Attitude among the Poor towards a Good Education

This year I was brought into the Shanti Bhavan team that selects children for the new pre-school class. My training in psychology and a graduate of the school were considered helpful to the process.
Being no stranger to the typical rural life and its cultural disposition, I was confident on providing useful insight into the behavioural and social dynamics that are integral to marginalized communities. By the end of our two months of search, we came to a few realizations.

The face of rural communities had undeniably changed over the last decade as job opportunities created by urban industrialization had significantly impacted their life-style. Many commuted daily to cities to work as security guards, housemaids, drivers, construction workers, and in other low level jobs, contributing largely to the labour requirement of businesses.

Very often we came upon locked houses and deserted streets, with children away at the local government school and both parents at work. Women like my mother who were once confined to their domestic duties now sought jobs in the cities, sharing the financial burden of the household with their spouses. With today’s high cost of living, it is not an option but a necessity for families, especially among the poor, to have more than one bread-winner.

At times we encountered passive resistance from the villagers. It didn’t make sense to them to send their children to a distant boarding school when the local government school offered free education, a mid-day meal and other assistance. I felt saddened to see that they couldn’t distinguish the quality of education in such schools and the one that Shanti Bhavan offered.

One time I came upon a settlement of small, thatched houses in the centre of a village. A group of elderly women were seated on a straw mat, sharing tobacco. I introduced myself politely and asked, “We’re looking for children from very poor families for our free boarding school. Do you know of any one here?”

To my surprise, one woman instantly replied with a level of indifference, “There’s no one poor here. You can go to the next lane.”

I was taken aback by her directness. The only explanation I could find for her denial was that people like this woman don’t consider themselves poor as a result of the subsidies they receive from the government in the form of hand-outs – food, clothing, free education, free transport for children back and fro from school and loans for house construction. A sense of contentment had taken hold among these poor people as their basic needs were being met.

But for the most part, we found villagers welcoming of our interest in their children. Their sense of appreciation might have come from the many services offered to their communities by several NGOs.

Our experience in urban slums was somewhat different. The urban poor seemed to be more ambitious about their children having good careers. This difference in mind-set might have been from the exposure to the affluence in the society around them, and by observing the hierarchy of job positions in companies. They were willing to consider the possibility of a good future we were offering.

What I found common among both the urban and rural poor was that they struggle to grasp the true power of a good education for their children, and its longer term impact on their families. They fail to recognize the innate potential in their own children to achieve personal and professional success.

But despite the lack of awareness among people like them, I still felt optimistic. There were many who were eager to seek our assistance. It was humbling to see that even in the face of hardships, they were dreaming of a better tomorrow.


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