What is the role of education?

Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown is now working with the Global Campaign for Education because he says that the evidence is clear that education will boost jobs and gross domestic product, combats malnutrition, maternal and infant mortality and HIV/Aids.

CHS-Sachetan’s co-founder, Winin Pereira, would have said that retaining and using fertile land and commons would be the surest way of combatting malnutrition, maternal and infant mortality and other diseases which sweep away the undernourished. 

He noted the high incidence of HIV/Aids amongst long-distance lorry drivers spending a long time away from home servicing the globalised economic system. Unless through accidental contaminated blood transfusions and other medical or dental malpractice [as in USA & UK] the surest way to avoid HIV/Aids is to be part of a stable family and community. 

However as Andrew Shepherd, Director, Chronic Poverty Research Centre, Overseas Development Institute, points out: “ the evidence is that countries with the highest rates of progress in enrolling children in school also see the highest inequity in education outcomes. Much primary education is of very low quality – children can leave primary school barely literate.” 

Winin Pereira described the plight of village children who had to trek long hours to schools or stay as boarders, leaving them bereft of training in their parents’ skills in food production, fishing, herbal medicine, forestry and construction. He had seen them too proud, as ‘educated’ people to help with household chores or any other work, but too poorly educated to get even the simplest clerical work – worrying their parents and neighbours by drinking and gambling to pass their time. 

He felt that literacy was now needed as a defence against exploitation: it was important that at least some should be able to read and understand legal documents presented to them by the unscrupulous.  

Years ago he undertook an analysis of some of the school textbooks used in Maharashtra which provided ample evidence that they actively promoted the industrial model of development, conditioning children to see this as the most desirable way of life. 

Large cities, described as ‘engines of development,’ were promoted as good and villages as bad, with none of the disadvantages of the former and the advantages of the latter mentioned. 

They focussed on the services and comforts of the city: pictures showing formal gardens, ‘well-dressed’ people, good roads, hospitals, markets and so on.  Any reference to the conditions of life in urban slums, the congestion, the pollution, the inconvenience of having to travel in crowded transport over long distances, the high prices of necessities, the breakup of families and communities, and the extremes of poverty and wealth, was omitted.

A lifestyle which would involve heavy exploitation and pollution of the environment was advocated; children were instructed that paper and other ‘rubbish’ was to be thrown away or destroyed, spraying with persistent and poisonous pesticides was recommended and large city houses put forward as the ideal. 

The advantages of village life – the clean air, varied wildlife, unbroken family and community ties – were ignored; instead the emphasis was placed on comparative size and quantity. The village “has small roads … only a few buses … small schools … few shops … small dispensaries.”

In some respects a useful model is offered by the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, which is active in rainwater harvesting, weaving and cloth making as well as in the manufacture of wooden toys for children. It runs clinics providing medical services based mainly on homeopathic remedies and addresses important social issues in the villages through the performance of puppet shows.  

The college runs night schools for children and adults who work in the fields or look after livestock.  The young people become literate without losing family skills and becoming alienated from their family and neighbours.

Isn’t that the best form of early-year education ?

 

AN ANALYSIS OF TEXTBOOKS is currently available in print but could be reproduced electronically if requested.

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