The cries of the education sector

“Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and no way of knowing how near the harbour was. “Light! Give me light!” was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.”
 – Helen Keller

Nothing describes education and its need better than the above quote. Without education, you don’t know how near or far away your destination/your goal is. You are just moving without a compass waiting for light to shine upon you so that you are able to see where your life’s harbor is. Education is that bright white light. Education is the compass.

The policy effect  

Countries around the globe have laid emphasis on the need and importance of education through various ways. Completing secondary school is required by law in some countries like Portugal, Germany etc. In our country dropping out of high school is perfectly legal. Yes, this fact can’t be denied that we face different conditions than the citizens of the above mentioned countries and thus for majority of rural India education takes a backseat because of lack of money, resources , social thought processes etc. Although we have to agree to this also that a country’s choices about education policies shape their children’s future. In India we do have a law about the same but there is a big question mark on it’s implementation and the ground reality. Ground work needs to be done before the paper work and only then will the paper work reap better benefits. I strongly support the point that we need to make dropping out illegal but for this to work, we as a country need to deal first with other issues like poverty, child labour, population, teacher-student ratio etc. When talking about India’s take on education, you cannot keep RTE aside.

Right to Education Act

The Right to Education Act was enacted on 4th August 2009. We became one among the 135 countries to make education every child’s fundamental right when the act came into force on 1st April 2010. ‘Free Education’ in the act means that no child, other than a child who has been admitted by his or her parents to a school which is not supported by the appropriate Government, shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education. ‘Compulsory education’ casts an obligation on the appropriate Government and local authorities to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age group. The RTE Act is the first legislation in the world that puts the responsibility of ensuring enrolment, attendance and completion on the Government. It is the parents’ responsibility to send the children to schools in the US and other countries. According to me, in India you cannot put it on the parents to send their children to school until and unless the problems being faced by the parents are solved be it that of poverty, family size, social stigma etc. Once this is sorted out, only then in a country like ours can strict laws be made. Presently, we do have provisions like mid day meal, scholarships for girls etc but just these schemes cannot pull a majority towards education. If they are living in a society that still supports early marriage for girls, scholarships will not help pull those girls to school. The thinking needs to be tackled first. Mid day meal is not enough of an incentive to pull children towards schools if they belong to families which give birth to more and more children so that more the hands, more the money they earn to make the ends meet. Also, is our education sector  as white as milk?

The education sector – white as milk?

RTE mandated all private unaided schools to reserve a minimum of 25% of their seats at entry level classes for children belonging to economically weaker section (EWS). Recently cases were reported where it was seen that some highly reputed private schools like Bal Bharti School, Pitampura were selling the EWS seats. It shows that this provision of allocating EWS seats in private schools has failed mainly because there is no regular check on it and thus some private schools have turned it into a way of earning more money. Regarding the selling of nursery seats in private schools, a statement came from Delhi’s Education Minister Mr. Manish Sisodia saying “Don’t sell nursery seats. Sell jalebis instead.” The system for applying for applying for nursery seat under EWS category is not foolproof. Talking about mid day meal schemes, over the years there have been reports of lizards, rats, worms etc in the meals and of children suffering food poisoning.

I am sure you have not forgotten the 150 crore teacher recruitment scam unearthed back in 2013. Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajay Chautala were sentenced to 10 years in jail for illegally recruiting 3,206 junior basic teachers. Officer in charge of teacher recruitment was transferred. Original list of teachers selected in 1999 was scrapped.  New list was published in 2000 with names of those who paid upto 4 lakhs for selection.

A reality check

According to a report released by UNESCO named “Education for People and Planet” India is expected to achieve universal primary education in 2050. India is 50 years late in achieving its global education commitments. If we as a nation want fundamental changes in the education system, we need to meet the 2030 sustainable development goals.

A report published in Times Of India on 9th August 2016 stated that a solitary teacher is running the show in as many as 1,05,630 government elementary and secondary schools in the country with MP emerging as the worst state 17,874 institutions have just one teacher each. Delhi has 13 such schools. No state can boast of having no single teacher schools. Interestingly, according to RTE guidelines there has to be one teacher for every 30 to 35 students in government and private schools.

Can you hear the sector constituting the most noble profession crying for help? This sector is thought to be one of the major factors behind the rise of any country. Yet, can you see that this very sector is turning out to be a black spot on our country’s name? Millions of children with a beating heart are waiting for something to happen. They want to know where there harbour is. They are searching for the compass. They are searching for light. They are searching for education.

“Light, give us light.” Can you hear the cry? I can.

