ABBA’s song "Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man’s world. All the things I could do if I had a little money… " comes to mind at the plight of a few of my latest and long time students like Jaya and Alumelu. Little Nila and Jaya are star performers in their ‘English medium convent school’ and daughters of our neighbourhood unorganized sector worker Devaki. And Alumelu whom I have voluntarily tutored and mentored since 2005 is now a prospective undergraduate and her mother is a housemaid in Byrasandara.
The former have to shell out around Rs. 8000 per head as fees tuition, books and a set of uniforms this academic year in a reputed 40-year old school for girls situated in Frazer Town’s famous school zone. Caste and household income certificates fetched them a discount of Rs. 2000 last year and the school administration has given Devaki time until Jun-15 this year to pay the entire fees. But it has refused to let her deposit the amount in installments citing rules and instances of defaulters. The school authorities additionally suggested that Jaya be moved to a ‘corporation school’ if she cannot afford her fees or the family convert to a specific faith (religion) if they needed a full waiver, reducing Devaki to tears. "I shudder to think how we will finance their education in future especially with Nila wanting to be a doctor", she says.
Devaki and her husband Shankar, who is set to lose his part-time private job (as his employers are relocating abroad), are determined to "let their children study as much as they want to". This is despite their economic challenges and staunch opposition from their immediate family which questions the need for educating girls. Although some of us in the neighbourhood have been collectively contributing towards the kids’ schooling over the last few years, there is a shortfall this year due to various factors. "Our new books will be given only after paying the school fees but there is not enough money" are the words of Nila, an eight year old who understands her parents’ trials and tribulations and has promised to work hard to support them in their old age.
Alumelu, a responsible and capable adolescent and community youth volunteer and her precociously talented younger sister Amala are inspiring examples of determination and courage in the face of adversity. Their father deserted their family for a woman who gave him two sons. Their unlettered mother wants to ensure a sound education and financial independence for her children but is struggling to sustain them. The older girl needs to enroll in a course that will be quick, inexpensive and fetch a job. Colleges she has applied to are willing to reduce the fees by a maximum of 20% and she is trying to obtain the support of a local government representative hoping that will fetch a greater discount in the fees. A school teacher in her neighbourhood and I have suggested that she study for a diploma or any short term program (of less than a year’s duration) if there is no alternative. In fact, I have provided her the contacts of current undergraduate students to discuss available options. She scored around 50% overall in her second attempt in the Karnataka pre-university science stream as she did not obtain the minimum individual marks in two subjects last year. "Switching to English medium in PU was a mistake", she admits, as she previously obtained a 75% aggregate in class X in a Kannada medium school.
The younger child Amala is an uninhibited speaker, artist and dancer with a fan following among other kids in her neighbourhood. She actively participates in extra curricular activities at school and outside and encourages younger children like Ashwin and Ajit to follow suit. Further, she is doing well in class X in an English medium school but is keen on in specializing in painting and sketching. Fortunately, there is at least another year before her sister’s predicament and uncertainty may become hers too.
So, will Nila and Jaya continue in their current school? Can Alumelu join an undergraduate program of her choice? The next few weeks could prove crucial to the future of these aspiring young citizens of India…
Note: Some names were changed to protect identity.