Bicky, 9 and his sister Vaishali, 6, are children of a gardener who works for our landlady downstairs, as well as for several other house owners in this relatively better off part of Bhopal. They are both first generation learners, their parents having moved to the city to give their children a better education than they could get in their village. You can see them last year, elated with their new uniforms and ready for the new school. (They moved schools to one in the neighbourhood, when their parents moved to live in this area).
|Vaishali and Bicky, 2015|
Bicky is in Standard 3, and is in a Hindi medium private school. He is not able to read simple words in Hindi, nor construct a sentence. His English textbooks have been selected by the school, and have words far beyond his comprehension, telling stories that he cannot relate to. While he struggles to spell "table" and "door", his English textbook talks of the "quest" of a prince in search of the "most beautiful princess in the world" and of the beautiful girl who knocks on his palace door on a night of "torrential" rain.
Bicky can neither spell or understand what all this is about. Yet his workbook is complete, and correctly done.
How is this, I ask him.
The teacher writes the answers on the blackboard, and we copy them down, he says. Then she marks them as correct.
His parents send him to a tuition teacher each afternoon, paying the same amount as the the school fee each month.
Vaishali is in Standard 1, and her parents put her in the English medium section of her brother's school, hoping she will have an advantage over others studying in the Hindi section. She has a problem recognizing alphabets and numbers, though her English workbooks, too, are full of words copied from the blackboard and marked as correct answers. However, her maths skills are passable, and she can do two digit addition (don't ask her to recognise and name the numbers, though). She is in a class full of upper middle class children in this neighbourhood, and is not getting the extra attention she needs to learn.
She, too, attends the same tuition classes her brother does, and neither seems to benefit from the tuition one bit.
When they come upstairs to study, I keep trying to make sure they learn their basics, while they are under pressure to prepare for the test the next day. I am aghast at the quality of teaching going on in their schools, and how they and their parents are being cheated. If they cannot be provided a proper primary education, where do they go? Who regulates the quality of teaching in all the small neighbourhood "private" schools that spring up like mushrooms everywhere?
Don't we owe our next generation anything? Can we honestly look these children in the eye and say we have given them a fair chance?