"I love school.” For educators, such declaration from a student is the best testament of ‘success’. However, Priya, 8 years is not among our ‘usual’ pre-schoolers. She lives under the flyover in the slums of Kandivali near our school. There are a few observations I have made and I would like to confess it to you today. Student life is very hard these days. Stress, depression, mood swings are many of these nuisances. But there are more roots to them, which are further elucidated in my point of view as a student.
While it’s been a while that we had opened our doors and hearts to around 30 feisty street children aged 4 to 16 years, this most impromptu confession, with twinkling eyes and one that prompted other more reluctant children to also coyly break into a jiggle and express their happiness, is perhaps one of the most surreal moments I have experienced. It is during such moments we realise the impact we can have on improving lives through some basic additional efforts. In this case, from just helping Priya and other children like her experience the joy of well-kept school premises and other resources. Or even in dedicatedly training a group of tribal children in self-defense, education, and hygiene.
It made me think how much we could really achieve if each of our children could attend quality school programmes (which is the basic right of each and every child as per the Indian constitution) right from the preschool level and not just from primary. It is time and again research reiterated that 0 – 6 years is the most important period for all kinds of development!
What does the term inclusion really mean, when do we start implementing it and who all do we include in this?
We have always prided ourselves on being an ‘inclusive’ school. Through our initiatives, we have tried to extend it to ‘social inclusion’ too. While our children at Kangaroo Kids, Kandivali and the children under the flyover have already set the wheels in motion in terms of learning to respect and share each other’s spaces, I constantly wonder why there must be a need for schools to be ‘inclusive’ in the first place. Should that be a goal?
The RTE Act has set in pace the mission to achieve universal elementary education but can inclusion be suddenly forced upon when there are so many learning, cultural, linguistic impediments to grapple with? Have reservations at colleges, institutions helped us get the desired effect of ensuring that the opportunities presented be translated to effective outcomes?
That is the keyword we must analyse - the outcome, in terms of empowerment. A dipstick survey report by Parikrama Humanity Foundation, a non-profit company in the field of primary education, found that only 8 percent of the jobs in well-known IT companies in Bangalore are held by people who have emerged from government schools. Yet, of the million-plus schools in this country, 94 percent are government or government-aided institutions. Alarmingly, in India’s emerging knowledge industry, more than 90 percent of jobs are held by people from 6 percent of its schools.
Higher education fares better than primary education but has only about 10% of the population having access to it. Also, 3 million graduates a year, being dispensed out of faulty education systems into various enterprises – locally and globally. Out of these, a whopping 90% are deemed unfit for the job market. What do these numbers tell us?
1. We need a well thought out and tailored approach for real ‘inclusion’ to take place factoring in the social, economic and bureaucratic elements. It must clearly run deeper than sweeping Acts and Reservations that sound ideal but must be pragmatic and in sync with ground realities.
2. In a country where 74% population still depends on agriculture as primary means of livelihood and earnings of less than Rs.100 a day, where do we stand at vocational education and training (VET) in this skill-based economy? A dismal 10% of workers receive formal education in vocational education, compared with 65% in the US and 70% in the UK. China is training 90 million youths against our 3.5 million youths in VET! We need more and more social enterprises that also focus on truly empowering people across communities.
3. We have the lowest spends on Education and Health – the two most critical components that build a nation! India beats sub-Saharan Africa, known over the world in term of hunger parameters. How do we expect our children to study when they aren’t healthy? How does anyone grow financially if he is bogged by debts due to escalating healthcare costs – since our public healthcare is also such a failure? Our public expenditure on healthcare is just over 1% of GDP. In education, it is about 3%, lesser than sub-Saharan Africa.
For true empowerment through inclusion, one that transcends the social, economic, cultural factors, it must have 100% involvement from the entire ecosystem. We need to start early, young and work together. And not just through reservations or categorisations, which further divides us. We need to connect at the ground level and encourage the communities to explore, engage and enrich each other’s perspectives while also advocating their equal rights to be included in the societal framework with the freedom of also retaining their respective identities.
While inclusion is a way of abolishing various degrees of inequalities, it shouldn’t be an end. The goal must be empowerment.
After all, doesn’t the term ‘inclusion’ imply prejudice?
Kusum Kanwar is K-12 Principal, Director of KK Kids Learning Systems, ECA Ambassador for Principals
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