'Course' of action to spread awareness
Awareness through school curriculum will supplement ongoing efforts to popularise government schemes.
"Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family." - Kofi Annan
Putting the power of knowledge and information to good use, NCERT textbooks now mention current Government schemes. After its latest revision, one finds references of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Digital India, Namami Gange and Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, among others. Some time back, Uttarakhand government had asked schools in Chamoli district to follow a unique practice. A student had to be tasked with informing others about one development or welfare scheme during daily prayer assembly. To aid this, information on state government-run programmes in the district had been put together in a booklet and circulated to schools. These are interesting ways of making students aware of prevalent schemes and their objectives. But what next? Students would learn about it as a minor part of the subject and then move on. One of the persisting problems with government schemes and programmes is that many prospective beneficiaries remain unaware of benefits that they can avail of. In such a situation, schemes made even with best of intentions might find it hard to succeed. To tide over this, can there be a dedicated school level course on various government schemes and programmes?
But why introduce a new course when NCERT textbooks for different subjects are already incorporating schemes? Well, the point of such a dedicated course will be two-fold. First, it would ensure that schemes are made a major focus of study. Second, students would be taught schemes that can be useful to them or their families. This will involve an element of customisation. For instance, in a class with students of minority communities, teachers can explain schemes like USTTAD (Upgrading the Skills and Training in Traditional Arts/Crafts for Development) beneficial for artisans, throw light on Nai Roshni-the Scheme for Leadership Development of Minority Women and Seekho aur Kamao, a skill development programme that also targets youth (14-35 years) of such communities. To encourage people to take up insurance, they can talk about Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana for personal accident insurance and Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana for life insurance. Therefore, the aim is to equip students with scheme-related knowledge so that it can be used not only to their advantage but also benefit their families and people around.
Let's explore this further: The course need not be restricted to programmes of the national government. In schools in Madhya Pradesh, while discussing farmer related schemes like Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and Soil Health Cards, Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana of the state government can also be highlighted. The latter is a price deficiency support scheme for farmers producing certain crops. To aid this process, Central and respective State/UT governments can come out with booklets on their schemes to communicate essentials in simple language. This will ensure the dissemination of updated and correct information. These booklets can be revised regularly so that new programmes like the recently announced Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Mission can be included.
This is just one part of it. The ingenuity of teachers in meaningfully conveying such information would be equally important. First, teachers would be best placed to customise information keeping in mind the students in a class. Girl students in class 11th interested in pursuing engineering can be apprised about the Udaan programme. It has been launched by CBSE to prepare these girls for admission tests to join prestigious engineering institutions. In light of the rising incidents of sexual offences against children, they should be taught about POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) E- Box. This is an online complaint system to report sexual offences against children. In addition to discussing these specific schemes, teachers can elaborate on programmes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan which are relevant to all. Second, the key would be to communicate details innovatively. Instead of a one-way lecture, an interactive one may help. Third, class appropriate teaching would be necessary. For example, while younger students may be introduced to programmes like Digital India, senior students would be in a better position to grasp the concept of Gold Monetisation Scheme and its implications for the economy. Therefore, as students move to higher classes, they can be exposed to schemes that require greater understanding.
Such a course would have its own advantages. First, it will help spread awareness about government schemes among a wider range of potential beneficiaries. Schools are temples of learning. They are places where children of poor and rich, majority and minority communities, cutting across religions, those belonging to SC/ST/OBC or general category, differently abled and others, those belonging to all three genders come together to learn. Such a diverse audience is hard to find. Moreover, awareness through this course would only supplement the ongoing efforts of publicising schemes. Second, schemes across sectors can be discussed through this course. Unlike in other subjects, there will be no boundary. A large assortment of schemes ranging from those on education, health, skill development, employment, pension, saving to those targeting agriculture, industry or service sector can be covered.
Third, students would be learning something that can benefit them and people around them. For example, students who see their sisters or mothers facing violence may not be helpless anymore if they are taught about Sakhi One Stop Centres. These centres have been set up to support women, including those below 18 years, affected by violence in a public or private place. These centres aim at providing services like medical, legal, counselling and psychological supports all at one place. Therefore, students would be equipped with knowledge to bring about change in the lives of others as well. Such youth can also be a powerful group to promote new technologies like digital payments. After learning about the BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) app, which helps in making payment even without internet, they can help their family members use it. Fourth, such a course will ensure awareness generation in a sustained manner with scope for a two-way interaction. If students want to know about a relevant scheme to solve an issue they are facing, course instructors can help them with such questions. If a young boy from a poor family in a village knows that his family needs legal assistance, he can ask his teacher for a solution. The teacher can then tell him about the Tele Law Initiative where villagers can receive free legal advice from lawyers using video conferencing. Even families can raise their doubts through students. Therefore, it will make education through schools a learning tool for the entire family. Fifth, if the potential of this course is fully realised, it would become an added motivation for people to send their children to schools. Sixth, those in remote areas will have equal access to such information even without access to the internet.
But, down this road, there might be issues to be taken care of. Teachers would need to use innovative teaching techniques to make it interesting, participative and useful. This may not be easy. To bring in seriousness, students' understanding would need to be tested. But for this, innovative examination methods can be evolved. This would also require thinking. One would have to ensure that young students are not unnecessarily burdened with too many details. It would be crucial to making sure that schemes are taught keeping in mind the maturity of the student audience. Hence, for a start, a pilot experiment can be undertaken.
Since it started with a quote from one Ghanaian, let us end with a quote from another Ghanaian. Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey, a scholar, once said, "If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation)." Through this course, if one educates children, one will not only educate families and people around them but transform their lives completely.
(The author is a lawyer and currently a Young Professional with Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and NITI Aayog, Government of India. The views expressed are strictly personal)