– By Paranjaya Mehra

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Defining jobs – The gender way

What image comes to your mind when I say the following words – a school teacher, an army officer, an app developer, an entrepreneur? Aren’t you guilty of imagining a female school teacher, a male army officer and also a male app developer? I am sure majority of you are! Ms. Indu Jain (Chairman Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd), Ms. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (founder Chairman and MD, Biocon Limited), Ms Indra Nooyi (CFO and President of PepsiCo), Ms. Punita Arora ( first female Vice Admiral of Indian Navy), Ms. Divya Ajith Kumar (first female to be selected for the ‘Sword of Honour’), Ms. Gunjan Saxena (first female Indian Air Force officer to fly in a combat zone.) – This list has many names ranging from varied professions which break the society’s notion of categorizing a job for a certain gender and hence are a tight slap on our faces.

Nursing – like teaching – is among the occupation that economists call “pink-collared job,” or profession long dominated by women. While more and more men are donning the pink-collar and facing the social stigma associated with “women’s work,” numbers tell us that we have a long way to go when it comes to evening out representation in certain fields. One of these occupations is nursing. Nine out of 10 registered nurses are female. Other occupations where women are highly concentrated include human resources manager, social worker etc.
 Men in characteristically female-dominated occupations tend to value the social aspects of their career over financial rewards, says a study. “Men who work in typically female-dominated occupations value success in ways that goes beyond salary and promotion,” said one of the researchers Kazia Solowiej from University of Worcester in Britain. For the study, the researchers interviewed a total of 34 men including 15 primary school teachers and 19 university administrators.The interviews revealed that their definitions of career success included features other than pay and promotion such as building friendships with colleagues and flexible working that enabled time for family and social commitments.The study was presented at a conference of the British Psychological Society in Nottingham.

Nobody knows the scenario better than those who are a part of it or those who aspire to be in that scenario someday. Although there are a lot of professions which today are being gender defined, from here on in this post I put forth the views of an army aspirant, an app developer and a school teacher about the skewed gender ratio in these professions. Read on.

Army Officer

I asked a male final year student (armed forces aspirant belonging to an army background) about their gender being the dominant one in armed forces. On the condition of anonymity, he came forward with the following reply. On being asked about his view regarding male domination, he said that the society has always perceived men as the stronger ones and that is why they are in majority in the forces. He says that women themselves believe in this. It’s not that males stop women from coming up and being a part of the forces. Women themselves don’t consider this as a job suitable for them.  He adds that the job is being done by those for whom it is meant.  He says no to the question that is there an imbalance in functioning due to the gender domination. He adds, “There is no imbalance but I surely do believe that if more women are given core duties then it will have a positive impact on the efficiency of work being carried out in the forces.”

School teacher

Mrs. Mamta Sharma has been working as a TGT in Apeejay School Pitampura for the past 17 years now. She has an overall experience of 23 years as a school teacher. On being asked the reason for the highly skewed ratio of males and females in school teaching, she says societal perception of school teaching as a job is responsible for this to a very large extent. According to her, there is a mindset that the job of a school teacher is a good option for girls because of proper timings. Girls can look after their families too with this job. When asked that how can this ratio be brought to a balance in future, she says that there should be a fixed number of males and females that are employed as teaching staff members. Say if you have 20 members in the teaching staff, schools should make sure that they at least employ 10 males as staff members. This will help balance the ratio. A balanced ratio according to her will also lead to a better ratio tomorrow in the profession. She explains that seeing almost equal number of males and females in the teaching staff will help break the perception of students that only girls can turn to teaching. If students will find male teachers in schools only then will they believe that even males can take up this profession. Only then will the male students consider it seriously as a profession.

App Developer

Ask him the name of the app which he developed and proudly comes the reply, “College Assistant. It’s available on Play Store.” He says he has three more apps “currently under construction”. Interestingly, he is still a final year computer science student of Jamia Hamdard University. He started with app developing so as to practice Java for future job purposes. When asked about the male dominated app development industry, he replies on the condition of anonymity that yes, the industry is totally male dominated. He further added, “In my batch in college there are a very limited number of girls since it’s a technical course and those which are there prefer going for masters and then getting into teaching.” According to him, this industry is male dominated only in our country and not overseas. He supports his point by saying that “when you search for projects online or post questions online regarding the problems you are facing while at work, you will find that there are a good number of females replying to your questions. Google has female tutors giving tech tutorials.” When asked that what according to him is the reason for such low numbers of females in this field, he lists quite a few. Firstly he says that the job of a software developer is extremely challenging. IT sector throws constant challenges which majority of the girls don’t prefer facing because we bind them with the notion that their career isn’t the only thing they have to concentrate on. Software development requires 24*7 dedication and as you move up the ladder in the organization, more and more is expected from you. Another reason can be that if you decide to stay in India and work in this sector then you have to settle for comparatively lesser pay because there are only a handful companies which pay the deserved salary at lower posts in the ladder. It’s going to take ample number of years before you finally reach the 45k-50k pay bracket. On the other hand, this is the bracket you will begin with if you take up teaching at the university level. He concludes by saying that a lot needs to be done before we finally see a balanced gender ratio in this industry.

