Daily Archives: May 20, 2017

#EducationMatters- Public-Private

#EducationMatters- Public-Private - Leher India | Child Rights Organization | NGO

Have you ever considered getting treated in a public hospital? Or enrolling your child in a public school? Health and education are not matters to be taken lightly. Expensive private treatment and expensive private education is the only way to go. Why is that? Is it because subconsciously the word ‘private’ is synonymous for quality and the word ‘public’ is synonymous for sub-standard?

What is the most common public service we all use? Roads and transport. The life line of our daily commute. How many times have we worked ourselves into an apoplectic fit about the state of our roads and transport system? Minimum once a day. Our road rage is fuelled by our outrage.

And that begs the question why are we not similarly appalled by the condition of other public services? Why is it ok for a public school to not have enough teachers, clean drinking water or clean toilets? Is it because our children will never have to set foot in such an institution? Have we become insular to the point of indifference?

Over the last few years, government spending on education has gone down. Internationally public expenditure on education is tracked as a percentage share of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2013 India spent 0.63% of the GDP on education and this has dipped to a projected 0.47% in 2017-18. For a nation where illiteracy and a growing population are pressing issues this does not seem like a wise move. It is therefore certainly not a surprise to hear that only 6 out 10 schools in India have electricity and 30% of the teachers do not have a graduate degree. Children especially girls routinely drop out of schools simply because there are not enough usable toilets.

We have all heard about children who have excelled in pathetic conditions, studied in night schools and under street lamps to become toppers and rank holders in competitive exams. This unfortunately has become the norm rather than the exception. Psychologists have done studies proving how we all love to root for the underdog because we admire people who have had to work harder and battle odds to succeed. However, our love for the underdog seems to have made us apathetic towards a system that is designed to create underdogs. Thanks to the current state of public education, we are steadily churning out too many people with too much of the odds against them.

Education is a right not a privilege. Higher levels of education are associated with better health, longer life, better parenting skills, and earning capacities of individuals. By curtailing education an entire generation is being crippled on our watch.

Benjamin Franklin said that “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” For our current education system to pay an interest it requires a lot more of us to take an interest.

#EducationMatters- Safe Space

School Bullying in India

Of all the parental duties, one I like the most is attending parent-teacher meetings. It gives me a chance to not so humbly brag about my son and his many accomplishments. These meetings usually run to a pattern. Anxious parents with answer papers in their hands wait to discuss the quarter mark more that their offspring deserved in the last test. Anxious children keep their fingers crossed hoping the teacher will forget to report their last misdemeanour. It is all about marks, handwriting and conduct ending with a teacher’s favourite homily “can do better”. Parental duty done all is forgotten till the next meeting.

Are there other things that you need to know about your child’s environment in school? After all children spend the largest chunk of their waking hours in school. The best way to know about school is to of course ask your children. However, many parents complain children never tell them anything. This can be true for little children who cannot communicate very well right up to teenagers who think that a grunt or a shrug is the same thing as a long conversation. It is therefore a good idea to be in touch with other parents as it can help bring concerns to the forefront. No matter how annoying you find them do be an active part of the Moms WhatsApp group.

So what are the basic things you need to find out about the day to day working of your child’s school? It can be simply covered in an acronym P.E. S. T. This stands for Physical Safety, Emotional Safety, Sanitary Conditions and Teacher Attitude.

Physical safety includes a wide range of things. Some basic aspects are the existence of a proper compound wall, appropriate security, a school ground free of stones and hazardous materials, rules about the arrival and dispersal of students and not allowing strangers access to the students. Proper seating on school buses, stairs and floors that are friendly for children of all ages and physical conditions, knowledge of first aid among the staff and access to emergency medical care are other helpful factors. Make a note of the approach road to the school and the neighbourhood where the school is located including the shops near the school.

