I am back today after a two-day trip to my village. My first day there was mostly spent with a Mr. Mishra whose job is to set up free schools for tribal girls in that district. He is a very enterprising man just entering his forties and also very knowledgeable too. He was telling me about the new school he had set up in our village.
“Building a school and getting teachers and other functionaries is the easiest part of having a school here. It’s getting students to study that’s really difficult. I had to employ five men to go around neighbouring villages to gather students. We managed to get about thirty girls who agreed to attend school. But after the first day the attendance dropped to fifty percent.”
“Why did that happen?”
“The girls said they felt hungry and could not sit for such long hours at a stretch. So we decided to give them a couple of breaks of fifteen minutes. We also got our school registered in the Free Afternoon meal programme. But these girls never stopped complaining. They did not want dal and rice everyday. Let me tel you my friend these girls come from families where they only eat two times a day. Still I hung on with them and had them egg and chicken given on alternate days. I am ready to do anything my friend only if they agree to study. But these girls don’t seem to be doing anything remotely associated with studying. After a month also, there were lots of them who could not start with the alphabet.I told them that they won’t get good marks and one asks me “Sir what shall we do with marks? We can’t eat them or live in them.”Then these girls made a group and told that it hurt them to walk all the way to school and they were too tired to concentrate at night. So I arranged a vehicle who would collect all these girls to school and drop them later.”
“That is so good of you Mr. Mishra. Now these girls must be studying and …”
Mr . Mishra cut me short.
“These girls are nothing short of scoundrels. They came to me again in a group and told they can’t study. It’s not that they were not given opportunities. They just can’t study. None of them wants to try even.”
“Then, what did you do?”
“I called them for a last lesson last Tuesday. My friend who was in the local theater group agreed to help me out. He and two of his colleagues staged a play in which they showed an illiterate girl being exploited in the market: buying overpriced stuff, not being able to know and identify weights and so on. The girls realized then the purpose of education. Next day there was full attendance.”
You just can’t force things on people even if it is for their own good. Self-realization is very important if any such endeavour has to take a practical shape.
And education needs to be backed with purpose. Education without purpose is useless – similar to teaching a tribal girl The Theory of Relativity.