There can be nothing worse for a profession  than to be associated with a gender tag like a “pink collar profession” or any such gender related tag.Neither is a penis your ticket to a successful career be it any profession nor is a vagina a determining yardstick of your professional interests. I would conclude by saying that if he wants to teach in a school, let him. If she wants to join the army, let her! If she wants to rule the business world, let her! If he wants to be in the nursing job, let him! Let interest and passion be the yardsticks. Not gender.

– Paranjaya Mehra

Fairness creams: An unfair obsession?

“Want a tall, handsome and a well placed groom for a fair and well educated girl.” Turn to the matrimonial page of any Indian newspaper and the line I began with summarises what you are expected to come across on that page. Yes, the obsession for fair skin is that deep rooted in our society that we mention fair skin as an attribute in a matrimonial ad along with our educational qualification. We long for partners with fair skin tones as if we don’t want a life partner but a trophy to show to the world.

I believe that our obsession with fair skin began when the British invaded India and slowly they made us believe what they themselves believed in. They established their superiority and hence the fact in our mind that fair skin is superior and dark skin is not.

Today we are crying about the fact that brands selling fairness creams are being racist. We blame them for narrowing our understanding of beauty to just “White Beauty”. Campaigns like NDTV’S campaign #FairnessCreamsRacist, Banjara Herbal’s campaign #ProudOfMyColour, Women Worth’s campaign #DarkIsBeautiful against the brands are all over social media. Yes, I agree that fairness creams are propagating a very racist idea of beauty. At the same time we can’t deny the fact that the problem lies in us.We as a society have been obsessed with fair skin since time immemorial. Ask your mother’s mother and she probably will tell you tales about how for a major part of her childhood she was suggested to not go out in the Sun and rather stay indoors, use desi beauty treatments regularly and so on. This hasn’t died down even today in some cases.

Remember the song dhoop main nikla na karo roop ki rani, gora rang kala na pad jaye… Yes, that’s a song probably propagating the fact that you aren’t worthy enough to be wooed by a man if you don’t have fair skin.  I hope you haven’t forgotten the lines aja piya tohe pyar du, gori baiyya tope var du…Isn’t the saiya interested in dark skinned baiyya? Let’s turn to the recent past. White white face dekhe dilwa beating fast sasura dance maare re… This song was there in the movie Tashan released in 2011. Yes, only a  white face can make a heart beat fast as per our beloved Bollywood. Hum kaale hain to kya hua dil waale hain… Isn’t this line shouting that only people with fair skin have a good heart and hence if you are dark skinned and have a good heart   then please shout about it because that is something we don’t categorise as normal. Remember the scene in the movie Vivah where the lady is annoyed and tells her husband that she has been trying to get good rishtas for their Choti but she has not been successful because of choti’s dark skin tone. Cut to the small screen and we can easily find people of dark skinned girl of marriageable age worried for their marriage because of their colour.

The above paragraph is a mirror to the fact that bias towards fair skin has been celebrated in our society since the very beginning. When we didn’t object to racism that was served to us in the name of entertainment, we can’t solely today blame fairness creams for propagating it in our society. Yes this can’t be denied that these brands used our mentality in their favour and created a 2000 crore market out of it. In 2010, India’s whitening-cream market was worth $432m, according to a report by market researchers ACNielsen, and was growing at 18% per year. In 2012, Indians reportedly consumed 233 tonnes of skin-whitening products, spending more money on them than on Coca-Cola.

I am not saying that these creams have not aggravated the problem , they surely have but the boycotting and objection should have begun long back. We woke up when we realised the unfair obsession with fair skin is going out of our hands. Had we kept our minds open long back, situation would not have been what it currently is.

I conducted an online survey about the notion of beauty created by fairness creams. I received 61 responses for the same from people both employed and unemployed as well as from children studying in schools and colleges. From hereon in this post, I would state responses from the survey to support my views from time to time.

