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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My take on - ‘Empowerment through Education'

Since mankind’s incipient stages, the ability to read and write as the primary means of communicating and understanding history, cultural traditions, political and social philosophy and the news of the day has been valued. In more recent times, traditional literacy skills ensured that individuals could participate fully as engaged citizens and functioning adults in society. Today families, schools and all community institutions share the responsibility for preparing young people for living and learning in a global culture that is increasingly connected through multi-media and influenced by powerful images, words and sounds.

On one hand where the elite society is putting education to its best use through sophisticated devices like palmtops and business phones to gain access to the latest information, the underprivileged do not have access to something as basic as books. This is so unfortunate, especially in a country like India where the founding principles of our constitution are democracy, secularism and equality among all. Being citizens of this country, if we are entitled to freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion etc then why is it that a multitude of us are still deprived of education and below poverty line? Each individual has the right to attain at least a secondary school education if not that of high school. This would benefit not only the individual but also be in the best interest of the country. It would be really heartening to see schools coming up for street children, the illiterate and for women who are denied the right to education.

Education is an essential element of the empowerment of an individual. A good quality education, designed on the basis of an individual’s immediate and strategic needs, builds his/her capacities and prepares him/her to seize opportunities in the public and private domains. Similarly, empowerment through education of underprivileged children would be instrumental in shaping their development as able persons who could put themselves to better use to the society. Since their education would eventually lead to their employment, it would be a better world to live in with the crime rates coming down and other vices like drug abuse, female feticide and child marriage taking a back seat.

It’s a very relieving feeling to see organizations like UNFPA working day and night to go at lengths in undertaking the responsibility of educating the youth. Particularly UNFPA works with ministries of education on teacher sensitization and training and curriculum development. It employs participatory and interactive methodologies, including role-playing and other theatre techniques, exploration of feelings, analysis of gender stereotyping, training in negotiation skills, and question and answer sessions thus, not only imparting information, but also fostering critical thinking, problem-solving and interpersonal communications skills that results in an all round development that leads to informed, responsible and voluntary decisions. This has been successful in enabling young people to challenge harmful gender norms and resist peer pressure. This helps them to navigate safely through the passage to adulthood.

However, it is important to realize that it is not enough to enrol children and women in education and training programmes. It is equally important that the education they receive, at each step, is of high standard in order to ensure appropriate learning outcomes that form the basis of lifelong learning, and provide knowledge, skills and attitudes for an active citizenship. It is on this basis that education leads to personal development and allows one to manage one’s life. Thus, in sync with a prior statement about equality that I made, I would also like to state that there is no quality education without equality. Education must challenge existing power relations and be a basis for attitudinal and behavioral change of both girls and boys, and women and men.

To sum up, education appears to have tremendous scope to enhance poor people’s opportunities. These opportunities are usually translated in the form of access to jobs. Provision of subsidized education could, therefore, be a major source of empowerment of people – especially those belonging to the socially and economically backward segment in a developing country like India. Education is important as it teaches one the right behavior and good manners and equips him with all that one would need to make to realize his dreams and in the long run it is important for the economic growth of the nation. I am a part of the VMS blind school initiative by TCS-Maitree and it is a very fulfilling feeling and it would be very encouraging to see many more individuals contribute towards the society by ‘empowering through education’.

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