Should Science & Culture be Promoted for Child’s Holistic Development?

Kusum Kanwar

Director Principal, Kangaroo Kids, Kandivali and Andheri, Lokhandwala, CEO, Add Up Skills

“I love school.” For educators, such declaration from a student is the best testament of ‘success’. However, Priya, 8, is not among our ‘usual’ preschoolers. She lives under the flyover in the slums of Kandivali near our school.

While it has been a while since we opened our doors and hearts to the children of Humanity Foundation, around 30 feisty street children aged 4 to 16, this most impromptu confession, with twinkling eyes and one that prompted other more reluctant children to also coyly break into a jiggle and express their happiness, is perhaps one of the most surreal moments I have experienced.

It is during such moments that we realize the impact we can have on improving lives through some additional basic efforts. In this case, it would be helping Priya and other children like her experience the joys of well-kept school premises and other resources, or even dedicatedly training a group of tribal children in self-defense, education and hygiene.

It made me think how much we could really achieve if each of our children could attend quality school programmes (which is the fundamental right of each and every child as per the Indian constitution) right from the preschool level and not just from the primary. What does the term inclusion really mean?

We have always prided ourselves in being an ‘inclusive’ school. Through our initiatives, we have tried to extend it to ‘social inclusion’ too. While our children at Kangaroo Kids Preschool and the children of Humanity Foundation have already set the wheels in motion in terms of learning to respect and share each other’s spaces, I constantly wonder why must there be a need for schools to be ‘inclusive’ in the first place. Should that be our goal?

The RTE Act has set in pace a mission to achieve universal elementary education but can inclusion be suddenly forced upon when there are so many learning, cultural, and linguistic obstructions to grapple with? Have reservations at colleges and institutions helped us get the desired effect of ensuring that the opportunities presented be translated into effective outcomes?

Education is one aspect through which science and culture can be promoted simultaneously to strengthen a child’s well-being, healthy development and transferable learning. It addresses adversity and supports resilience to enable a child to find a positive pathway to adulthood. However, we need integrated insight into multiple fields and connect them to the knowledge of successful approaches that are emerging in education. We need to provide a supportive scientific environment, productive instructional strategies, social, emotional and cultural learning that fosters skills, habits and mindsets, leading to the holistic development of children.

That is the keyword we must analyze - the outcome, in terms of empowerment. A dipstick survey report by Parikrama Humanity Foundation, a non-profit company in the field of primary education, found that only 8 per cent of the jobs in well-known IT companies in Bangalore are held by people who have emerged from government schools. Yet of the million-plus schools in this country, 94 per cent are government or government-aided institutions. Alarmingly, in India’s emerging knowledge industry, more than 90 per cent of jobs are held by people from 6 per cent of its schools.

Higher education fares better than primary education but has only about 10% of the population having access to it. Also, 3 million graduates a year being dispensed out of faulty education systems into various enterprises – locally and globally. Out of these, a whopping 90% are deemed unfit for the job market. What do these numbers tell us?

  • We need a well thought out and tailored approach for real ‘inclusion’ to take place factoring in the social, economic and bureaucratic elements. It must clearly run deeper than sweeping Acts and Reservations that sound ideal but must be pragmatic and in sync with ground realities.
  • In a country where 74% of the population still depends on agriculture as the primary means of livelihood and earnings of less than 100 rupees a day, where do we stand at vocational education and training (VET) in this skill-based economy? A dismal 10% of workers receive formal education in vocational education, compared with 65% in the US and 70% in the UK. China is training 90 million youths against our 3.5 million youths in VET! We need more and more social enterprises that also focus on truly empowering people across communities.
  • We have the lowest spends on Education and Health – the two most critical components that build a nation! India beats sub-Saharan Africa, known all over the world in terms of hunger parameters. How do we expect our children to study when they aren’t healthy? How does anyone grow financially if bogged by debts due to escalating healthcare costs – since our public healthcare is also such a failure? Our public expenditure on healthcare is just over 1% of GDP. In education, it is about 3% less than that of sub-Saharan Africa.

For true empowerment through inclusion, one that transcends the social, economic, and cultural factors, it must have 100% involvement from the entire ecosystem. We need to start early, young and work together. And not just through reservations or categorizations, which further divides us. We need to connect at the ground level and encourage the communities to explore, engage and enrich each other’s perspectives while also advocating their equal rights to be included in the societal framework with the freedom of also retaining their respective identities.

While inclusion is a way of abolishing various degrees of inequalities, it shouldn’t be an end. The goal must be empowerment.

After all, doesn’t the term ‘inclusion’ imply prejudice?

Kusum Kanwar

Director Principal, Kangaroo Kids, Kandivali and Andheri, Lokhandwala, CEO, Add Up Skills