Ceaseless Pursuit

Poverty is often blamed for the lack of literacy among the marginalised. Poverty is only one part of the problem. Every poor tribal or Dalit wants to educate his or her child but what is stopping them? Collective social neglect.

A few among us may, in the flush of idealism, go ahead and start a school for the underprivileged, but brace yourself for challenges from the most unexpected places.

Which curriculum does a new dream school adopt? Not knowing the potential and strengths of prospective students, you may decide that the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) will be most appropriate. NIOS offers a curriculum up to Std.XII with an Open Basic Education (OBE) scheme up to Std.VIII, which gives a strong base for further academic pursuits. This is not a school dropout or adult-education programme, although NIOS was originally conceived for this purpose. The norms laid out allowed for a school or institution environment. Many schools across India have adopted NIOS as the curriculum, or its OBE scheme until std. VIII.

Just when you think you are ‘set’, you are told that, in 2009, came the ‘Right To Education’ (RTE) Act. All children between the ages of six to 14, the RTE Act mandates, have the right to get educated and in a school environment. But wait! Though the OBE scheme allowed for it to be implemented in schools, the government has indicated the withdrawal of this scheme. The argument is that the OBE is mainly meant for home schools or for after-school programmes, which contradicts the RTE mandate of a ‘school or institution environment’. This means that children studying in such institutions will have to find admission in other schools affiliated to State or Central boards.

So what is plan B? Opt for another affiliation and recognition that would award a certificate to the students at the end of 10 years? If you choose to apply to a board such as ICSE, you are in for a long-drawn rollercoaster ride, being shunted from pillar to post for that most elusive document called the No-Objection Certificate (NOC).

Until recently, an NOC from the state government was a compulsory requirement for affiliation to ICSE and CBSE. To acquire this certificate from the state government, you have to become a file, and then as a file commence a long journey — village to city to state capital, rectifying the various defects listed by the inspecting authorities. But the list is never-ending because every time the file is returned a new set of queries are presented. There seems no final list of corrective measures you can take and no one assures you that it will end.

The RTE enactment also requires all schools, including those already affiliated to established boards, be recognised as per the guidelines of the RTE and norms of the respective state governments. The mutually contradictory ambiguities between the two are playing havoc with administration of schools. When states such as Tamil Nadu insist that all schools need to re-apply for recognition every three years, insecurity grips educators, parents and students.

Recently, the CBSE replaced the NOC condition for affiliation with the recognition requirement of the RTE. But, in both cases, it is the state authorities that issue the necessary certificate. If you are a new school seeking recognition, you try and submit all the necessary papers hoping that you will reach the end of the rainbow.

To the inspecting officers, issuing an NOC or a certificate of recognition under RTE makes little difference. They are confused about the various norms, or may be they just don’t care because power is still vested in them and their superiors. State board affiliation is no different with its own set of complications once again enforced by the same officers.

But the bottomline is: Nothing will happen until money has been unfurled into the machinery. This is not just about politicians; it is a murky world of black money curated and manicured by private trusts with enormous funds who are willing to pay large sums of money to obtain all the necessary permissions.

Exhausted and frustrated, you turn to the legal system to find an answer, a direction. That is another long drawn wait.

By this time your students are ready to take the std. X examination, and their parents are worried. That is when you see how the education that you wished to offer can be stifled and strangled by the political and bureaucratic machinery.

That is when you ask yourself: Is this entire struggle really worth it? But before despondency makes you a prisoner, you remember the sparkle in children’s eyes and recall the smile in their eager parents’ faces. That is when hope returns, and energy, and you keep going. The question is… For how long?

Originally written for The Hindu

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