Saturday , 21 July 2018

Why label them drop-outs?

Frederick Noronha

Last week, on account of a series of mixed coincidences, I found myself at a small function at Santa Inez. This was being held to celebrate the successful completion of a course in home-nursing organised at Aldona, Bardez.

The home-nursing course is run by St Bridget’s Institute of Home Sciences, at Santarxett, just where the road to the scenic village curves sharply before reaching its more densely inhabited areas.

St Bridget’s is run out of a largish old Goan home, that, I learnt from a plaque, some family had kindly donated for such a purpose. Lots of assets in Goa face the threat of falling into disrepair and disuse, or even being captured by someone who least deserves it, thanks to the combined impacts of out-migration, affluence and an aging population. This was an exception.

If you were not aware, or didn’t stop by, you could be excused for missing this place and thinking it to be just another old, expat home. But today it plays a useful role. Year after long year, for some time now since it started in 1989, the centre has been training young girls in the field of home-nursing and other skills. It has faced its challenges too.

We in Goa tend to underestimate the impact of aging in our society, of the lack of a younger generation who has migrated abroad in large numbers, and a situation in which elders face loneliness or a lack of help, even if they may have the means.

Home-nurses fulfil not just the need of the elderly and the lonely. They also offer jobs to the young. For an area like Goa, immersed as it is in English-language skills, we have yet to wake up to the potential of nursing as a career for the young.

St Bridget’s, as its name suggests, is run by the Church in Goa, and since 1992 by the religious congregation of Daughters of the Heart of Mary (Nirmala’s, Panjim). The institution has been connected with other subjects too – tailoring, embroidery, fabric-painting, cookery, flower-making, needle-craft and handicraft, crochet, knitting, tie-and-dye, first-aid, family health care and mother craft, personality development, consumer education and gardening.

Home-nursing might be the first step; but a state like Goa could surely do with even more facilities to teach nursing skills, at every point of entry. While the Church, which commits itself to goals like charity and social work, has done a lot in the field of education, in Goa itself it has largely yet to fulfil its mission in fields like health-care, higher education, caring for drop-outs, technical education at the lower levels, etc. Some initiatives have been undertaken in recent years, but a lot more remains to be done.

Some decades ago, one recalls politicians like Erasmo Sequeira taking up this issue. He even headed a committee, if one recalls right, and produced a lengthy report on the need for technical education, building Goa’s ability to absorb those students unfairly labelled ‘drop-outs’ and the like.

But those efforts date back to the 1980s. Rightly or wrongly, there was an air of optimism in Goa then. Even if the periodic, once-every-decade blood-letting and bitterness in Goan society had also shown up in the form of the language controversy (1985-87), and the medium of instruction bitterness was yet to show up, there was an attempt then to keep aside Goan bitterness based on difference in religion or caste and instead focus on what could be worked on together.

But a lot of water has flown down the Mandovi, and the Zuari, and all of Goa’s many rivers, since. Do such concerns still matter to us? Or do we realise the need for such institutions only when we come across some particular case, of a young person, struggling to avoid the drop-out tag?

In the meanwhile, we also need to acknowledge the role played by some other institutions in the State. The Siolim-based Keerti Vidyalaya, this monsoon, had its rainproof posters displayed in a number of villages around Bardez. This institution and some others are offering education to dropouts in a number of fields, via a private ITI. The progress made by institutions in Siolim and nearby areas, with help from a German benefactor, in promoting technical education among those who would have otherwise dropped out, is yet to be adequately appreciated.

Some other institutions are contributing their share too – the Salesians with their engineering college, short term technical courses in Loutolim, agriculture college in Sulcorna (Quepem), among others. Some school, like Lourdes Convent in Saligao, have gone ahead in launching ‘special school’ sections for the differently abled. Sr Lily, the former principal, has narrated how she got caught up in starting that; but she and the institution boldly continued nonetheless. This deserves acknowledgement.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg, the start of a long and incomplete journey., the online news site, recently wrote how even the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, the PM’s skill development programme, was also running into roadblocks. Among these: difficulties in curbing fraud, a flawed incentive structure, and a focus on infrastructure over placements. Obviously, a lot remains to be done.

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