(It's 6:00 a.m., any day of your choice in August 2011. Note:The characters and incidents are fictional though based on first-hand experiences and observations.)

Aryan is sleeping in his newly furnished bedroom with the AC set at 16 degrees, wrapped in a warm quilt—of his favourite color red—while it is 32 degrees outside. Before you start getting other ideas, Aryan is 11 and studies in 4thstandard of a reputed international school in suburban Mumbai.

Kshitij has been once scolded by her mother for not getting up to revise his tables. He is half asleep and complains, "Why do mornings come so early? I will definitely do them tomorrow. Let me sleep today." This results into a nice slap on his back by the doting mother. Afraid of more firecrackers, he bleats out, "Two ones are 2… Two twos are 4…, " still rubbing his eyes. Kshitij is 8 and studies in 1ststandard in a nouveau-mushroomed missionary convent school in Pusad.

Jaideep is having his breakfast. Last night's chapatti mixed with fresh milk from a goat his father got under a government program for Adivasis. His mother puts some oil-salt-chilli paste on a few chapattis and wraps the whole thing inside a striped pink cotton cloth with brown stains here and there. Jaideep's lunch box is ready and packed, notwithstanding a few chapattis peeking out of not-so-tiny holes in the cloth. He is already late for school. He quickly grabs a large polythene bag which due to old age can just faintly murmur the story of the time when Jaideep's father had bought clothes at "Vandana Dresses Pusad (Fashion ki right choice baby)" two years ago. Jaideep is 12 and studies in 3rdstandard in a school run by a charitable trust in Pusad.

Before Diwali vacations, Aryan went to school in an 8 lakh Sedan which he liked very much until one of his friends bought a 15 lakh one with fancy sunroof and peeking out of it, teased him just enough. Aryan no longer loved his car and persuaded his dad to buy a 17 lakh SUV with sunroof and latest music system. As Kishore Kumar from dad's late night drive makes way for Eminem urging Aryan to "Lose himself," he reaches his school. His car along with hundred other metallic beauties jams the road near his school at 8:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. every single working day. The school bus service is underutilized as parents fear their kids might get stressed in the 10 minutes extra that the bus takes to reach home. And the damn bus has no AC! Can you imagine the discomfort?

Kshitij can't tie his shoelaces. His mother does it for him while he dips his bread-butter-jam in a cup of bachcha chai(sweet tea with extra sugar and less tea leaves). The rickshaw's horn shrieks like an old female crow with chronic asthma and Kshitij runs leaving behind his half eaten bread, towing a 5 kg schoolbag and a half kg water-bottle. The rickshaw already has 5 kids when he takes his place. As the rickshaw vrooms ahead with the kids clapping—within the space constraints—to "Dhinka Chika" from the latest Salman Khan flick, an old sticker which reads "Only For 3 Passengers" flutters carelessly in the wind.

Jaideep walks across the hilly terrain with his "Vandana" plastic schoolbag. He picks up a stick, which he moves sideways and intermittently looks back at the long snaky groove it makes as he walks along. The dust-snake is 1.5 km long when finally Jaideep reaches the "Jeep stop" where a few other kids are already waiting, some even with a proper school bag. A jeep will ferry the kids first to some other villages and finally to the school some 15 km away in Pusad. Although there is a government primary school in the village itself which boasts of a 80% attendance on record, it's dedicated teacher is sipping hot tea in his home marking "Present" against random names while Jaideep sits in the last row of the Jeep. "Sajno ka sajan mera naam hai lakhan…" plays loudly in the cell phone of the driver.

Aryan, Kshitij and Jaideep are among the 96% school going children in India in the 6 to 14 year age group (as per government records). But the stark contrast is apparent even in the ways they wake up and go to school. It does not end there. Aryan can't read Hindi or Marathi properly let aside writing in it with all the welantis and matras. He knows French though and can chant un, deux, trois, quatre with ease. His parents are OK with it and say, "What's the use of learning Marathi or Hindi? He will anyway go to the US for further studies." They even make the kid flaunt his French skills in front of not so bien informéguests like me.

Kshitij for his part can't spell words properly and goes by the Marathi sound of things. He ends up spelling (and pronouncing) little as litil, river as rivar, and so on. The introduction of phonetics has worsened things. Now he has a fake American accent (only while reading English) and calls Lord Ram Ramaas the Americans do.

Jaideep hates all the subjects but drawing. He loves to draw his fields and a sun peeping out of the hills and the typical house every child draws and the huge mango tree in Kanhba's farm. English is beyond him and the rote learning of ABCD in perfect rhythm by the whole class gives him a chance to remain silent and not get caught. Blissfully ignorant of his parents' dreams that he would become a government sahib and pull them out of misery; he only looks forward to lunchtime while the teacher shouts out, "Mary had a little lamb… Bola jorat."

The difference in the attitudes and educations of Aryan, Kshitij, and Jaideep is obvious. It might have been there even a few decades ago, but the divide is widening for the worse and more rapidly than ever. Aryan hasn't seen a field in his life and Jaideep doesn't know what an AC is. Kshitij is confused whether to imitate the gaalisof his father or the fake U.S. accent of his teacher. The one thing common across the three is the lack of sensitivity and empathy while a more self-centred attitude is imparted by the target oriented system.

If we look at the government reports, there are many points stressing on the rise in NUMBER of children going to school, NUMBER of schools, NUMBER of teachers, etc. Take these for example:

  • In 2009, 96% of children in the age group 6 to 14 in rural India were enrolled in school.
  • The overall percentage of "out of school" children (6-14) has dropped from 4.3% in 2008 to 4% in 2009.
  • "Out of school" girls in the age group 11 to 14 dropped from 7.2% in 2008 to 6.8% in 2009.

What these reports don't tell us is the quality of education these kids are receiving. As per a report from ASER published in 2010:

  • The number of children in std V who are unable to read simple text has declined from 58% in 2007 to 53% in 2010.
  • Only 36% of children in std V are able to do simple division sum. The percentage was 42% in 2007.

Education is not about high-tech gizmos and projectors and AC classrooms that Aryan's school boasts of. Education is not about "projects to give the child multi-dimensional personality" which eventually end up as parents' home-work as in Kshitij's case. Education is also not about rote learning of ABC when Jaideep is not mentally prepared for it. Education is about giving wings of knowledge to enable the kids to fly high. It's about morals and ethics and values. It's about caring and sharing and loving and giving.

Education is to teach Aryan not to compete with his friend for a car. Tell him that a man is superior by his thoughts and actions. Put one hand around his shoulder and tell stories of Baba Amte and Mahatma Gandhi.

Education is about complaining to the RTO about the law-breaking rickshaw-wallah and setting an example for Kshitij to follow. To respect the laws even when breaking them seems to be the norm. To drop him school everyday till an arrangement is made, so that he gets the confidence to stand with the truth.

Education is about asking Jaideep if he would like a "special place" in his village, a place where he could draw his heart out. Point to a Vimayin flying high and tell him it is called Aeroplane in Vingraji and that Vingrajiitself is called English. He surely would like to see its picture, won't he? Oh! An Aeroplane starts with "A," just like "a" in Marathi… Slowly, but surely, the ABCDs will come chasing him as once the dust-snake did.

Until that day the government will continue passing headline-hungry bills like "Right to Education" and our kids would just be "Left to Education."

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Tags: class, education, ethics

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