It has been a few years since I have been in my hometown in India on Independence Day. As I watch schools hoist flags and children march, and hear our national anthem and strains of Vande Mataram and Saare Jahan Se Acchha, I am reminded of a favorite line from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore.
Where The Mind Is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Where knowledge is free.
There are many schools in a square kilometer area around my home in this prosperous city. There is an international school that graduates students headed to ivy league colleges in the US for college. There is a school that children of local small merchants attend, proudly displaying a board of SSLC, +2, and CET (Common Entrance Exam) results, supplying students to engineering, medical and business colleges. Then there is a government school that children of people working as maids, watchmen, and laborers attend, that is free for all, but only attended by the poor. It is crammed to capacity with students, 100+ in a class, with the same dreams and ambitions as children in the neighboring schools.
There are schools aplenty, one for every socio-economic level. As with every other commodity, school quality is directly proportional to the fees the schools charge. Money buys good teachers, good resources, opens doors. What about the rest? Are they doomed to live within fragments and narrow domestic walls? Do they not also have the right to a clear stream of reason, to understand and negotiate the world around them?
Knowledge is not free.
It is more urgent than ever to support a system that enables equitable access to quality education for every single child, regardless of his or her parents’ socio-economic status, caste, class. If India’s economy has to grow, we need citizens who are aware, articulate, creative, and problem solvers. Whose Mind is without fear and head is held high. No country has achieved sustained economic growth without free education for all, from the United States to Singapore.
Knowledge should be free.
This is why Asha Boston is committed to working to improve the government school system. In rural areas this is the option for over 90% of students. The government has done an extraordinary job in creating a school structure within a kilometer of almost every child. The system has multiple flaws, but they can and should be fixed. Like many volunteers in Asha I believe in making this system work. This is the best option we have for providing quality education to all children in India.
Asha Boston partners with Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement to improve Science teaching in remote villages in H.D Kote taluk, Mysore district, Karnataka. The Mobile Science Van is a much heralded event at every school, and it has created a vibrant government teachers forum. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from Oracle.
Asha Boston partners with Deenabandhu Teachers Resource Center in Chamarajanagar district, Karnataka, to create Science learning material that are made with local resources in the local language Kannada. Science learning corners in remote government schools bring a sparkle to children’s eyes. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from Oracle.
Asha Boston partners with Sahanivasa to help children in government schools in Chittor district, Andhra Pradesh, who are predominantly from dalit and tribal communities pass class X. Students who have gone on to college now come back and mentor younger students in their villages.
Projects from other Asha Chapters:
REWARD Trust appoints additional teachers to 40 government schools in villages in Kancheepuram district, Tamil Nadu.
Because knowledge should be free.
Happy Independence Day. On this day, as Asha volunteers, we reaffirm our goal to work towards freedom from poverty for every child and the independence to pursue dreams.