While a normal school day could mean studies, sports, lunch and laughter; it could also mean teasing, bullying, sitting alone in a corner and tears. Children are unintentionally and many times intentionally cruel to each other. A different sounding name, a simple mistake in class, a stouter or thinner physique is all it takes for a child to be anointed with a nickname that lasts forever. Contrary to the popular stereotype of the school bully being a well-built boy who shoves the little ones around, girls can be bullies too. Bullying need not always be physical and can take the form of things like giving one child the silent treatment or purposely excluding a child from groups. Emotional safety of children in school is critical to their self-esteem and their academic performance. Schools should have clear rules about bullying and as well as a counsellor in place to speak to children having difficulties.

One of the most basic aspects of school safety are the sanitation conditions. It is not uncommon for the best of schools to have dirty washrooms or poorly handled food in the cafeteria. With dengue and malaria being very real concerns it is best to keep an eye out for poor hygiene, unclean water coolers and improper garbage disposal and inform school authorities.

And as we are fond of saying in this country…last but not the least…the teachers. Teachers make or a break an educational experience for a child. Stories about hating a subject just because the teacher was too strict are legion. While a teacher is not wrong to expect discipline and good behaviour it is also a teacher’s duty to be approachable. Teachers should think beyond academic attainment and be aware of the rights of children. They should be sensitive to what a child may be experiencing at school and at home. Indian culture places the Teacher or Guru in a position of great respect and power and such a hierarchical view often ignores the fact that the school is first and always the child’s space. Teacher attitude is linked to emotional wellbeing of children their perception of studies and their academic performance.

The best way to ensure your child’s wellbeing in school is for you to be a P.E.S.T.

#EducationMatters- Unschooled by conflict

#EducationMatters- Unschooled by conflict | Child Rights Organization |  Leher NGO in India

The human cost of conflict has been devastating in India and world over. More so with children who hardly develop skills to deal with the intricacies of facing and living with conflict. Millions of children are caught up in conflicts in which they are not merely bystanders, but targets. Some fall victim to a general onslaught against civilians; others die as part of a calculated genocide. Still other children suffer the effects of sexual violence or the multiple deprivations of armed conflict that expose them to hunger or disease.  

A catastrophic fall out of ongoing conflict is a generation of unschooled children. These children find themselves, through no fault of their own, not only lost and confused but also lacking the opportunity for proper schooling and thus, denied a chance to learn and develop the necessary skills to become fully contributing members of society. This lost generation is the tragedy of our time. 

The lack of education, coupled with a sense of despair and hopelessness creates the perfect conditions for the radicalisation of children, running astray, falling prey to unfavourable circumstances and losing will to learn. Without education, children and youth will not have the economic opportunities and sometimes the learnings and socialisation that help counter trauma provided to children in areas not disturbed by conflict. 

It is when families, communities and governments fight hard to ensure the right to quality education is fulfilled, despite difficult circumstances, that a child has the hope to rebuild his life.


#EducationMatters- Unschooled by conflict | Child Rights Organization |  Leher NGO in India

Children at a school run by Naxals in a village of Chhattisgarh (Photo- Kractivist)

Bastar, a region which cradled a society and indeed an ecosystem based on the tribal way of life has in recent times become a zone of bitter conflict. The ongoing battle between the Naxals and security forces has taken a heavy toll on its people, and at the heart of it are the regions children.

All parties to the conflict-Maoist rebels (Naxalites), state-supported anti-Maoist vigilante groups (known as Salwa Judum), and government security forces- have recruited children in different capacities that expose them to the risk of injury and death. It has also caused massive displacement, resulted in the destruction of dozens of schools, and severely impacted children’s access to education. The Naxalites recruit children between ages 6-12 years into children’s associations called Bal Sangams, where children are trained in Maoist ideology, used as informers, and taught to fight with non-lethal weapons (sticks). While others get taken in by the policemen and are used as spies against the naxalites.

The havoc of the conflict coupled with the violence unleashed by Salwa Judum members and government security forces has forced some parents to stop sending their children to school, others have migrated to neighbouring states but have dropped out of school due to language barriers and yet others have been converted into child soldiers, brainwashed by the region’s militants. Government security forces have used many school buildings for military purposes, leading Naxalites to destroy even school infrastructure and facilities.

