In Punjab students from marginalized backgrounds are expected to access textbooks online in the absence of hard copies. In the relentless race towards technologization are we missing out on the very basis of inclusive growth and egalitarian development?
Kavya Thomas | The New Leam
If one were to name two social institutions that have suffered the biggest jolt in post-independence India they would certainly be education and healthcare. The market centric neo-liberal forces which seem to be today having an unprecedented say over the functioning of the nation-state have meant that the government bodies have largely stepped down from their social-welfare responsibilities. The withdrawal of the state from functions that it was earlier expected to assume without fail has meant that basic infrastructural arrangements be they for education, healthcare, housing or employment have become increasingly limited to a select section of the population who can afford it but not to the masses irrespective of their economic backgrounds. Thus in that context we are repeatedly giving birth to a situation where a select section of the population has access to both necessities and luxuries and a large section of the population remains perpetually deprived of even the basic minimum.
It is not difficult to state a myriad of examples to strengthen the argument made above but in the scope and extent of this article I wish to concentrate on the recent case of educational negligence and callous work by the authorities in the state of Punjab. It has come to the forefront that many government schools across the state of Punjab have not been able to provide textbooks to their students even after six months since the academic session began. In response to this utter failure of the system the Punjab School Education Board ( PSEB) has now put many of its textbooks online for the reference of students.
The argument that is being forwarded here is that since hard copies of the textbooks are not available students’ can easily have access to their soft versions online. However what we must note here is that most of the students concerned are from economically marginalized backgrounds and do not have access to computers or the internet. “Most children in our government schools come from the poor background and for many the main attraction is midday meal because their families cannot even feed them two meal a day. In such a condition, how do board officials think that ‘online’ books can benefit these poor students,” said a school teacher from a government high school in Jalandhar, adding: “I myself got one such book printed just to teach the students which cost me around Rs 200 and how we can we expect that these students can afford to get the print out of these.” We must also acknowledge the fact that there are several books and to download them all is impossible moreover the photocopied books are of little interest to children. Some teachers took the initiative of paying from their own pockets to take printouts and distributing them among the students but even they have not got any reimbursement for it even now.
The mid-term examinations for many of these classes are already taking place and yet these circumstances have not improved. Is it not ironic that good academic performances are expected and good results are anticipated from these children when they are denied access to even basic books?
The Punjab Education Minister Aruna Chaudhary has refused to communicate with the media on this theme. Moreover the District Education Officer, Secondary, Harinder Pal is required to have said that despite the fact that the hardcopies of the books could not be made available earlier in the year now the supply was almost completed and all the titles were available ‘online’. It has also been decided next session onward PSEB will not publish books and the State Council of Education and Research Training (SCERT) would be given the sole responsibility of publishing and making books available across the state.
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