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O P E N  F O R U M

 W H O   W I N S   T H E   R A C E?

For a person to prosper, reach her full potential, and become a productive and useful part of the society, she must be given a chance to live before she is given a chance at formal education.
The Union government recently announced a 27 per cent increase in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota in all the premier Indian institutes and central universities. This move triggered mass protests by students all over the country. The students marched in rallies and held demonstrations shouting slogans andburning effigies.

The main standpoints of the students are that merit (or talent) should be the deciding factor and not some reservation, and if the government has to introduce reservations, it should do it at the primary school level.

But, what defines this much-used (or misused) word ‘Merit’? Is it an in-born state of mind or a quality that develops over a period of time under favoured conditions and circumstances? What makes a student more or less meritorious than the other? What factors influence a child’s mental growth? ... These are few of the questions that the World Development Report 2006 addresses.

How equal?
Remember Mukim? The young fisherman who featured in our Fisherfolk story? Yes, you are right, the same guy who wanted to buy a pair of shoes for himself, but his Baba wouldn’t even hear of it. Now,meet Debojit from the same state but, born to a rich Babu. Both of them go to school. But, Debojit goes to St. Columbus Convent School and Mukim studies in the local pathshala. The reason is obviously their father’s financial status. But, the outcome would be more poverty and inequalities… how? Read on…

The poorer children, like Mukim, are deeply affected by their ‘predetermined circumstances’ like their place of birth and the financial status of their parents. According to the latest World Development Report published by the World Bank, the large inequalities in opportunities have a major impact on their mental growth and their capabilities as individuals. The poorer children attend lower-quality schools, haveless access to health services and are easily affected by economic downturns and family crises.

wer adult economic and social outcomes, including poor health, anti-social behaviour and violence”. These underachieving adults “influence the cognitive abilities of the next generation of children, creating an intergenerational cycle of poverty and unequal opportunities”.

Thus, children from poor families “start out life with greater disadvantage than their wealthier peers”, says the report. Whereas, better-nourished children have higher abilities, and well-educated parents, especially mothers, invest more in their children’s education and health. For a person to prosper, reach her full potential, and become a productive and useful part of the society, she must be given a chance to live before she is given a chance at formal education. and health

Mukim country vs Debojit country
This is true not only for developing countries, but for all the countries of the world. There are many ‘Mukim-countries’ and several ‘Debojit-countries’. The life expectancy of a child born in a ‘Mukim- country’ may be 37-39 years, whereas, for a child born in ‘Debojit-country’ would be around 77years! The average educational attainment of the former is less than six years but more than 12years for the later! The inequalities in income and opportunities are a global observable fact.

Recent studies have shown that the beginning phase of a child’s growth is the most vital and formative stage. (Differences in childhood abilities are apparent as early as 22 months of age!). This means that investment in the child’s education and development should be made at this crucial point of time for realising better returns in the future.

There is a very basic yet fundamental measure that can be taken at this phase: early childhood development (ECD) programmes. The ECD programmes “comprise a range of interventions that include providing nutritional supplements to children, regularly monitoring their growth, stimulating the development of their cognitive and social skills through more frequent and structured interactions with a caring adult, and improving the parenting skills of the caretakers”.

Many countries have tried to implement such programmes into pre- and primary schools to help give
underprivileged children a chance to have formal quality education. Many of these programmes, however, have stagge-red upon crippling roadblocks. These pro-grammes require resources, administrative capacity, and political support. Apart from these hindrances, the programmes face severe problems in trying to get the underprivileged children to schools.

Despite all these challenges, there are many early childhood development (ECD) programmes around the world that have attained a certain degree of success. One of these successful programmes is Indian government’s ECD programme called Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). ICDS, started in 1975, now reaches as many as 4.8 million expectant or nursing mothers and 22.9 million children under the age of six.

In a nutshell, “public action can level the playing field and broaden opportunities by addressing inequalities in access to quality education, health care and risk management”. Well-designed policies and programmes have a key role to play in the distribution of opportunities and developing the ‘merit’ of the children, especially students.


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