Now, let’s flip the coin.

Today these brands don’t just associate fair skin with getting a good partner in life but  also with a successful career, societal acceptance and so on. They play with our desire to succeed, our desperate need to fit it. One reason for this can be that the youth of today, which is a major part of these brand’s consumer base is a victim of low confidence, self doubts etc. We aren’t confident enough of our capabilities. There are so many factors around us which make us believe that we won’t make it big in life. These brands just use our skin colour as one more factor on that list. Which means that yes, we surely need to stand against them but more than that we need to turn into a mindful consumer base. We need to develop the sense in one and all that we don’t have to fall prey to every single advertisement we see on any media platform. We need to understand that rather than acting as a cool and open minded individual who admits that he/she desires a fair skin, we need to be open minded enough to be comfortable with our natural skin tone. I had asked the same as a question in the survey that on a scale of 1-5, how would you rate the advertisements of these brands on the basis of the mental impact their content has on their viewers. The reply was –

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This shows that they are able to leave a huge impact through their content. We should not be this hard hit but rather hardly hit. Don’t accepted everything that is being fed to you. If we are able to feel comfortable with our skin tone then I believe that this industry will collapse.

Long back I came across a clip on YouTube where a debate was being carried out on Barkha Dutt’s show We The People about India’s skin deep prejudice. In that clip, Prahlad Kakkar, a leading ad film director says that there is a very deep rooted bias. He further explains it that if there are two equally attractive girls standing together,  one with fair and one with dark skin tone then  the one with fair skin is the one you would take to your mother and the one with the dark skin is who you would take to a hotel room because  she would provoke a sense of eroticism in you. The video also gave birth to this thought in my mind that we prefer to bring foreign models to walk on our ramps for shows. I believe we should favour Indian models  because these shows can act as an influential medium to convey within our society and to the world too that let’s be proud of who we are and be comfortable in our own skin.

Legal Take  

Another strong way to bring an end to this industry is the legal way. According to the recent regulations by Advertising Standards Council Of India(ASCI), ads should not show dark skinned people as unhappy, depressed, disadvantaged in any way by skin tone and should not associate skin colour with any particular socio-economic class, ethnicity or community. The catch here is that I think  there needs to be an  immediate action against the brands which don’t abide by the regulations so that an example can be set that offence won’t be dealt with lightly.

Bollywood to the rescue

It was recently brought to light that Kangana Ranaut denied a deal worth crores because she does not believe in endorsing these brands. I think that those in the entertainment industry should take in on them too because they stand in a position to bring a change. They too should join the bandwagon because they have the power to influence millions. I had asked the same as a question in the survey that do you think public figures and particularly those in Bollywood should stand against these brands?  The reply was –

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I had asked a question in the survey that what do you think is the reason behind these brands being able to do a good business in our country?  The reply was –

fair

The pictorial representation above brings me to the last and the most important thing – we need to change our definition of beauty. We need to change how we view beauty for I believe there is as much beauty in a black rose as in a white one.

Let not beauty become a concept. Let it vary from person to person because beauty has a “u” in it. You are beautiful only till the time you value the “u” in beautiful. Be you! Be beautiful!

The age old issue – old age homes

It’s rightly said that old age is one’s second childhood. Look back upon your  childhood as I ask you…Back then , what did you want the most? Your family and your parent’s time or their money? I am sure  majority would say their time. Isn’t that exactly what our parents demand from us when they reach their second childhood? Is it too much of a demand? Read on.

A few decades back it was our country’s joint family structure which we considered to be the driving force behind families and relationships making it through thick and thin . With time, mindsets changed, the so called age of independence and freedom set in, majority families shifted from joint to the nuclear family structure.The major thing that was being looked upon with glorious  eyes turned to now being looked down upon for it started becoming the reason for gen x’s caged independence and many other clashes. This turns out to be one of the major reasons for the split in families.

When parents split from their children or vice versa, the question arises- what are the reasons behind people deciding to live in old age homes (OAH) and not with their families in their own homes? A research paper titled Reasons for living of elderly in old age homes –  An exploratory study was published in The International Journal of Indian Psychology (Vol 2, Issue 1, October-December 2014). The location for the research was OAH of district Bareilly, Lucknow and Varanasi. 174 eledrly residing in the OAH were included based on the criteria:

  • 60+ age
  • Minimum 6 months spent in OAH
  • Can comprehend questions and answer them
  • Given written informed consent

It brought out the following factors as a result of – what compels elderly to reside in OAH?

