Parents are willing and capable of sending their children to school. That is the simple part but there are a whole lot of complex issues as well. In the first place to poor parents, especially those belonging to the communities traditionally engaged in agricultural labour who by and large are they illiterate, the very task of sending their child to school instead of to work is in itself a major revolutionary step. For generations they have been led to believe that the best thing for them is to initiate their child into work at the earliest and education was never a part of their economic agenda. This is exactly the opposite of what a middle class urban parent believes. Just as in the latter case it never occurs to the parents that their child should be sent to work, to a parent in the rural area who is essentially an agricultural labourer and an illiterate to boot, sending a child to work is the most natural thing in the world. The parents know exactly what is to be done, who to approach, how to negotiate and above all what is expected from their child if sent to work.
Compare this with the complex situation that parents have to face in admitting the child to school. Birth certificate, caste certificate, schoolbooks, dress and so on all have to be obtained. Often the child is denied admission simply because such admission is being sought in August while all admissions close in July itself. And, of course, if for some reason the child has crossed the normal school age of 5-7 years there is absolutely no provision for allowing him/her to join in a higher class under an accelerated program, and he has to sit in the first class along with much younger children and often be made fun of for it. It is no exaggeration to say that for these parents it is much easier to engage their child as bonded labourer with some landlord than enroll him/her in school.
Once inside the school the whole attitude of the teacher is completely mysterious as far as the parents are concerned. They are not sure how to handle the child’s homework and the other demands made of them by the teacher. The teacher themselves are an unknown quantity and often behave irrationally. It has been MVF’s experience that a larger number of children have been pushed out than have dropped out from school. Teachers employ a number of methods to restrict the number of children in their class. Even a simple thing like not reading a child’s name during roll call is enough to perplex the child and the parents. Add to this issues like asking the child to get a new book or learn a poem at home or simply state at the end of the year that the child is not up to the mark, you have a good recipe for a push out. In one of the MVF’s workshop with teachers an entire list of methods employed by them to restrict the number of children in their class was made out.
Even if the parents and the child survive this onslaught initially, there is always the nagging feeling often reinforced by others in the village that may be they should simply continue what they have been doing for generations viz. sending their children to work.
Given the atmosphere that prevails at the village level therefore, mere desire to provide education for the child is not enough to convert it into a reality. On the other hand ignoring this desire would be catastrophic.