How I Learnt Unlearnt Relearnt

Since I had not written for so long, I was wondering what I must blog about… I finally decided to write about some truly ‘Learn-Unlearn-Relearn’ moments that I have experienced here.

Not so long ago, I was completely against the caste based reservation system that exists in our education and government system. Like many others, I argued that it works against the merit system and thought that one shouldn’t be given any opportunity unless he deserves it by virtue of his merit.

When I went to B school, Azhar Khan our economics professor always tried to convince us on why the reservation system was necessary – ‘As these people were oppressed by the society for a long time, they are not on the same platform as others, It would take years for them to be brought on to a level playing field with others.’ I always argued against it, at least in my head and was never convinced.

Now that I am living amidst tribal children who hail from small villages in the hills and jungles, I truly appreciate the opportunity that this reservation system gives them. The school that I work with currently has more than 95% tribal children. What’s so different about them you may ask?  Here’s what :

Most of them are first generation learners – their parents never went to school.
To make things worse, their parents do not know the benefits of education and have other problems to worry about.
They hail from villages which are not easily accessible.
They hail from villages which mostly do not have functioning schools- either there is no school or no teacher or teacher is no good.
They hail from villages which have no healthcare.

As I am writing this, I remembered Bhima who is a student from our school currently studying medicine. It is a matter of huge pride for him, for his village and our school. He was a topper in class X in our school, but wouldn’t have made it to the medical college had it not been for the reservation for Scheduled tribes. The hardworking and sharp boy that he is, I am sure he will make a great doctor, one day.

From our school, the number of students who go on to study post class XII is not many, there are many barriers – lack of family support, money, language barrier (most UG courses are in English), lack of awareness, lack of interest even! So, when the few determined and hardworking students who want to go ahead and study- completely self motivated, imagine a situation that they are not able to because of their low income or not meeting the extraordinarily high cut off marks?

The Class X results are out today, I will soon know how our students have fared. I am expecting a couple of them to cross 85% which is a very big deal! These boys want to study in a good school in Bhubaneswar, but will they get a seat with their marks? I truly hope so.

My point is this, had they been in an urban school, they would have probably scored 95%+ like the toppers there these days do. But with the kind of exposure, the school and the teachers they had, this is the best they could have done.

These students who gave their exams in Feb this year came back to school to learn computers. The school received a donation of 10 computers and the lab was functional starting March and these students did not get the opportunity to benefit from it while in school. They came back to school, during their holidays when the rest of the children their age were just rejoicing having completed class X board exams – only because they were highly motivated to learn. Our infants in the cities today are born with tablets in their hand, parents can’t even imagine feeding their babies without their favourite videos from youtube and these sixteen year olds were just happy to touch a keyboard for 20 odd days!

There is a boy in class VI who told me he has to walk 50 kms from the nearest motor-able road to reach his village. He takes two days to walk to his village, (most of it a steep uphill climb) after the bus drops him off on the nearest road. Can you imagine how inaccessible his village is? And we expect him to be able to be just like you and me?

My biggest learning here is that:

Children everywhere have the same potential; it’s just the opportunities and platforms that are different.

Wouldn’t it be unfair if a child has to continue to suffer just like his forefathers who were denied equal opportunities? The reservation in education system for these children has the right intentions; you may argue that it’s highly misused, that these children wont be able to cope with the tough courses, that politicians use it for vote bank politics, meritorious students lose out etc.
The problems that are to be tackled are far more complex. The reality of the situation is that unless we are able to bring the education experience of these children on par with the urban system, until they get the same opportunities as the privileged, we cannot talk about doing away with reservation.

Also read post by a fellow-fellow Shriya Rangarajan who shares her thoughts and experience on the same topic.

Girls of class VII - super smart and eager to learn

Girls of class VII – super smart and eager to learn

Children excitedly playing with Taka who was visiting from Switzerland

Children excitedly playing with Taka who was visiting from Switzerland

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12 thoughts on “How I Learnt Unlearnt Relearnt

  1. suniana even i was and even before reading your writeup was against this reservation, but truly youngsters like you should bring awareness to these children. I am really proud of you ,and defiently envy your team . All the Best dear.

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  2. Nicely done again Su. There are other ways of tackling such issues, what you have suggested and practiced is an acceptable method, but another simple way is to weigh various schools differently. The idea is rural schools get more weight than urban schools. This is followed in U.S. , again you can make an argument that it is not fair to lot of Urban high performing school kids, but that is balanced against scant opportunities found in rural areas.

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    • True trays w good way of tackling the issue too.. Unfortunately though problem not limited to rural.areas.. Even govt schools in cities have the same problem.. Also issues of being first generation learners irrespective of where you are.. So many factors to be considered

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  3. Same experience here too Sunayana ..in Uttarakhand…Rs 50,000 fund given to BPL families who send their girl child to school for “marriage” purposes..how hidious is what I thought…..
    But practically experiencing their social behaviors.. At least the girl child is pushed to go to school beacuse of this and from what I hear, the numbers in schools are only increasing..so it is solving a bigger problem..
    Never mind the side effects…..complex issues like greed..stressing on “wedding” economics…. Not encouraging them to use the money for further studies.. Hmmm

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  4. It is extremely difficult to convince kids who come from urban well to do families and where the parents are also highly educated. Narration of true experiences should open their eyes to affirmative action. Keep up your good work and share them.

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  5. Hi. What an amazing blog Sunayana. A real eye opener. Very proud to say that I was your class mate. What your doing is truly admirable. Way to go.

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  6. Can same results be achieved by providing people with equal resources/opportunities? I feel govt cops out providing good infrastructure across India, by resorting (heavily) to reservation. In US too there’s the “reservation” system of Affirmative Action. But, they primarily focus on infrastructure building, and equal opportunities for all. Of course, there are subtle social and psychological effects where backward communities don’t get an equal standing on. But, I still think that’s the right approach. Because of this human concept called ‘merit’, any kind of perceived unequal treatment is bound to cause unrest in the society. Which is why it’s probably best left to discretion, as well. It’s the “people can’t decide for themselves” versus the “people can decide for themselves” approach. The former does not expect people will want to do good/right to their fellow beings of their own accord, the latter expects people to rise to the occassion. Latter doesn’t work in uneducated or unempathetic societies.

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