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This little fellow is 5. I have known him since the day he was born. He is naughty and impish like all little boys have the right to be. That is what makes him adorable.  He is also my grandson’s best pal in India. He belongs to a family that I have known since the first day I set foot in the street where project why was to be seeded. Over the past decade and a half I have seen this wonderful little family move slowly and steadily up the social ladder and craft dreams for their young ones. One of the dreams has been to give every child born within its fold a good education. The elder two girls are in what is known as a good school and now it is his turn to enter the portal of a good school. Over the years admissions in schools have become more and more difficult with sometimes ludicrous conditions that need to be filled to secure some extra points. Now he misses two as he is a boy and not a girl child and has no sibling in school as his sister is just about one. He would I guess also qualify for the absurd 25% reservation in public schools but we all know it is just an eyewash and has been hijacked by predators on the prowl. I wonder how many really ‘poor’ kids avail of this reservation. Last year he missed the boat as he did not ‘make’ it to any school.

At the given time, for you cannot apply for admissions in school at will, the family dutifully bought admission forms and prospectuses – sold at a price and a good way of making money for the schools – and painfully filled them, attaching all documents required. Then it was waiting time till the date when lists would be displayed. The name of this little chap was not on the main list. When one of the school was approached by the child’s aunt, she was taken in an office and surreptitiously handed a scrap of paper with the number 20 written on it. You may wonder what that was all about. For the initiated i.e. those who have already experienced admission processes, the number needs to be multiplied by 1000 and that sum needs to be deposited there and then in  cash if you want your kid to be admitted. You will of course not get a receipt for the amount. While the paper is being pushed towards you, I guess the amount varies according to your worth, you are told that once this is done your child is guaranteed a place in school and you need to come next week with a whopping 60K+ for admission and other fees. If you are not in a position to give the money, then the door is virtually shut in your face. A variation on this theme happens in most schools in our city.

Now the option for the famous right to education that your kid is endowed with by the Constitution, may give you a place in one of the innumerable so called public schools that have mushroomed all over the city as education became a lucrative business, which are at best mediocre or in overcrowded state run schools where your kid’s chances of success are non-existent. So what are the options for this  family barring praying for a miracle? Waiting for another year? Opting for a lesser school and thus impairing his morrows? Trying to find the money but the sum is astronomical and will have to be borrowed at a whopping interest? Giving up their dreams?

The Right to Free Education that was obtained after decades is a right that remains on paper alone. The bill itself is flawed and needs to be revisited. The fact that we see children begging or working or roaming the streets is an indicator of the failure of implementation of the bill.

In the last decade and a half I have witnessed many changes. On the one hand I have seen people belonging to what we call ‘slums’ becoming increasingly aware of crucial and life altering realities: be it the importance of a good education for their children as the only way for them to break the cycle of poverty in which they were born or awareness of issues such as environment and civic rights and duties. Slowly and unobtrusively, they have climbed the social ladder and become empowered and aware. They have begun daring to dream big and doing everything possible to make the dreams come true. This is awesome to say the least and a big step towards the transformation of our society.

On the other hand I have been a mute and helpless witness to the commercialisation of education and the slow degradation of state run schools. I hope the new dispensation walks the talk as they have promised to but there can be no miracles and children cannot wait for schools to be built or decisions to be implemented. For many it will be too late. It is extremely disheartening to have seen that the neighbourhood school idea did not get any takers. If state run schools were upgraded as they should have been, then the situation we face today could have been avoided. But then we are to blame as it is us who have a problem with the driver’s kid sharing a bench with ours. It is time we gave up this feudal attitude.

My little fellow deserves the best schooling possible. Sadly it will not come easy if it does come at all. In spite of his family wanting to give him the best, even if it means tightening the belt till it hurts, they may not be able to come up with the unreasonable demands of the present system. I do not know if any decision maker will ever read this blog, should they do so, I sincerely hope they will address the situation and do something. But it will be too late for the ones waiting in line today for a good school to open their doors for them.

I hope for a miracle for this little chap. Maybe some kind hearted soul will come forward and help him. But to me the simple fact of falling in the trap of these schools is galling. What can be done. Only God knows I guess!

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To the manor born