Planting the Right SEED…

Namratha A. Rai
Published: March 2018

People generally are of the opinion and to an extent it is true, that life and experiences educate us. What one goes through in life stays till the end. On the other hand, what one learns in school and college may surface in bits and pieces depending on the love or hatred the person had for the subject.

Another fact that some state is that successful personalities like Albert Einstein, Thomas Alva Edison, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates were college drop-outs. Hence, where is the need for formal education? But what people don’t realize is that unlike the majority of us, these personalities were exceptionally gifted. Yes, it is true that all of us are born talented but it is with varying degrees. And that is why formal education is considered a must to build a successful career and have a comfortable life.

All over the world, governments and organizations are trying to provide children with education but there is also this piece of reality that while many fail to receive quality education, there are countless who don’t receive education at all. According to a report, in 2009, a national survey in India recorded over 8 million out of school children (OOSC) between the ages of 6 and 13. A report by the World Bank in 2015 stated that while more than 95 percent of India’s children attend primary school, less than half of 16 year olds – just 44 percent – complete Class 10.

There are a number of factors that hinder the availability of education. Some of them are cultural differences, socioeconomic backgrounds, illness, funding or sponsoring of education, the cost of school books and uniforms, access and distance to a good school and also due to the low value their parents place on education.

Different cultures look at education in different ways and one of the main issues that students face in school is language barriers. Communication barriers between the student and teacher hinder both learning and teaching.

Children from better economic situations are not necessarily smarter but fare better in school because they have access to tutoring and other kinds of support. On the other hand, students from lower income families often have responsibilities, pushing education down the priority list.

Food and nutrition play an important role in a person’s ability to carry on his or her responsibilities. When children do not eat regular, well-balanced meals, they are prone to many illnesses and are absent more than other students, making it difficult for them to cope. It is reported that around 171 million children in developing countries are stunted by hunger by the time they reach age 5. Stunting can affect a child’s cognitive abilities as well as their focus and concentration in school. As a result, stunted children are 19% less likely to be able to read by age eight.

Another factor is the lack of funding for education. Although governments keep aside substantial amounts for education, it does not seem enough. To add to this is the decline in the donors. To ensure that poverty does not become a barrier to schooling, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has made it clear that every child has the right to a free basic education. Still there are families that feel sending their children to work is a better option. Why? Because firstly, though education is free, they still have to pay for uniforms, books and stationary and secondly, lack of functioning government schools force parents to send their children to private schools and for the poorest of families, this becomes unaffordable.

Then there is the issue of either not having proper infrastructure and /or not having teachers or trained teachers and the lack of study materials. According to the website, www.globalcitizen.org, children in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are often squeezed into overcrowded classrooms, classrooms that are falling apart, or are learning outside. For example, in Malawi, there are 130 children per classroom in grade 1 on average. Besides this, schools do not have basic facilities like water and toilets. Outdated and worn-out textbooks are often shared by six or more students in many parts of the world. In the United Republic of Tanzania, for example, only 3.5% of all grade 6 pupils had sole use of a reading textbook.

If there are normal children who cannot and do not enjoy the privilege of studying, then it is far worse for those with disabilities. According to www.globalcitizen.org, there are 93 million children with disabilities who have no access to school. In some of the world’s poorest countries, up to 95% of children with disabilities are out of school. A combination of discrimination, lack of training in inclusive teaching methods among teachers, and a straightforward lack of disabled accessible schools leave this group uniquely vulnerable to being denied their right to education.

Another factor that hinders children from going to school is the distance. Many have to walk for miles and for those with disabilities, sick or those who have to complete chores at home this becomes too much. In war-torn countries, children especially girls become easy targets of violence. Last but not the least, there is the gender factor. Low-income families often choose to educate boys instead of girls.

Globally, there are organizations like Global Campaign for Education, Peace Corps, Save the Children, World Bank, Child Aid, World Food Program, UNICEF and UNESCO and there are campaigns and projects such as Right to Education Project, The Walking School Bus, Breakthrough Collaborative and Teach for America as well as policies being implemented to ensure education is provided and reasons such as lack of nutritious meals, lack of funds, no access to schools, resources and basic amenities are addressed. The Global Partnership for Education is helping by investing in more schools because this would reduce the distance children would have to otherwise travel to get to a school. Its main purpose is to help the poorest countries to strengthen their education systems and help them deliver quality affordable education.

Closer home, the Indian parliament has passed a bill – The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill to provide universal, free and compulsory education for all children aged between 6 and 14. Another factor that many feel would help is for the government to encourage entrepreneurs, innovators and investors to take an interest in the education sector. Bharti Foundation along with Educate A Child, initiated the Satya Bharti schools project. The project includes the creation of learning centres across India, establishing remedial learning programmes in government schools for OOSC, training volunteers to identify and tutor OOSC as well as counsel parents on the importance of education.

One can do his or her bit and contribute to society by educating the less-fortunate children in the neighbourhood like starting a weekend mobile-school, a classroom at home, a library with old books or setting up a training unit to teach skills to children. For the first two, it would help if one had an approved curriculum.

Jain University has always been at the forefront to encourage and assist anyone who needs a push or help in any direction that would benefit the person. The Institution strives to make education available to every child, thereby serving society. This Children’s Day, Little Steps, a community service programme of the Department of MS IT, launched an annual initiative called SEED – Social Education and Empowerment Drive to focus on educating and empowering underprivileged children. The initiative included inspiring sessions by experts from various fields to motivate the children to pursue their dreams.

Around 150 students from different schools including JSS Sahana Integrated and Special School for Disabled, FAME India, School for Spastic Kids and DESIRE Society, which is an NGO working for HIV/AIDS affected children participated in the programme. Study kits consisting of books and stationery were distributed to 2,200 students from 10 schools. The aim of the programme was to increase student involvement in social and philanthropic activities.