Education: Right or Luxury?


Melissa Fernandes meets three enthusiastic girls who have fought their way to receiving an education


"How soon can I become a doctor?" asks 12-year-old Bhagwati Mali, who goes to school every morning but lives with the constant fear of having to drop out and help her family make ends meet. Like her, there are several other children who wish to be in school but are not given the opportunity and are kept at home. Sometimes it's their economic background that doesn't allow them to study and sometimes parents feel education is unnecessary as it is perceived to be a luxury and not a need.

Bhagwati lives in Kutch, Gujarat. She worries that she will have to drop out after class 7 as her local school doesn't have facilities for teachers or classrooms to teach beyond that level. She needs nine more years of education to become a doctor. Her biggest fear is that her parents will take her out of school and get her married, even though legally she cannot get married till she is 18.

Bhagwati says, "Nobody studies here as our school is really far. Girls are usually made to work in the field or at home, while boys are sent to schools in other districts. No girl from the Karkalia ward in Lakhagadgaon has studied beyond class 7." Bhagwati's school lacks facilities and teachers don't attend school regularly. This further discourages the students as a lot of the school syllabus is left incomplete.

Bhagwati is just one among many such girl children who are trying their best to study, but inadequate facilities make a basic right like education a struggle. Child Rights and You (CRY), a non-governmental organisation has been supporting children like her who are dedicated to study.

10-year-old Priyanka Shinde is a student at the girls section in the Gondavale Primary School in Satara, Maharashtra. Though she suffers from speech and hearing impairments, she has never let that come in her way of attaining an education. Priyanka says, "I had problems communicating with people at school and was often left isolated. My parents didn't let me talk to anyone as they didn't want to be embarrassed by my disability. They also refused to send me to school because of it." But all this changed when Ms Kuntekar, a local municipal teacher, counselled and encouraged her parents to send her to school. She also taught Priyanka how to communicate with hand symbols and then schooled her for all the lost years of education.

Priyanka adds, "I love school and have made many friends. My favourite subject is drawing and I've also won many prizes for my rangolis and paintings." But the one issue that still worries her teacher is that Priyanka is in class 4 and the school has no facilities for students who want to study beyond class 4. The lack of a school nearby may discourage her parents from sending her to study further. But Priyanka is keen on studying more and wants Ms Kuntekar to keep supporting her.

Distance and lack of awareness are two of the main reasons why parents do not send their children to school, but there are also those parents who can't afford to send their children to school.

Tasphia Syed from Ahmedabad is currently studying in class 10 at Shivam Private School. She has to travel 3kms each day to reach the only school in her vicinity. She says, "The schools close to my house don't offer education above class 7." To cover the cost of her education, Tasphia helps her mother with the embroidery and handicraft work her mother takes on in order to earn a living. Tasphia adds, "Many children of my age or even younger don't go to school because of their inability to pay the fees. We were once told that our education would be free and schools would also provide free lunch, but that is not always the case."

Tasphia is the President of the Balvir Sangathan, a children's group that has been formed with the help of Sahyog Charitable Trust (SCT), a CRY project partner. SCT discusses issues of relevance to children's rights and voices their problems and challenges. It helps children stand up and fight for their rights. For example, if the teachers don't come to school regularly, Tasphia and her group can speak up about this and ensure that some action is taken.

But Tasphia was not always so involved with school activities. Due to her family's financial conditions, Tasphia had once decided to give up her studies but the SCT social workers stopped her from doing so. They now provide her with ration, school uniforms and shoes. This has motivated Tasphia to continue studying. Conditions like this prevail right across India. We have been able to highlight the story of just three young girls, but many other children are deprived of their right to education. It's time for us to support these children. A good education is one of the most important needs in a child’s life and hence, we should make sure that every child has access to it.

CRY has forwarded demands to the President of India under their 'Sabko Shiksha, Samaan Shiksha' campaign, which strives to give equal education to all and also demands certain amendments to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The demands are as follows:

- Include children up to 6 years as well as 15 to 18 years in the Act, as early childhood care and education is also important.
- Provide schools with qualified teachers and proper facilities within 1km of any habitation.
- Allocate 10% of India's gross domestic product (GDP) to education as it needs financial backing to ensure that schools are funded appropriately.

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