Sunday, October 12, 2008

doing my homework myself: for a working democracy

these days i am living a paradox.
i aspire to become an educationist, and a child care campaigner (care- not as in child care or welfare; i mean to care for a child, to let all children know that there's someone who cares for them, their well being and happiness).
i do not believe in privatization of education, but right now i am involved in documenting a private school's success in innovation and in advocating and facilitating a different kind of learning-process.
so why am i living this paradox? was i stupid enough to be unaware of it, was it the money, or has my non-belief in privatisation been shaken?
thankfully, none of these. i.e. it wasn't the money, but the work- this is one of the very few things i could work on without compromising my convalescence. and sheer boredom was killing me; and what the school's achieved is pretty intersting and rather commendable.
and though i am not as fond of arguing as some people i know are, i'd hate to lose an argument- to anybody. so i undertook this is an exercise in adding to my arsenal.
you see- i don't ever want to be in the unenviable position of talking about something i don't know the first thing i thought i'd take a look at how exactly this private school operates, the premises and ideology it works on, what it does to help its students learn better.
and i tried to keep an open mind, i've noticed that it's generally a good idea.
i wanted to see if i could be converted.

so now?
well, i am not going to talk about the school or what i thought of it- it's actually quite nice, (except the fee part, of course ;-) ) has been workign real hard to operate in accordance with its beliefs and initial premises, and is generally keeping the children really happy. so there's nothing to find fault with.
but when i was thinking about how well this school is doing and that privatization does have a few things to recommend it, i stumbled upon an argument.
it's generally believed that if a private operator can provide better services, well, why not let the service be privatised?
so if private schools work better for everyone concerned (and trust me, they work well enough for the government as well; sweetheart, they won't be allowed to operate otherwise, now would they?), than government schools, what the hell is wrong with letting them work?

this is what-
forget the kind of government schools we have right now. they don't work- successive governments have painstakingly ensured (not without incentives, pats-on-the-back and promises of investments and aid) that they don't even remotely resemble anything that works.
nope. let's think of a school that's open to all children- from all calsses and communities, that's fully equipped with laboratories, sports equipment, material and room for arts classes, has the requisite physical infrastructure, and the requisite number of properly trained teachers. there are also enough number of such schools so that no children in any region need to be packed into buses to be dropped at school.

who runs the school??
well if you are talking money- it comes from the government- and honey, don't you be naive enough to believe that the government does not have money, they just lack the will for the most part- from what i've heard it's already happily footing a bill of some Rs. 10, 000 crore for the Commonwealth games. not that i've anything against sports (i consider it essential for a person's growth; only hosting a beyond-our-pocket international sports event is another story) , but i am assuming that a government that can pay a bill of that order to host an international sports event can definitely pay for its children's education. at least it should. and it keeps telling us that it does- but how many of us understand the intricate details of a union budget? how many of us understand what exactly the government pays for, stops paying for, and what conditions it lists for something to be paid for, by it?
not many.
you think no other government pays either- but they do- in USA, Canada, and many other countries....the government pays- if not the central government, the local or state governments do (or their equivalents).

but you know what, it isn't just the funds that run a school- there are some ten thousand otehr decisions to be taken. for example? well, who decides upon the curriculum, syllabus, allocation of funds for teaching and non-teaching activities, teacher credentialling and recruitment processes, other education and school related activites? who gets to have a say in the laws governing public education and the running of schools??
well, the obvious answer is- the parents, the community around the school, the teachers.
in short, a board can run the school- a board elected by the parents/community, comprising school teachers, parents, administrative and non-administrative staff, public representatives.
again, don't think it's never been done- many nations have a long and successful history of running their schools this way.

now why the hell would anyone want the hassle of being responsible, even in part, for running a school???
because it's for their kids- their kids' entire lives, their dreams, potentials, opportunities, and most importanly, their kids' mental and emotional well being.
and that is the leson we are taking too darn long to learn.
governments can run schools, private companies can run schools- and they can do it real well too.

but education- as in learning to run our own lives, take our own decisions, explore and enhance our potential, take an active part in running our country, playing our roles as global citizens- is a resource as essential to mankind's survival and dignity, as land, forests, water...
the reason we face again and again, the danger of losing our share of these resources is, we have not accepted that we are responsible for managing these resources, that we are responsible for not misusing them, for not giving them into somebody else's keeping, for not depending on somebody else to preserve them for our use.
we say- what if somebody can take better care of them than us, why shouldn't those people do it and be paid for their work?
isn't it rather like letting a paid tutor do your kid's homework, and then realising one fine day that your kid knows nothing, can do nothing, and can not survive in a racing competitve world? because she did not learn to stand on her own two feet, becasue she was not allowed to learn how to behave in a responsible manner?

if we can not take care of our rivers, our forests, our farms & factories, and our schools, we have to learn how to do it because we have to use them, we have to preserve them, we have to teach our kids how to go on preserving them. because we can not and will not survive without these resources.

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