|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.
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”.
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
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.