At first I was very hesitant to take up this topic. I didn’t choose it. It was given to me. Patang is clearly CCS’s baby and I know the kind of hard work a lot of people in the office have put into its success. So I didn’t really want to get involved, leave alone do an impact assessment of the project. I didn’t think I was capable to judge in six weeks, something they had been working on for almost two years. The more I tried to avoid it, the more I was convinced and assured of help by Meril and Rohan. In the end, like always, I gave in. And in the end, like always, I’m glad I did.
For the last six weeks I have been trying to understand the concept of social inclusion and how we can incorporate that into the school education system. This really made me think about what social inclusion actually means and how we can achieve it. In a country like India, where one’s social and economic background determines which shops we can buy our groceries from or which line we should stand in while filling out our college forms, “Inclusion” sounds like a definite challenge. On one hand, Ration shops and college quotas seem like ways to bring together and lessen the gap between socially different and disadvantaged people but on the other, this is only possible when an overt difference is created and acknowledged. Even after all of this, our current system only generates access and not inclusion. A physical congregation of ethnically or racially diverse people in does not guarantee that they feel included as one cohesive group. What distinguishes inclusion from integration is the active participation of all the members in a society, irrespective of their social and economical backgrounds. So to create social integration, you need a policy like the 25% reservation of EWS children in private schools. To create social inclusion, you need Patang.
Project Patang an independent intervention program, with support from the Tech Mahindra Foundation, to allow a smooth transition for the children belonging to economically weaker sections of society, into private schools in New Delhi. They believe that although these children are now in private schools, they are not able to benefit fully from the resources they are entitled to because of many barriers which prevent their full participation in school activities. These barriers can be something very small like the inability to understand a game of pretend-to-be-a-princess but can also be very serious like the lack of pre-school abilities because of the lack of resources to attend pre-school. I interviews many of these children and their families and understood how complicated a policy like this can be. There are many more problems than the inability to communicate well in English or the abject poverty some of these children have to live in. Speaking to them made me realise how precious the gift of education is how important it is for any parent to see their child attain good quality education. The parents I spoke to were just happy that their children have the option of deciding their own future on the basis of their education and that they were going to grow up in an environment which revolved around books and more books. Many of them weren’t bothered if their children were teased or even bullied because of their social status as long as they did well in school. They firmly believed that the only way to shut them up was to ensure that they do better than them in school, get into better colleges and work better jobs. The words of my mother now ring clearly in my head-“Nothing succeeds like success” she tells me every time she drops me off at the airport when I leave college.
While my research deals primarily with how Patang is helping to overcome some of these barriers, I have learnt so much more about the functioning of some of the most Elite schools of New Delhi and how they have handled an influx of children from backgrounds that are very different from the ones they were primarily set up to cater to. It has also made me realise how lucky I have been, to not have to worry the financial situation of my family or worry about not being able to communicate with my classmates. These last six weeks have made me so much more grateful for my education that my parents have so generously invested in. I really hope that Project Patang and other like it are able to provide students with equal opportunities of participation and achievement and allow the children of this country to rise above superficial social differences.