What is a school?
It is an institution where a child can get an education, learn about the world, be creative, explore their interests, and a lot more. It is not just about going to a place for 8 hours, 5 days a week, passing from one class to another, with no emphasis on learning.
Sadly, that is what a school has become in a lot of places in India. Education is a big word, and not an easy thing to provide. Under the RTE act in the Indian Constitution, the Indian government undertook the extraordinary task of providing education to every child in India. It did this by setting standards for schools to follow that would create the best environment for children to be educated.
But, in this whole process, that only tends to focus on input, one thing is ignored. The most important part of getting an education. Learning. While the RTE specifies how a teacher should be recruited, it doesn’t specify how they should be trained to educate children. While the RTE specifies that children should have playgrounds, it doesn’t specify how the children should be taught to play on those playgrounds if their interests lie in sports more than academics. While it has given us the no detention policy under which no child should be failed until they reach class 8th, it doesn’t specify a way to check if a child actually learnt something from the class he/she passed out of.
It is not a happy sight to see children from 5th grade, 6th grade, and sometimes even 8th grade, struggling with identifying letters. But, that is a common sight when you go to an NGO-run learning center in places like Kadampuri, or bastis next to the Yamuna, or under a flyover. These children are not school dropouts or illiterate. They are all enrolled in government schools and low income private schools. So on paper, all these children are getting an “education”. But are they really? Just because they are in a certain class of a school doesn’t necessarily mean they are learning.
Now, there can be many reasons for this if one starts looking. Unmotivated or overburdened teachers, no accountability of teachers or the principal for the learning outcomes of the children, uninvolved parents, lack of attention on the child due to big class sizes, and many more.
In this lack of good quality education and a bleak future of the children, these learning centres have emerged. A learning centres is an alternative as well as an additional learning space for children. They can provide different things to different children. For some, they are their only place of learning, for some it is a place where the teachers start teaching them from the basics and strives to make that strong first because teaching them according to the class they should be in. A lot of learning centres provide children with extra curricular classes like graphic designing, dance, music and is a platform for the child to deviate from the set-in-stone curriculum and explore their interests. For some children, it is an extra help they get without paying the huge sums of money to private tution centres. A lot of these learning centres have potential to function as actual schools, but might never get recognition due to a lack of infrastructure or get lost in the paperwork.
The RTE might have successfully provided the children with a school (debatable), but it has failed to ensure if the children are actually getting an education in these schools. A learning centre, though it might not be a school, but is a beautiful example of the civil society stepping up to provide its children with an education, their fundamental right.