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 and burning 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, have less access to health services and are easily affected by economic downturns and family crises.
This, in turn, leads to “weaker future academic performance and lower 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.