After a long week of holidays for Diwali, not a single student turned up on the first day, while 35 out of 450 turned up on the second day. Therefore, after 2 days of wait, the anudeshak (caretaker) decided to visit every village and get the children back. It was around 9.30 a.m. and one of the caretakers asked me if I’d like to accompany him on the visit. I jumped at the opportunity to get my first exposure of the community.
Early man used to travel mainly on foot, sometimes for weeks. Science has reduced the travel time from weeks to days to hours. Would you believe that despite the numerous inventions to save time, some people still travel from place to place on foot? Yes, in tribal areas people still walk from one place to another place. Some of us take flights 5 to 6 times a month, while there are some people I have met in the past few months who haven’t sat in a 4 wheeler all their life! As you read this, Elon Musk is conceptualizing a ‘Hyperloop’ to get to anywhere on the Earth within one hour!
On our route, we met a few children who were walking towards the school and in some cases, with their parents on a bicycle. 10-year-olds, walking in groups for 5-6 hours. Some children from the remotest areas walk about 40km through forests to the nearby village and then take vehicular transport to the school. Now, put yourselves in the shoes of any of these children, who see more tangible use of their time earning a daily wage doing labor, as opposed to sitting in a classroom without fans, trying to understand gibberish subjects in a gibberish language that make no sense to you. How excited would you be about making this cumbersome journey back to school, away from your family?
After reaching a village called Gumma, I saw a house surrounded by hustle bustle. Some children were playing with paddy that they brought from the field while others were playing on trees nearby. I stepped inside the home to be greeted by one of the elder sons who immediately offered me some water. I asked about his background and learnt that he studied until 10th and then got a police job which he unfortunately had to quit due to some internal reasons and is currently driving a tractor for a living. He also had a younger brother who looks after animals of the house. I was soon to realize that for each school going child, one sibling would stay back at home!
We moved on to the next village, 4km away, which is home to 15 students of the school. We had to walk the last 2km as the village is on a hill, which can only be accessed on foot. As soon as were within sight of the village, some children recognized us and our intent and started running into their homes! I asked one of the mothers why the children had not been sent to school yet, and she replied quite rhetorically, in her language, that if everyone goes to school, who will graze the animals? There was no mincing the priorities. She pointed to a small girl and said that we dropped her so that, she will be helpful to his brother who was perhaps 10, to look after animals. I was speechless and standing without saying anything, and then she pointed to a boy who left school after fifth and instead of him, his brother is going to school. When I inquired about the last time she visited their schools to discuss their performance, she replied that, she has never visited their school as the trip would mean 2 working days lost, and since she isn’t educated, she cannot make sense of what is happening either.
On seeing all of this, my natural response was to blame parents for not valuing the importance of education, and for not pushing their children towards school, but, on deeper reflection, i am beginning to question the role we as educators play to make schools more meaningful for the masses. How can we move from extrinsic motivation to an intrinsic one? What tweaks need to be made in the current focus of schools so that the children see more value in coming to school, and wait with eagerness for vacations to end, like we did to meet our peers …