In the 1970s, the political slogans of the day were Garibi Hatao and Roti Kapada aur Makaan. In the 1990s and the 2000s, our politicians latched on to a new slogan – Bijli, Sadak aur Pani. But have you heard of Shiksha or Swasthya figuring in a popular political slogan yet? Think about it. Why hasn’t Shiksha figured in a slogan yet?
It is not because we don’t care about education. Every single one of us cares deeply about education and will do whatever it takes to get the best possible education for our own children. If we can afford it, we send our children to a private school. Only those who can’t afford to send their kids to private schools, resign themselves to sending them to Government schools.
Step back a minute to think about how we, the public, react to other problems we face in our daily lives. Faced with power cuts, water shortages or crumbling roads, we get angry and vocal about our unhappiness. The media are only too happy to amplify the discontent and the politicians take note and try to respond since that gives them an opportunity to talk about having done something to address the needs of the public when the next elections come by. Sadly, we don’t seem to get angry and vocal at all about the fact that we haven’t been able to ensure a quality education for every single child, even 60 years after independence. We try to find a way to give our own children the best education and get on with it. [Aside: It would be an interesting exercise to build a crowdsourced wiki list of the schools that the children and grandchildren of all our elected MPs, MLAs, Councillors and Panchayat/Ward Members go to or went to, and look at how many or how few of them go to or went to a Government school]
The politicians recognise what we, the public, get angry about and what we don’t get angry about, and have little incentive to do something that isn’t going to get them credit or votes at the next election. That is probably one of the main reasons for a lack of any sense of urgency on their part in achieving the goal of educating all our children. The progress thus far has been due to the efforts of enlightened and progressive politicians and bureaucrats who have felt that education is an important enough issue and something ought to be done, irrespective of whether the voters are vocal in demanding for something to be done or not.
Making our goal of providing a quality education for every single child in the country a top political priority requires political innovation akin to Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha – which was a stroke of genius in political mass mobilization. In the early 20th century, most people in India were poor and lived in villages and were the least bit concerned about kicking out the British. Survival and subsistence were more pressing concerns for them. Gandhi had to find a way to communicate and connect with the masses and persuade them that achieving independence was important and ought to be the top priority. Gandhi picked salt (pun unintended), something that was freely available in nature, and something that was an integral part of every Indian’s diet, and made an issue of the tax imposed on making salt. Gandhi’s innovation was to present the injustice of the Salt Tax as a symbol of an unjust, unrepresentative and alien government and galvanise the people to protest non-violently to kick the British out. The rest is history.
Smart politicians looking to make a name for themselves, could take a leaf out of Gandhi's book to come up with similar innovative ideas that could capture the imagination of the people and make Education for All a top political priority. But we can't leave it entirely to the politicians. We need to think of ways of signalling to our politicians that we care about providing a quality education for every single child in the country and forcing the politicians to take notice and act. As and when that happens, Shiksha (and Swasthya as well) could well be the next big ideas of our times, resulting in rapid action towards achieving our goal of an educated and healthy workforce in the decades ahead.
This was the third idea, that I talked about in my TED Talk titled Education for All - More of the Same or Something Different? on December 13th, 2010 at TEDx Kumaun. The other ideas that I talked about are described in separate posts.