Before starting the AIF Clinton Fellowship, I had the opportunity to visit a village in Rajasthan. Going around the village I met a lot of people, young and old. On asking them what was the one thing they wanted to improve in their village, the response received was ‘bacchon ki padhai acchi honi chahiye‘ (children should get good education). This simple statement reflected their aspiration for the children of their village.
Flashback to about two decades ago: isn’t this exactly what my parents aspired for me? When engaged in the struggles of the school admission process in Delhi-with me, then four years old- that their daughter receives a good education and has a good life, a better life, an accomplished life? A better life than what they had.
How the aspirations remain unchanged over time, across places.
Entering my host organization, Indus Action‘s office at 9.20 am on the first working day of the fellowship with part excitement and part nervousness (the ratio was about 30% excitement, 70% nervousness) I was looking forward to the day. I thought I would be reaching well before time. Inside one of the rooms, however, I saw, in a corner sat the CEO attentively listening to the person he was with on the phone. Clearly he had been in office way much before time than I did!
Indus Action’s vision is to ‘achieve equitable opportunity for every Indian’.
With this aim, Indus Action is currently working to ensure efficient implementation of Section 12(1)(c) of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE), through its Project Eklavya. The RTE Act enacted in 2009, mandates that ‘every child of the age of six to fourteen years shall have a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school till completion of elementary education’. One of the crucial features of the Act is Section 12(1)(c). This section is a powerful tool to ensure that children belonging to socially and economically disadvantaged communities get an opportunity to study in a private school, thus ensuring inclusion.
Like many children growing up in middle class families, getting admission in a reputed private school was considered to be the stepping stone to a brighter future. Education not only provides skills to an individual so that she/he becomes economically independent, but is also vital for a well functioning society. Growth and development of a nation is positively impacted if its people attain basic education. Parents prefer that their child gets a private school education as it is perceived to be of better quality. Even if they have to spend a considerable amount of money for this, they seldom hesitate. I know because I saw my parents dud the same. My father and mother, a simple government employee and a home-maker, had wanted their three daughters to have a good education and were ready to make all sacrifices for it, like all parents do.
During one of the discussions at my host organization, I pondered over, how privileged I was to receive a good education. Having had the opportunity to pursue education in reputed institutions of choice was something that paved the way for many wonderful experiences for me.
Would have I been able to go to a good school and study, had I been a girl born in a poor village in Rajasthan?
Eklavya was a boy belonging to one of the jungle tribes, in the tale of Mahabharata. He aspired to study archery from Dronacharya, Guru of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Dronacharya refused to teach him, because he was not a prince. Eklavya was not even given one chance to prove his worth or his talent, because he was not born in the royal family.
Does this story belong to the past? Aren’t there still so many Eklavyas, from whom opportunity to even go to school is snatched away because of being of a particular sex, caste, class, with disability, HIV/AIDS, etc.?
Indus Action, through its helpline team is striving to ensure access to information, with the aspiration ‘to enroll 1 million underprivileged students in high-quality private schools by 2020’. The helpline team is the backbone of the mission. In that helpline room, there are people who are diligently making numerous telephone calls, day in and day out, to ensure people have the access to information. Being able to spend some days with them, I wanted to know, what does it mean to them-the Right to Education? Does it matter to them if a child gets admission in a private school? Do they realize how important their role is in the scheme of things?
So, I approached one of the helpline executives, and asked him a seemingly simple question, “What do you like about your work? What keeps you going?”. He paused a little before answering and said, “I make innumerable calls a day disseminating information to people about the RTE Section 12(1)(c), following up with people whether they have necessary documents or not, whether they have applied or not, whether their child has received admission or not. One day I received a phone call on my number, and the person on the other side was a man who whose grandson had got admission in a good private school. He had specially called me to give me this news and to thank me!”. The satisfaction on his face said it all!
As my journey to have an in-depth understanding of my host organization and education ecosystem continues, I hope I reach the feeling of accomplishment and pride that this helpline executive had when sharing his small but relevant, success story.
I became a part of the Fellowship family with the hope to emerge a better person personally and professionally. And as my 10 month long journey continues, I aspire to serve, learn and lead and have my own little success story too.
Ending the blog with few lines (my first ever attempt!) which I penned wondering, are there no more Eklavyas? Isn’t injustice being meted out to innumerable such children who are not given the opportunity to get an education of their choice?
What is my heart’s burning desire;
What is it that I aspire;
Not willing to lose what I deserve in life’s game;
Scared that another Eklavya could be my name.
- Sarin, A., Dongre, A., & Wad, S. (2017). State of the Nation: RTE Section 12(1)(c). Ahmedabad: IIM Ahmedabad
- The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. Retrieved from http://eoc.du.ac.in/RTE%20-%20notified.pdf on 12th October, 2017.
- Uma. (2013). Right to Education (RTE): A Critical Appraisal. IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (JHSS), 6(4), 55-60. doi:http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jhss/papers/Vol6 issue4/J0645560.pdf?id=5939