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The Pratham Column: Let necessity be the drive, not convenience

Are we really equipping our children with Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic capabilities at the primary level? Can we really fix this problem with free meals - or by building more toilets and classrooms, asks Pratham's Abhineet Singh Malhotra.
BY Abhineet Singh Malhotra |   26-08-2013
Pratham: Every Child in School and Learning Well...
Children in an Indian classroom can be classified into three categories - Invincible, Incorrigible and Invisible. Almost a decade ago, when I was in school, I used to belong to the third category. For obvious reasons, only those students from the Invincible and the Incorrigible category existed. I was not smart enough to be included in the Invincible group, and surely not cool enough to belong with the Incorrigibles. I was a short, fat, and very shy boy, who did not have the courage to speak up in front of others, especially those of the other gender. Yet, I still wanted to be acknowledged. And I figured that this was possible only if I improved my grades. So, every academic year would begin with great zeal, and with every spurt of motivation, I would purchase new notebooks to fill at school. Within months, that rush of enthusiasm would wane and those notebooks were left to rot in some corner of the house. I would gradually lose my dedication. And the desire to be acknowledged would get lost along the way.

While there is not much that I would like to remember of my past, I often still reflect on my odd habit of purchasing stationery. As a child, I somehow believed that purchasing new notebooks and pens would improve my performance in school. I also believed this was a unique quality that I possessed, only to later acknowledge it as ‘procrastination’. Procrastination, as we all know, is a symptom of a lack of productivity. The School of Psychology defines procrastination as the art of replacing more urgent actions with tasks less urgent. This very phenomenon is not only limited to individuals. Large organizations can also suffer from it.

Take the case of elementary education in India. As responsible citizens, we all know that the answer to the question of what the objective of primary education in India should be - it should be to equip children with skills that can assist them in acquiring higher education. Or, as in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of education - the 3R’s - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

But here is the ground reality: In India, only one out of every two children completes primary education with the ability to read a Std 2 level text well. The situation in Mathematics is even worse: only one out of every four children completes primary education knowing how to solve a 3-by-1 digit division problem. While this piece of information is frightening, it is not scariest part. The harder pill to digest is that the level of education here has been on the decline for the last eight years (Annual Status of Education Report 2005-2012).

So, are we really equipping our children with the three Rs at the primary level? Can we really fix this problem with free meals? Or by building more toilets and classrooms?


I now realise that during my school-days, I had chosen convenience over necessity - I bought new stationery when I should have been filling the old notebooks with notes and studying. With the enactment of ‘The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act in 2009’, the Indian government has been focusing on various inputs under the assumption that unless schools have all these requisites in place, learning in the classroom cannot happen. In the same way I had believed that unless I had all the necessary stationery, I could not excel in my studies.

It is now clear that with so much focus on inputs, we have lost sight of our goals - perhaps it is time to take a step back and reassess our priorities. We need to go after what is necessary rather than do what is convenient. What is necessary right now is for our policy makers, principals, teachers, parents, and citizens to focus on just one thing - Teach our Children.


I did eventually overcome my shyness. I did that not by hitting the gym, or using fairness creams, but by standing up and speaking. I conquered my fear. I learnt to do what was necessary rather than what was convenient.

Abhineet Singh Malhotra has been working with ASER Centre for over four years as a Senior Associate in Capacity Building. He has personally led over 200 training sessions with 10,000 trainers and government school teachers across the country.  


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