Does ‘Equality in Education’ provide the ‘Freedom’ to Learn?
On a street that falls somewhere between my home in Nizamuddin and the affluent haven called Khan Market, in my childhood days, we made a young friend. He alternated between selling pens and roses and caring for his younger sister, all with the red light as his domain. My mother found him exceptionally adorable. And so it came to be that in the unending mass of fleeting acquaintances, I remember his specific educational history, if not his name. When he was ten, at the insistence of a middle-aged woman who found him somewhat precocious, the young boy’s poor parents sent him to a government school. For about two years, he did not run up to our car as we pulled up at the red light.
About three years after he disappeared from the street, we saw an older, puberty stricken version of the young boy we had once known. But when we asked him how school was going, he looked at his shoes and shifted around busily, smiling a lot.
The next time we saw him it was daytime. We asked him why he was not in school.
He said that he had left. He said that school was quite useless. He said that he had been more excited to go to school than he was when he was actually in school.
His mother used to walk around saying her son was a government school graduate. He was the only one who had some modicum of education on the entire street. So when she would say he was a government school graduate, she was proud. I do not think, however, that she knew what ‘graduate’ meant.
In studying teacher recruitment practices the past week, in talking to government school principals and teachers, one thing has become evident to me. It is impossible to guarantee equality in education if the education that one economic class receives is free and the education that another receives in paid for in exorbitant amounts.
Searching for equality at the altar of freedom cannot be the solution. It is essential to provide teachers with the freedom to choose a school to teach in, not just make them apply to the government for a ‘post’. It is essential provide parents with the freedom to pay for quality, to pay a small sum but to pay nonetheless. Perhaps more than anything, it is essential to allow students the freedom to actually learn something from school. Equality, if it means the addition of a statistic to a national average, is not really equality after all.