India is a country with enormous potential, a GDP growth rate of 9% and two thirds of the population under 35, constituting a ready workforce.
Yet India lags behind many developing countries in the field of education, with only around 65% of the population literate and high instances of teacher absenteeism. While only 89% of students ever enter the school system, 34% have dropped out by the 5th standard, 45% by the 8th.
In an increasingly globalised economy, the only chance to secure a well paying job and escape the cycle of poverty is with at the very least a high school certificate. Many students feel pressured to drop out before finishing the 12th standard due to the need to work to support their families or because they can not afford to pay the high course fees needed for junior college.
In an increasingly globalised economy, the only chance to secure a well paying job and escape the cycle of poverty is with at the very least a high school certificate.
Since coming to India I have worked with two NGOs on issues of education, one focused on early childhood and primary schooling and one on higher education. The first NGO, Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC) targets those children who usually fall through the cracks, the children of migrant workers on construction sites. In an effort to find work and earn a living, every year workers migrate from rural areas to the cities, often shifting locations every few weeks or months as they find work.
Often their children are never enrolled in school at all or drop out unable to cope with a constant shifting of schools and needing to care for younger siblings. MMC runs schools and day care centers on the construction sites themselves in order to care for the younger children and provide the older ones with the support and skills to enter mainstream schools and remain there.
Since March I have been working with Help A Child, an organization at the other end of the spectrum of education, ensuring that bright students from poor families are able to complete their higher education and ensure themselves and their families a better future. By sponsoring the education of students who have scored highly the organization ensures that students with the talent to excel do not miss out simply because their families do not have the funds to help them.
By focusing on this area alone we are able to make a difference to the lives of many students who would otherwise be unable to continue.
These are students who score exceptionally highly at school and have the potential to become doctors, engineers, teachers and scientists. However without financial assistance many would drop out of education early simply because their parents do not have the funds to help, and their potential will be wasted. While there are many organizations working to support education for students until the 10th standard, most do not have the required funds to support the students higher education. By focusing on this area alone we are able to make a difference to the lives of many students who would otherwise be unable to continue.
Working with both organizations I have had unforgettable experiences, from sipping chai with female labourers and discussing the importance of education to visiting students studying to become teachers in the one room huts they live in with their families where there is no electricity or sanitation.
The one thing that I have seen time and again is a realization among the children and young adults that education is the only way they can hope to escape poverty.
Having realized this they work hard to be able to succeed, usually without the benefits of coaching classes, as many are first generation learners they are unable to rely on their parents for help either
While working with these two organizations has been my personal experience there are many other organizations working on issues of education. Some, such as Akanksha and Pratham work to improve the learning capabilities of children as well as the quality of teaching within municipal schools.
What I have learnt in my two years here is that there can be no quick fix when it comes to the issues of either education or poverty, while there are immediate actions that can be taken to improve the lives of a few, any improvements have to be seen in the context of a long term strategy.
What I have learnt in my two years here is that there can be no quick fix when it comes to the issues of either education or poverty
Efforts to provide children from underprivileged families with the education they deserve must be include every angle of inequity whether it be enrollment rates, retention rates, quality of education or access to higher education.
The links between education and poverty are well known, as education levels within a society increase, birth rates and child mortality rates generally decrease while income levels improve. Education enables a person to stand on their own two feet and earn a decent living with their own talents. It creates a population able to contribute to India’s development, with a greater awareness of their own rights and responsibilities towards their country and fellow citizens.
There are many ways in which to help whether it be through donations or through the giving of your time.
There are many ways in which to help whether it be through donations or through the giving of your time. Many organizations have sponsorship programs for the children under the care or request donations towards the running of a center or a teacher’s salary. It is also possible to find volunteering opportunities whether it be interacting with preschool children to assisting in tuitions for underprivileged students completing high school. While the government does what it is able to, it is often the community that has the most impact on a child’s life at the grassroots level.
Education is one of the most powerful gifts that we can give to a child, the power to transform their future forever.
Share the gift and you will see the effects that it has not only upon the child but also their family, community and even their country.
About Andrea Mcleod: Andrea Mcleod moved to India 2 years ago to begin a career in the development sector and has been working at Help a Child since March. You can contact her to sponsor a student at andrea at somaiya dot com
Ed: Thank you Andrea for this wonderful post. It’s so very relevant!