The literacy rate of our country is 74 percent according to the 2011 census. Some states have had a good increase in the last decade while many others’ record has been poor. One alarming statistic says that India will have 50% of the world’s illiterates by the year 2020.
Despite the efforts of the government and various NGOs to spread literacy and bring education to the masses, one wonders why the poorer sections of the society are not interested in education per se, caste, gender and other disparities notwithstanding? And mind you, education is free for children between the ages of 6-14. Of course, many urban poor send their children to school, some of them making huge sacrifices to even send them to ‘English medium’ schools but how many are interested in seeing their children go for higher education? A basic degree today is worthless. A professional degree or at least an MBA with computer literacy is required for any entry-level white collar job. Gone are the days when a degree and an exam got you a job as a probationary officer in a bank. Most of them are interested only in white collar jobs, being ‘educated’ means to work in an office! The reason is that we don’t have dignity of labour in our country, frowning on those who honestly work with their hands.
The presswala in our society has a boy and a girl, and both go to school. But when the work load is heavy or if the father, who keeps poor health is absent, they take off to help their mother. They earn handsomely and own a two-wheeler and a ‘house’ in a slum colony. The girl is very intelligent but has little interest in studying. I have seen another presswala’s son, who, from ‘helping’ his parents has gone on to have his own press ‘station’ in an adjoining locality. As far as I know he has not completed school but drives a motorbike, owns a smartphone and wears the best clothes.
Boys like him wouldn’t be drop-outs, had compulsory schooling been enforced strictly or if the government schools were a little better. Would it be so hard to implement this if the government puts its mind to it and allocated funds to train teachers and invest in infrastructure? Many states have done it, chief of them being Kerala and the North-Eastern states.
But the most important reason for illiteracy is probably the fact that keeping the electorate largely illiterate is in the best interests of the politicians. Is there any wonder that there is little will to enforce literacy? They have a readymade vote bank which they nurture by giving sops and sometimes largesses, regularizing slum colonies and promising the earth. The poor and illiterate electorate in turn falls hook, line and sinker to these sops too. So isn’t it is beneficial to both parties if the latter remains illiterate? So why bother with formal education, spending crores of rupees? The RTE is just another sop, because unless it is implemented with iron will, it will fall flat or be partially successful at best.
One field where education scarcely matters, at least in our country, is politics. Also, there are lakhs of people who are making a living without education, professional qualifications or even literacy. There are many professions that can be easily practised by learning hands-on on the job and and honed with experience. Plumbing, tailoring, carpentry, farming, gardening – the list is long. And if we go by affluence as a measure of success, we have any number of people who have made it big without the benefit of a college degree. For instance, I don’t see any difference between the presswala’s son above and the boys of rich parents; what is more, he has all that they do without even a school certificate!
So does it make education and literacy redundant? Far from it. Some education or at least literacy is necessary to get through our daily lives. When one can’t read and write, it is a major handicap and can compromise on safety if they are employed in such jobs that require at least some basic qualification and formal technical training. So also with those professions involving the lives of others, like healthcare. But again, it is easy to get past with a fake certificate and bribes because there is rampant corruption and no checks and controls.
We once had a driver – a young boy of about 20, who drove very well, did not speed or overtake dangerously. But he could never follow the road names on the road signs. He would miss the road if you asked him to turn on say, Pandara Road and end up going round India Gate. This went on for some time till one day I suddenly asked him whether he had completed school. There was no reply. After much prodding, I got the shocking reply, ‘Jee, main school nahin gaya.’ (I didn’t go to school). Then I asked him the inevitable question: Did he know to read and write? He didn’t. Needless to say, he lost his job the same day. There are others who are barely literate and are drivers. Ask the next driver you meet and you will be surprised.
It goes to show how carefully the RTO tests drivers before issuing them licences to drive (or kill
My maid’s younger daughter has completed school and is learning computers. But she is also ‘learning’ the work in a pathological lab near her slum colony. I was aghast at the information and told her that one has to be qualified to be a lab technician and it is not possible to ‘learn’ the job. Moreover, it is also illegal. ‘But I have learnt so much from the bhaiyya running the place,’ she remonstrated, making me wonder if he himself was qualified or had ‘learnt’ it from someone. It is appalling to know that many such labs operate clandestinely in the most unhygienic conditions with illiterate people and unscrupulous doctors making use of them. If any proof is needed that life is cheap in our country, it is here.
I am not aware of the laws in other countries about allowing electricians to work without formal qualifications. But in our country, the electrician who comes to attend to complaints in our houses has often learnt about electricity by sheer observation and working as the apprentice of a senior, who, in turn had learnt the work the same way. Many of them have not completed high school are even illiterate. They might be very good at their jobs, better than someone with a professional qualification. But they also botch up big time, when it needs some complicated work to be done; one electrician blew up my inverter when he plugged it in the wrong socket, because he couldn’t understand the instructions. ‘Sabhi electrical cheesain ek jaise hote hain,‘ (all electrical items are the same) he had said flippantly. But by and large they get by and earn handsomely too.
Tell me honestly, would you let your blood sample be taken by someone who has no idea about arteries and veins, but has learnt how to do it ‘on the job’? Would we trust our health to some ‘Doctor’ who was just a compounder with a real one before opening his own clinic? Would you hire a driver who can’t read road signs just because he is a good driver?
Is the government going to wake up to the problem of illiteracy any time soon? More importantly, are we condemned to be at the mercy of untrained technicians because there are no regulatory bodies to monitor these professions — even sectors like healthcare? We are facing a double-edged sword indeed.
What do you think?
Pic on Homepage: Swati Maheshwari
This page: http://opportunityindia.org