Nisha is a 14-year-old, who matured in the coarseness of a childhood on the streets. I heard her speak at an event of Save The Children and YKA, called ‘#Invisibles.’
Nisha, along with young Salman, had come to narrate her case to an audience of largely activist grade adults. Now in eighth standard, she wore a brittle yet confident smile, saying she wanted to be a doctor.
Nisha’s story reaffirms our faith in potential escape out of a perpetual cycle of exploitation and impoverishment.
The Innumerable Flaws in Mainstream Education System
But it also frightens me how Nisha, and many others like her who integrate into the mainstream education system and turn guilty of dreaming beyond their designations, must be necessarily prepared for disappointment. Not because I doubt Nisha and her enterprise to become a doctor, but for I suspect our system’s ability to recognise her acumen and reward it fairly enough.
Let alone medicine, talk about any noble pursuit.
For all professional careers where mastering a science or an art is difficult without enrolment into institutions, our design of helping children learn is grossly based on excluding them, making sure they don’t get in.
Pick a name of your choice – selection, elimination, acceptance or may be more exotic words hiding behind them the brazenness of failing these many ‘other’ kids.
Am I too harsh with my words? For over seven lakh children who appeared in NEET this year, there were a total of 3,577 seats in all Indian government medical colleges.
And majoirty of the Indian middle class cannot shell out five million to buy for their kids a private medical seat.
The same is also true for engineering – the number of IIT seats being as low as 10,000 for a million candidates, except for the private ones being cheap and unpredictable in quality.
The Commercial Coaching Setup
Add to this low probability of selection of the content and pattern of the entrance exams, and the thriving coaching business.
If in Kota alone there are some one lakh kids spending heavily to prepare themselves for these few thousand seats, then where do you think Nisha stands?
She has neither the grease of money nor the luxury of taking gap-years for melting herself into the exam pattern.
The applause and cheers should haunt us. We have told Nisha a lie of having bright chances in life when at best they are only bleak. In a meritocratic society, that we claim to be, things are not as simple as they are projected – you get what you deserve.
The same dangerous logic implies that children like Nisha deserve to beg and work in deplorable conditions.
This crackpot race must not be rationalised by arguments of a burgeoning population. It is dehumanising to expect our children to excel in this rigged game.
Questioning Education System is Important
We need to start questioning the construct of such an education system.
The artificial scarcity of seats created by over-glorifying institutions and hysterically getting half our children to pursue science is an egregious abuse. We would have already solved half the problem by letting kids make more sense of what they want to do in life, instead of complying with the popular wisdom.
Then, we must seek for proportionate quality institutions. And it is not about fewer IITs and AIIMSs; but the lack of alternatives to chose from.
We do not need replicas of a fistful of acclaimed institutions, education must not be treated like a brand-franchise business, even by the government.
Let us instead channelise resources and efforts towards the development of distinctive, liberal, creative learning places.
Lastly, the process of entry into these colleges needs to be reconsidered.
Standardised tests with four closely related options work as perfectly as a lottery system when it comes to deciding who is more suitable to study at an institution.
Admission needs to be based on merit, and not marks (they aren’t the same). Why do we allow our kids to be tested for things their schooling doesn’t prepare them for?
What Is the Real Role of Education?
Also, if we intake only the ‘brightest’ (whoever they be), then what is the role of these institutions? Lastly what about those who are rejected?
Kids who make it to these institutions under present order are not necessarily the best fits, they are only the ones who have acclimatised themselves to what is tested. Most of your graduates from even these prestigious institutions end up being employees for big-fat packages. They are certainly not the most creative minds of your country.
When are we going to look beyond the contentment of being a nation of hired labourers?
Until we start refusing to regard education as a mass-consumption-product while being mindful of our scale, Nisha and millions like her will be cheated by the republic with biggest youth population. Keep cheering your human resource!