Editorial: Save the Young from Obscurity

Demand better from education A little over a decade ago, an obscure man, then in his mid-30s, hailing from a nondescript Andhra village, blazed a trail with his apparently crazy move. This “obscure man” was one called Narasing Lal Butt, and his “crazy move” was to claim “damages” through the human rights commission from his village school for its failure to provide him quality education. Education of even reasonable quality could have established him in life, but in his 30’s he found himself ill-equipped and under-prepared for anything worthwhile, hence the claim for damages. Google searches lead nowhere when it comes to ferreting out what happened of his petition. Most probably nothing. In all probability, Narasing has withdrawn into his obscurity only to be occasionally invoked in publications in distant Sikkim. But his petition was obviously never really about receiving damages, and was always about holding up the mirror. A decade since, the mirror still reflects the same image of a broken education system which is still as listless and continues to mass-produce mediocrity. The litigant had sued his school for making him so, well, ‘obscure’. And although his complaint most probably secured him no reprieve, he “blazed a trail” in that he went to the human rights commission and not the consumer redressal courts. Even his incomplete education informed him well enough to recognise that education was not a commodity, but a Right, a human right. Education, whether free, subsidized or exorbitantly paid for, should be better regulated and any lapses on this front should be seen as a violation of a whole generation’s human rights. Fact remains that too few people are paying enough attention to education. Yes, there are huge budgets, there are many schools and literacy is on the rise, but what are the schools really churning out? The success stories of Indian academics [which are only a minuscule proportion of the studying population] are fuelled by individual drive and not institutional support or grooming. To blame the teachers would be too easy, they are only part players in a system which is failing, policy interventions have remained ineffectual and uninspiring. It is worrying that education and schools continue to be seen as readying people for employment when the first priority should always have been learning. In the more worrying trends, new policies have also been destructive, trying to dismantle institutions to suit new moulds. What the nation now needs are more Narasing Lal Butts; more people from the masses to take the policy framers and deliverers to task; to demand better. May be then things will start improving.