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Next Teachers’ day, do a bit of legwork, Mr Prime Minister

Posted on: September 12, 2014

When we earn something hard, we flaunt it too often. This is exactly what has happened with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He really worked hard to become the Prime Minister of this largest democracy in the world, so he doesn’t leave any chance to flaunt his newly acclaimed status.

Delivering the Teachers’ day speech and making it compulsory for all students and teachers to listen to it was just another attempt to tell the world he has arrived. The huge Manekshaw auditorium in New Delhi was chock-a-block with enthusiastic students who asked him some well-rehearsed questions. Donning the avatar of Chacha Nehru (as India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was fondly called by children for his connect with them), he answered them spontaneously. But the tone and tenor of his answers clearly exhibited his achievement as an individual and his complacency as the Prime Minister.

Newspaper reports next day state that some section of students and teachers enjoyed listening to him. But there were many others who expressed their disappointment for being forced to be a part of this mega event.

But one thing is clear that the reason behind organising a grand event like this was that the Prime Minister wanted the people of this country to know that the degrading education system of the country pains him. He wanted to tell one and all that he is here to change the face of the education system and script a new future for the lakhs of school going children.

But he could have conveyed this message by other ways too. The Prime Minister of India should know that addressing a handful of children, who have access to television sets, while sitting in an air-conditioned auditorium is far easier than addressing the real problems that have made the education system hollow.

He should know that his real job is to reach children, for whom, going to school is not easy.

His itinerary could be reasonably long. But he should start from Gujarat, where he served as a chief minister for more than 13 years. In some villages of his state, it is, indeed, a huge ordeal for the children to go to schools. For example, in Chhota Udepur district in Gujarat, children of 16 villages swim across the Hiran river to reach their school in Utavadi village in Narmada district every morning because there is no bridge constructed over the river.

His next stop should be another state ruled by his own party, BJP, which is Rajasthan. If he goes to Dungarpur and Udaipur districts of the state, the locals will apprise him of an ongoing crisis of hundreds of children dropping out of schools and going to work in Bt cotton fields as child labourers in the neighbouring Gujarat. There are schools in these districts where teachers have been caught hand in gloves with middlemen who pack them off in trucks to work as bonded labourers. Not that their parents are not aware of it. It is the parents who send their children to work at an early age, in want of money.

Another reason why parents convincingly pull their wards out of school is that there are barely any teachers available in these village schools. There is no check by the government on why teachers never come to class even if they stay close by.

The problem of missing teachers is huge in another BJP-ruled state, Chhattisgarh. Teachers go missing from these schools fearing attacks from both the Maoists and security forces. There is no assurance from the state government that it will make proper security arrangements in these areas where schools can run uninterruptedly. Children have to walk no less than 50 kilometers in both Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Bastar region to reach schools. Textbooks reach these students only when they are nearing the end of the academic year. The headmasters of some of these schools and even heads of villages will tell the Prime Minister that how rebels often want to interact with the students and interfere into the functioning of schools.

But rebels are not the only ones who add to the woes of students. Many ashram or residential schools in both Maoist-dominated districts (Dantewada and Bijapur) have been preoccupied by the security forces. Owing to which, students have to stay in cramped barracks and their classes have been running in open fields. Ironic, isn’t it?

The leaders of Salwa Judum or civil milita have made life all the more miserable for these children studying in ashram schools. These children have been forced to carry arms and participate in the raids conducted by Salwa Judum in villages. Children have been pushed by the leaders of Salwa Judum to go to jungles, track the trails and sniff out the enemy.

The last government in power couldn’t do anything to make things better for these children of the conflict torn state. But for all the noise that Modi has created on good governance, children of this strife torn state have every reason to expect Narendra Modi to be their saviour.

But Modi’s journey to schools doesn’t end here. If he moves towards a little far off towards the north-east, in Manipur, he would know that children here cannot attend school for days because of long days of strikes called by various underground groups. At present, the state government itself has ordered an indefinite closure of schools and colleges. This is the second time in less than two months that such an order has been issued by the government because some students were injured in the ongoing protest marches demanding the implementation of Inner Line Permit in the state. This is completely a political issue but students are suffering. No effort has been made by the central government to bring normalcy so far.

In 2009, all educational institutions including schools were closed for four months in Manipur after Apunba Lup, an apex civil society group representing more than 20 different organisations, demanding the resignation of the chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh over the alleged extra judicial killing of a youth the same year.

All that Prime Minister Modi can do is make the state government improve the law and order situation in Manipur to ensure that education doesn’t become the casualty. 

Prime Minister claims to be clever, ingenious and strong. So he should not resort to the easy job of delivering a speech on Teachers’ day and expect children of his country to listen to his “valuable” advice and see him as their role model. Instead, he should make an effort to go to the most remote places of the country and find out ways about how more and more children can make their way to schools.

If he wants to be the darling of the children, his concentration should not be on the handful of students, who he interacted with, in the auditorium or via –video conferencing. His real challenge is to win the hearts of 1.4 million unlettered children who are waiting to go to school. His real challenge is to retain the children in schools. His real challenge is bring back children, who left school in search of work, to classrooms. His real challenge is to make education accessible to every child of this country.

It’s about time for the Prime Minister to start his legwork, simply for his self-proclaimed love for children. So let’s get going, Mr Modi before the next Teachers’day arrives.

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2 Responses to "Next Teachers’ day, do a bit of legwork, Mr Prime Minister"

Innocent children bear the brunt of violence (be it domestic, social or communal), poverty, social and economic inequality, gender bias and above all corruption. It is good that PM took the opportunity to address children on Teacher’s Day but he can do a bit more and root out the difficulties to ensure beautiful childhood for every child of India as aptly highlighted in the article. Thanks Sonia for raising concern for the little ones as the process of using them as vote-banks have already begun.

Yes, they are already targeted as vote banks!

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