  • Misbehaviour of son and daughter in law – 52 out of 174 elderly i.e 29.8% stated this as the reason.
  • Poverty/no financial support – 51 out of 174 elderly i.e 29.3% stated this as the reason.
  • To serve God – 16 out of 174 elderly i.e 9.1% stated  this as the reason.
  • Loneliness-  14 out of 174 elderly i.e 8% stated  this as the reason.
  • Adjustment problem- 10 out of 174 elderly i.e 5.7% stated  this as the reason.
  •  Nuclear family system-  9 out of 174 elderly i.e 5.1% stated  this as the reason.
  • Having no son- 9 out of 174 elderly i.e 5.1% stated  this as the reason.

The above stated came out as the top 7 reasons for the same. From them, it can be derived that with old age come up certain needs  – to be taken care of, financial support, adjustment and so on. It can also be seen that there is a prevailing mindset that spending your last years in an OAH leads to attainment of what we call moksha. The reason behind this can be the thought that so as to attain freedom from the process of life and birth one must live away from the worldly materialistic desires. Living in OAH can be one way for elderly to do this as they will not be able to travel to other places due to age. Some think that being a burden on married daughters is not what God consents to and hence spend all they have in marrying their daughter off and then turn to an OAH to spend the rest of their lives.

The Hindu, dated 20th September 2015, Thiruvananthapuram edition carried a news story which stated that among all other states Kerala has the maximum number of old age homes. Rate of increase of aged population is higher in Kerala than in other states. Another story by The Hindu dated  May 31st 2016 titled “No Country for the Old” stated that India is expected to have 300 million elderly people by 2050. Given this fact, don’t you think that our alarm bells should be ringing? Since in future significant population will be elderly, there is a need that social steps are taken to try and restore the lost values of our culture in today’s youth. We can’t just let them be and leave them to die. As much as this is socially and morally wrong, it will also affect our country in various ways. Both physical and mental health issues might increase among the elderly population thereby increasing the mortality rate. More than anything, no matter what, we can’t substitute their experience with anything. This way we would lose out on their experience related to various things. There is also a need to bring up better managed, much more facilitated and if possible, free of cost OAH. Today both paid for and free of cost OAH are running. The number of free of cost OAH should be increased. This needs to be done soon because bringing a change in the youth’s mindset is a long process hence structure (more OAH) needs to be ready to support the elderly in need.

The same news story in The Hindu also mentioned that although the elderly can take action  under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007, majority chooses to not wash their family’s dirty linen in public and hence don’t drag their kids to courts.

Gen x’s take

I conducted an online survey so as to attain a brief idea of the viewpoint which my peer hold about the issue. I received 36 responses in all of people starting from the age group of 15 years and going to that of 25+ years. 20 respondents were female and 16 were male.

The questions were –

Has the issue of sending aged parents to old age homes increased or decreased in the last 10 years?

increase-decrese

What has led to the increase/decrease? (Subjective and not objective question)

Reply – Lack of desire to adjust, monetary issues, busy schedule, medical expenses were some of the most common replies.

What leads to children sending their parents away? (Multiple responses could be selected by the respondents) 

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Is it the moral responsibility of children (be it a male or a female child) to take care of their aged parents?

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Do you think there is a lot of societal burden on the male child to take care of the aged parents when time comes?

(Those who answered with a yes includes both men and women. Same is the case with no. All the respondents above the age of 25 years responded with a yes to this question.)burden

Would you send your parents to old age home in future if circumstances arise?

Reply – 35 out of 36 said no further stating their reasons for the same. Only 1 replied with a yes without stating any reason.

It cannot be denied that out of those 35 people who said no as the answer, some might have the fear of being judged and hence decided to play good. Fear of judgment cannot be ignored as a factor here.

MY TAKE

I conclude this by putting forward my view that one after the other generation will keep on coming. Today, where we are standing, what we are doing, what we are thinking, tomorrow some other generation will be at exactly the same place with probably much more so called forward thoughts than us. If today we say that we have certain reasons for doing what we are, then we must also keep in mind the fact that that tomorrow some other generation will serve the same reasons to us on a platter. If we wish our reasons to be accepted today, we must be ready to accept our children’s reason for the same in future. If that is not possible, let’s pledge to not bring in our kids in this world for they will learn the most through our actions and the deeds we did in our life. I would not say that parents should be treated in a particular way. I would say they should be treated the way we want our children to treat us tomorrow.

Abandon them today if you wish,

but tomorrow when the same fate knocks on your door,

 I hope fate won’t be accompanied by regret. 

– Paranjaya Mehra