Janice Savina Rodrigues | NT BUZZ
The Difficult Dialogues is back for its fourth edition and this year around the event will be focusing on the topic ‘Education: Illuminating the myriad facets’. Founder & CEO of the event
Surina Narula has been the President of the Consortium for Street Children – a network of over sixty five UK based development agencies and has organised numerous events for support and to raise the profile of street children at an international level. In her twenty five year career she realised the need for a platform where laypeople can voice their opinions and dialogue with those with the authority to implement changes; and this is what Difficult Dialogues aim to do.
In this interview she speaks about the education system in India and where we are headed and why we need more forums like these.
On the impact of the previous editions of Difficult Dialogues…
There has been an impact in terms of the way we look at all the issues and how they are discussed; the way NGOs, students and universities discuss it. People on the street get to hear things they have never really heard. In this kind of way it has created a kind of forum or platform where all people have a voice. We may not be able to change policy overnight – that might change down the line. Policy is not something that we can change by one march or one protest, policy is something that needs a lot of dialogue among stakeholders.
On the work come about as a result of the Difficult Dialogues…
There was an NGO which was going to work with a certain section of society to change matters there, they discovered that the way they were doing things was wrong, so they changed their approach and now are doing a good job.
Similarly, gender issues were discussed last year and that has been a work in progress. Everything takes time, we have to be here for the long haul and first of all, convincing people to come to such a forum is a big task. They want to see credibility. Only after they have seen sincerity have they slowly started believing in our efforts.
On the Indian system of education….
Indian independence was gained only 70 years back; it is still a young country. The first thing we did was to teach our people how to read and write. From there it evolved in its own way. We were focusing on basic education and not targeting the finer aspects of final outcome of education. But now it’s time we start and I have great hopes for India.
On the government spending on education…
The amount of money we get from the government for education right now is huge, but if someone can implement it, it would be very helpful. We are capable, but we don’t have the will. If we aspire that everyone will have a property or a fancy car, how will we think about bettering and enriching our lives and that of others; and where is all that money going to come from? I know people who have also cheated on the midday meals and other schemes that were supposed to be for the schools. And this is what I’m trying to do at DD. I’m asking school children and college students to question and leave the government with no other choice but to respond to them. Send questions to the government asking them why are they not doing what they are supposed to do, it could be at the level of your classroom or your villages.
There is no inculcation of curiosity done in the schools and colleges, it’s only exam-oriented; they are now making dull brains out of people. That’s why forums like these are important to start discussing this. Children and parents have to start making demands, they need to tell the teachers that this is not working, air the opinion that you don’t want these kinds of institutions.
On the multiple universities and boards in the country…
Choices are good; you should know how to choose. It is necessary to do so because then you can have different types of people. What we really need is a place where everything is transparent. Every school should have a board put up outside the office stating what their past students are doing now, what is the pass to fail ratio; the qualifications of the teachers like they have in hospitals with doctors, so that we can make an informed choice. In private schools when you’re paying so much the teachers are barely qualified.
On the need for academic freedom…
We need academic freedom because we don’t want things shoved down our throat. Children need to have that freedom to encourage thought, this doesn’t mean we change the text books or change history because a certain government has come into power. The government should not be forcing down anything neither should the academicians just go on and teach what they want; it has to be done within the line.
On the gender disparity in education…
Our scriptures have been misread a lot. Women were always respected and educated. Also, suddenly we are looking to the West. Post Independence, the first reaction was to aspire to do all that the West is doing. Mimicking that, we have moved away from the Indian philosophy. We need to look back at our culture and see the strong women that we have had. Colonialism has changed that, and now it will take us time to get our memory back and give our girls a fighting chance at education.