Archive for April 24, 2010

The dissipated columns of glazed swanky residential apartments stand menacingly, overlooking a sea of squalid slums and shanty hovels. The elite upmarket school is bustling with the chatter of chubby pupils in spotless uniforms smartly creased by the tender hands of semi-clad children of the neighbourhood huts. The fancy headlight of the Lands Cruiser throws a blinding illumination on the footpath dweller as he scuttles his face away to a more benign direction! The stunning contradiction that is called India is mind numbing while the peaceful resignation and acceptance of the status quo could be very revolting, even nauseating, to the uninitiated on the reality of this nation.  

The vast mass of people who form, what has now come to be called as, the “bottom of the pyramid” or BoP in short, has been the subject of many scholarly studies. Theories propounded and postulates assumed on the nature and the cause of their poverty and definitive roadmaps proposed chartering which, their plight could be improved. The most magnificent of these scholars is Prof. C.K. Prahalad, who, instead of adopting a top-down approach of doling out largesse from outside, saw them as people quite proficient in shaping their own economic and social emancipation, given the right environment.  He argued that a more realistic method to improve their lot would be to increase their capacity to consume which in turn would enhance their ability to produce and thus contribute to generate additional income. He suggested, for example, that by making available world class hygiene products to the people at BoP, there would be lesser chances of people falling sick, freeing more hours and days to do productive work which would have a direct positive bearing on their incomes. Professor could thus convince many multinationals that there is a fortune to be made by serving this “bottom of the Pyramid” class which compelled them to package their products and services to the specific needs of this huge market. One rupee shampoos, fifty paise iodised salts, two rupee toothpastes, ten rupee mobile recharge and many umpteen products hit the stores in small sachets that re-defined the concept of rural marketing in the country. This “consumption led production led income generation” model of poverty alleviation has been the most singular and game altering contribution of our times that the generations to come would marvel at the foresight of Prof. Prahalad who passed away early last week. The world is truly indebted to this great genius whose hypotheses are based on sound business pragmatism and driven by compassion to the under-privileged.

While a consumption-led economic regeneration model would trigger great productive energies, it by itself will not be sufficient to permanently pull the people out from their impoverishments.  For, to consolidate the gains and ensure that people do not lapse back to poverty, there has to be a massive effort towards providing quality education, a task that, we as a nation can afford to ignore only at our own peril.  The enactment of basic education as a fundamental right is a recognition of the urgency of this task and many unique, novel and even seemingly bizarre strategies need to be adopted to bring to fructify this mission.

 Of the many initiatives that were tried out previously to bring the child to school and thus improve enrolment and retention, nothing has been as successful and revolutionary as the legendry noon-meal scheme.  Pioneered in the state of Tamil Nadu, it instantaneously led to a massive jump in school attendance and a rapid decline in drop-out rates. While more children in the classroom was a direct consequence of this program, with a meal a day, complete with dal and curry and an occasional egg, the nutritional status of the students showed marked improvement, a  huge spinoff of the program.  If one were to travel through the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu in the morning hours, he will not fail to see the sights of children marching to schools, not necessarily with a school bag but definitely, with a dented meal plate and a steel tumbler to accompany it.

But just as ridiculous as offering rituals in a temple where there is no deity, bringing children to schools where there are no quality teachers is making the entire state run education system, a public mockery.  And the one challenge that prevents primary education striking roots in the country is the near non- existent of trained and committed teachers, a yawning gap that requires out-of-the-box thinking and unconventional solutions to bridge. Given the numbers required, the traditional method of incremental training of teachers is just not enough. Do we have an alternate model to emulate?

 Some of the techniques deployed by few gurus in instructing their oriental teachings is worthy of closer examination and may offer a solution to the problem. The popularizing of Yoga by Ramdevji among the masses in a short period of time and preparing thousands of trainers in the art through a variety of techniques, including the use of mass media, is a definitive model that can provide valuable insights on transforming an idea into a mass mission.  If the intricate skills of yoga can thus be imparted en masse, there isn’t a reason why potential primary schools teachers cannot be trained in basic school education through the adoption of this method. But for this to happen, we need to go beyond the cliché argument of secular viz religious education and lavishly imbibe the spirit of these programs that ensure wide acceptance.

In short, we need to look for solutions closer at home than transplant an alien remedy that could prove worse than the disease.




April 24, 2010 at 11:49 pm 5 comments

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