Monday, January 12, 2004


Times of India, Jan 11, 2004

Who could be against the sensible idea of sending children to school rather than to work? Who could be against ending the shame of child labour in our country?

No one, and this is why so many have welcomed the government's Free and Compulsory Education for Children Bill, 2003. Yet, I fear the most terrible consequences if this wicked bill is passed and becomes a law.

This bill begins with the wrong assumption. It assumes that parents are at fault for not sending children to school. Hence, they will now have to pay a fine of Rs 500, plus Rs 50 for every day of the child's absence from school.

To monitor this, an Attendance Authority will be created in every community; and local courts or Panchayat Adalats will try these cases (which will naturally create millions of unproductive jobs for our politicians to give away).

The truth is that all parents — even the poorest — want their children in school. Studies have repeatedly shown that children are absent because there is either no school, or the teacher is chronically absent, or the teacher beats the child.

The exception is the eldest girl child, who drops out to look after her younger siblings.

The answer to bringing children to school is to provide good, welcoming schools, where teachers are accountable to parents, rather than to terrorise parents with fines.

Don't create a massive and expensive bureaucracy to monitor attendance, but save the money to create better schools. Some children are forced to work — it is true — but child labour will not go away because of this legislation.

China also has a law on compulsory education, adopted in 1986 by the Sixth National Peoples' Congress, but the compulsion in the Chinese case is entirely on the state to provide and promote good schools and to keep "improving the quality of instruction".
There are no fines on parents in China , although there are fines for businesses that employ child labour. Ironical, isn't it, that a harsh, communist state should be more benign towards its citizens, at least in this case?

Having failed to provide decent state run schools, our government also now plans to inflict damage on our private schools with this law. It wants to reserve 20 per cent of the seats for the poor in all private schools.

Although I dislike reservations, I do think that richer schools ought to provide scholarships for poor children. And many of them already do.

But who will decide which poor child will go to Doon School ? This draft bill says "children under this category shall be chosen by the local authority concerned", which means that every reserved seat will become a cash cow for the local authorities and half the candidates will be their nephews and nieces.

We should stand up and fight against this bill until it is amended in at least two respects. First, the compulsion and fines should be levied on education authorities, who fail to create good schools, and not on parents.

Second, the bill should vest the authority for selecting and admitting poor children of high merit into private schools with a committee of teachers and principal of the school. A crooked principal is less likely to damage his school than a crooked politician.

Once we open the door for politicians to tamper with our private schools, the rot will surely begin and the one reason why India is shining today will disappear, and the few good, inspiring teachers will be driven out of the private schooling system.


Medicine said...

There are no fines on parents in China , although there are fines for businesses that employ child labour.

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