#EducationMatters- Unschooled by conflict | Child Rights Organization |  Leher NGO in India

School students at a sit-in protest against the economic blockade imposed by Naga rebels, near Imphal, Manipur (Photo- Amit Bhargava/NY Times)

Manipur is a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious state. Due to paucity of land resource there has been intense competition among the different ethnic groups to gain control over them, the ethnic conflict had far reaching consequences and has impacted education adversely. Violent political conflicts are a regular feature in Manipur, for many decades. Frequently occurring violence, bandhs and blockades have severely affect the a normal school life of children.

Conflict has had multifaceted effects, which have not only disturbed children socially, but also psychologically. Parents are always worried about the possible involvement of children in violent activities. Sometimes, students themselves willingly get involved in the activities of bandhs and blockades, unable to attend

School, losing focus on their education. Additionally, the forced recruitment of children into insurgent groups has become a common phenomenon in Manipur and also a growing cause of concern.

An outcome of this ongoing insurgency has been the emergence of a tuition culture and educational outmigration as alternatives for covering the syllabus and seeking a quality education, making redundant the existing public education system.



#EducationMatters- Unschooled by conflict | Child Rights Organization |  Leher NGO in India

Indian paramilitary troopers stand guard as Kashmiri Muslim school girls walk past outside the state assembly in Srinagar. (Photo – AFP)

Children and education systems are often on the front line of violent conflict in Kashmir. Recently, Burhan Wani’s death due to the conflict between the state and its people has cost many people their lives, their limbs and their normal daily living, especially the most vulnerable section- its children.

Conflict has known to leave lasting impacts on children, binding them to safe places, away from a normal routine of attending school. The first thing a child needs to sacrifice is his/ her right to education, as going to school suddenly becomes taking on an unsafe journey. Blasts, encounters, hartals, curfews, shutdowns and extreme violence means that schools stays shut for days, weeks or even months, leaving children with no alternative means for continuing their education. Insufficiently recognised, one of the lasting, negative impacts of growing up in a conflict ridden home is a deep sense of fear, insecurity and hopelessness, denying Kashmir’s next generation a chance to learn and develop into fully functional members of society.

Exams, private tuitions, regular school and any chance of learning came to a halt when the conflict in Kashmir spiralled out of control. Sitting at home, behind closed doors, with no place to play or lead a regular life, many children and youngsters are taking to the street and joining the rebellion with stone pelting.



A high school classroom in Bokaro, Jharkhand blown up by Naxalities after security forces stayed there. (Photo: Manob Choudhary)

The Adivasis, the original inhabitants of the land who populate the jungle heartlands of the country, are caught in the middle of a conflict that has raged between India’s government and Maoist insurgents, for almost five decades.

The ongoing conflict is disrupting the education of thousands of marginalized children. The Maoists, are targeting and blowing up state-run schools. At the same time, police and paramilitary forces are disrupting education for long periods by occupying schools as part of anti-Naxalite operations. The Maoists attack schools because they are often the only government buildings in the remote rural areas where the militants operate. Undefended schools are a high-visibility target. Sometimes the security forces occupy school buildings completely, while in other places they occupy parts of school buildings, with students trying to carry on their studies in the remaining space. In other circumstances, parents fear sending their children to school and many drop out.

The very presence of heavily armed police and paramilitaries living and working in the same buildings where children are studying invariably has a detrimental impact on children’s studies and frequently puts the authorities in breach of their obligations to realise children’s right to education. What is urgent for the children of Jharkhand is the repair or rebuilding of damaged schools as a priority, and immediate psycho-social support along with emergency alternative education.

#EducationMatters- Unschooled by conflict | Child Rights Organization |  Leher NGO in India

Children outside a one-room school in Kantabanji, Odisha. (Photo- Author Regents Park)

More than half of the districts in Odisha are affected by Maoist violence. Maoists have always been critical of the state government’s development model and have opposed massive mining and power projects because they would result in large-scale displacement and disenfranchisement of tribals. This ongoing insurgency has crippled the everyday lives of the community and their children.

