Sunday, April 14, 2013

Laptops are welcome, but only after basics are met

Laptops are welcome, but only after basics are met

31st March 2013 12:00 AM
It must gladden the hearts of everyone that this year alone, the Uttar Pradesh government is committed to distributing 26 lakh tablets and 15 lakh laptops to young persons clearing their matriculation and intermediate examinations. About 10,000 laptops were distributed recently in the presence of young chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. No doubt, it is a dream come true for all these young persons and their families. The level of exuberance, however, may not sustain itself once one recalls the state of school education in Uttar Pradesh. More than 1.25 million teachers are to be appointed under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. An equal number is of untrained teachers. Thousands of primary and upper-primary schools approved for years together are still non-functional; 3,069 primary and 414 upper-primary schools are under construction. Who is not familiar with rampant teacher absenteeism and poor levels of learner attainments in government schools. These and several others are the real challenges, and no government in Uttar Pradesh has ever promised to make every primary and upper-primary school ‘fully functional’. When one talks of laptops, the issues like absence of toilets and drinking water may appear perfunctory only to many.  It, however, can never be ignored by a system that assured the nation full implementation of the Right to Education by March 31, 2013. Laptops are welcome but only after basic essentials of every child in school are met.
It was obligatory on the part of the state’s bureaucracy to highlight before Yadav that there are other pressing needs in the sector of education and it’s required to prepare an environment that exudes the culture of Information and Communications Technology, and that young boys and girls must get an opportunity to be familiarised with computers and its applications. That would require functional laboratories in every elementary, if not primary, school. A child who has seen the ‘world of miracles’ that a ‘mouse’ or a mere touch of a finger could open up would not like to part with his personal possession so generously given to him/her. The consequences of neglect of this initial readiness are now before everyone. The distributed laptops are already changing hands and there are reports from several places that a considerable number of beneficiaries are keen to sell it for as low as `7,000. Clarifications have flown in from official circles that details of every beneficiary are in the computer and it cannot be sold. This, of course, is as unacceptable as the fact that practical laboratories in high schools and intermediate colleges of Uttar Pradesh are not functional. One has met students who cleared their intermediate examination in first division but never performed a single experiment in any laboratory. It is not a reference to exceptions but to a well-known and socially supported practice, supplemented by malpractices in board exams. It was in Uttar Pradesh that an anti-copying act was passed and implemented. The ‘responsible chief minister’ was unseated and his successor withdrew the provision within an hour of taking oath, as this was one of his pre-poll promises.
One must recall how Kapil Sibal unleashed a huge media blitz by promising widespread distribution of his nominally priced Aakash tablets. He got many accolades, his cronies highlighting his vision and foresight. Sibal has walked away to greener pastures, leaving a legacy that was destined to flounder. Against a commitment of one lakh of Aakash-2, only 20,000 have been supplied so far. Aakash has met the same fate as the promise of full implementation of the RTE Act within three years. Such experiences need to be analysed by Yadav and his advisers. In Uttar Pradesh, the top priority should be to make all schools fully functional with basic amenities to ensure prescribed learner attainments and skill orientation.

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