No Learning On an Empty Stomach
At school, teachers reminded laggards like me that our parents got us admitted to this privately run CBSE school paying higher fees and expenses so that we get quality education. When I did not show progress at school, my parents threatened to put me in a government school! Indeed, some of my school mates were sent away for various reasons and ended up in such schools.
One of the government schools nearby had only classes up to 6th standard with leaking tiled roof and unplastered walls. It had a high dropout rate after Class V. While, a bigger school recorded low pass percentage of 10% or less in SSLC exams. And with low marks, the matriculates found it difficult to get college admission and ended up in vocational courses.
Most of the government schools had high enrolment rates not because the parents wanted their children to study but because children were assured of one meal free of cost. Free mid-day meal scheme in schools was pioneered by Tamilnadu in late 1950’s and later adopted by India Government in 1995 as well as other states. As Swami Vivekananada opined,“Give food to a hungry person first and then teach spirituality” as a hungry person can’t digest religion.
But even with limited infrastructure and quality of teaching, public schools have produced success stories that the nation can be proud of. As Oscar award winning sound designer Resul Pookutty recently said in an interview to Doordarshan, "I studied in a public school (at Vilakkupara in Kollam district in Kerala), I studied in Malayalam medium and I went to school because I used to get one free meal in the school. For all my studies, I never paid for tuitions, I never paid donations and I studied in Pune Film and Television Institute with Rs 500 scholarship given by I& B Ministry. I am a product of the public school and I am proud to say this. The public institutions of the country made me whatever I am today."
Several such success stories from across India should make the government committed to increasing public spending on education.