As a result, the youth and children are being pushed into a zone of darkness. Their rights being violated indiscriminately. Schools are empty and children huddle inside their homes, unwilling to meet strangers. No one ventures out either in the fields or forests. The community wants the forces to move away so that normalcy can return to their village. They want their lives back, the school and Anganwadi to run and the freedom to move in the forests, like they used to.

Many schools are located at the periphery of the forest, making them unsafe for children to reach and access. They also lack boundary walls, fences and the necessary infrastructure. Families don’t want to send their children to school for safety reasons, making them drop out of school and take to odd jobs to earn a living or helping out in household chores. This makes it difficult to get back to school or pursue an education. Violence and conflict in this region curtails lives and creates dismal opportunities for education.


#EducationMatters- Leave Them Kids Alone

#EducationMatters- Leave Them Kids Alone | Child Rights Organization | Leher NGO in India

The words of Pink Floyd’s rebellious song echoes in my head. We Don’t Need No Education…he said. It was a defiant wail at a system that in theory is supposed to help children. A system that is supposed to debunk class and caste divides and ensure that every child gets a fair start to be what he or she wants to be.

One way of doing this was of course to ensure that every child got into school in the first place and was given an environment that would make it conducive for him/her to learn and stay on in school. This meant doing away with detention. This is what the Right to Education Act of 2009 did. No more failing. No more having to worry about staying back in a lower class while your friends went ahead. No more feeling left out and left behind. This was supposed to reduce the dropout rates and improve attitudes toward learning. Studies have shown that emotional factors and attitudes toward education in school-age children can influence how they learn. Here we are talking about children who are in all likelihood the first generation in their families to step into a school. These are children who live in the most abject conditions possible. They face immense pressure to quit school so that they can start working or take care of younger siblings and household chores. Detention for poor performance, forcing them to repeat a class would only hasten their departure from schools.

The no-detention policy was accompanied by a form of assessment that was supposed to be non-threatening called the Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). This basically meant assessing the learning progress made by students at regular intervals. The assessment was to be done on smaller manageable chunks of content to reduce stress and do away with rote learning. CCE involved using different methods of teaching as well as non-threatening tools of evaluation. There was an emphasis on no negative comments on the learner’s performance. Like many wonderful ideas no-detention plus CCE sounded great on paper and once it was announced educationists awaited with bated breath a revolution in India.

Sadly, this was not to be. Policies turn into practice only with the right training and support. While CCE was introduced in 2009 as part of the Right to Education Act, scores of teachers are not aware what it exactly means or how they are supposed to implement it. No assessments and mass promotions to the next grade is not CCE. With CCE not being implemented correctly schools often did not know the learning levels of their students or the remedial techniques needed to help them achieve grade-appropriate learning levels.

We love statistics. Statistics that shock us and make us tweet and talk and rave and rant. 98 percent of people in India quote at least one statistic in a conversation every day. This is a statistic I just made up! One such shock-inducing statistic which I have not made up unfortunately is that ‘in rural India every second child in class 5 cannot read at the class 2 level’.

Gasp!! What could possibly be wrong in our system? Let’s not worry about the fact that teachers are not trained in the correct methods of assessment. Let’s not worry about lack of nutritious school feeding programmes or use of corporal punishment or children sitting on the floors in rat-infested class rooms with not enough text books between them. Let’s not worry about the lack of clean drinking water and clean toilets in school. These are all things that prevent children from learning well. Instead let’s just bring back the detention policy. Because the fear of failure is just what we need for children to embrace education with a whoop!

The government in a bid to improve the standard of education feels each state should evolve its own practice of examination and detention post class 5. There are as many as 18 states that want to do away with the no-detention policy but scores of education experts including the NCERT are urging the government not to do so. They say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. In the current education system, the one thing that is not yet broken is the student. Let’s try and fix the 99 other things that we know will help the student.

To quote Pink Floyd’s song again “Teachers! Leave them kids alone.”