and thus had been taught age appropriate sexual education reacted firmly when he felt that that his body was being ‘invaded’ . Actually it was far from that as he was just being asked to have a bath and he did not want to but to his mind it was his body and we respect that thought. In ‘good touch bad touch’ classes young children are taught to take ownership of their bodies and can only be touched if it OK with them. This very simple lesson could save many children from abuse. Abusers play on fear and silence, the moment these are taken away the perpetrator loses his power.
These lessons should be taught in schools and part of the curriculum. But that is not the case in India.
Good Touch Bad Touch may be taught in schools for the privileged that have counsellors. Classes are run by professionals but came at a price. And above all parents are aware and thus able to help the child. But that is not the case in state run schools and poor homes where sex is taboo.
Child abuse is not confined to the odd criminal deranged mind. These exist but the real abuse comes from within the homes or the neighbourhood where a firm NO can do the trick.
How long will children have to wait and how many more children will be abused before the penny drops.
‘The time for action is now. It’s never too late to do something‘ wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Wise words indeed. Words that remind us of forgotten intentions and unfulfilled dreams. This post was written after a visit to the Kalka Temple where getting to the deity means coming face to face with beggar children who’s number seems to grow in quantum leaps. Children begging is a shameful reality of urban India.
Every time one walks the perimeter of a temple or stops at a red light, little hands spring from nowhere and seek your attention. No matter how many years go by, the size of the hands never changes. Child begging is thriving. New children take the place of those now to big to tug at your heart.
One has heard of mafias controlling the panhandling business and ensuring a perfect demand and supply equation. This is unequivocal proof of this sad reality. But it does not end there. Actually parents too use their own children in this sordid business. An enquiry on whether it would be possible to teach this multitude of children was turned down as we were told that parents themselves would not allow this to happen as children were those who got brought in the maximum. Without the kids, the family would not earn a day’s wage. School and education are anathema
Even the laws are against us as in a recent amendment to the child labour laws, children under 14 were allowed to help in the family business. Hence the little beggar girl as king for her chocorate is legit.
The only way to solve the problem is to stop giving money and hence with no demand the supply would diminish. That is what Project Why attempted as its first programme: replace the coin by a biscuit. The idea was to have biscuits in nice boxed that could be ‘refilled’ at petrol pumps and hence everyone would be handing over biscuits and not coins. It did not work even though 50 biscuits were sold at one hundred rupees.
As long as we give, they will beg. As long as we give more to children, parents will not allow them to get educated and break the cycle of mendicity and thus will remain beggars producing more beggars to beg. An infernal spiral!
A child seeking alms is something that should disturb each and everyone and make them soul search for a solution.
The solution is simple: remove the demand, stop giving money, stop giving to children: the supply will vanish the moment the business is no more viable
The new education policy is in the anvil. The recommendations of the committee set up to look into the issue are ready. Two of the recommendations are close to our hearts. The first is to reinstate detention beyond class V and the other to set up a cadre akin to the administrative cadre for education.
The first recommendation comes as a sigh of relief. Ever since the no fail policy till class VII had been instituted quality of education particularly in state run schools had taken a free fall. Moreover in a country where corruption has permeated education, this policy could result in the aberration of class XII toppers unable to answer questions from subjects they had aced. For one of them political science teaches cooking and the other did not know the link between water and H20! Looked like someone else sat in their place. Retest was ordered for the toppers.
This is no laughing matter as toppers are the ones who get seats in prestigious and affordable state run colleges, something you can miss by a fraction of a mark!
Creating an education cadre is also of paramount importance as often teaching and more so school teaching is not socially acceptable and a last resort when all else has failed. The need to attract the best could be a game changer.
Project Why as been advocating such changes and welcomes them.
At Project Why we believe that primary education should be given its right place in the education journey as this is where foundations are laid. This is also when the mind is receptive to suggestions and thus a sound policy can make all he difference. Content should impart the right social message: tolerance, gender equality, compassion etc. Extra curricular activities need to find adequate space as they are essential to growth.
The two-shift system followed in the majority of state run schools in Delhi should end. All children, be it boys or girls, should attend school in the morning and the afternoon should be for creative and sports activities.
Quality is of the essence but should be imparted in school. The need for ‘shadow education’ or ‘extra tuition’ should end.
Neighbourhood state run quality schools that see a social mix of children is in our opinion the way to meet the constitutional right to education for all children in India.
Project Why proudly presents its first ever English play: let us save trees. The play has been written and performed by our children with a little help from their wonderful teacher Smita.
Wow what a proud moment for us all! I must confess that I sat through the play with moist eyes and a lump in my throat. I must also admit that whilst watching the play I did not hear the halting English or the hesitant delivery. For me it was nothing sort of perfect. And more than that it was a true vindication of our focus on quality programme launched barely a few months ago. It was a ah ha moment indeed. Just a few months back the young protagonists of the play could barely utter a few word of English. At best they could spout a few words by rote. When we began the programme many thought it too ambitious, others a pure waste of ressources. And yet we held on and launched it. Over and above the regular after school support, the primary kids spent a short hour learning spoken English. I somehow believed the experience would bear fruits sooner than later and I was proved right yesterday when a bunch of boys took the stage in a language they had always feared. This was the way to go and I knew deep in my heart that we had crossed a yet invisible barrier.
I know that the road ahead is still very long and filled with many hurdles, but somehow today as I watched the tiny play I knew we would cross them all.