If I go to school, will you give me a job?

Education and Healthcare must feed each other and help society progress. Tamil Nadu almost got it right but then they seem to have lost the plot now says MuthuRajan J – Director, V V Mineral 

Wonder what the boy near the town of Cheranmahadevi in Tirunelveli District is doing now. He was the lad who was the reason for the introduction of the Noon Meal Scheme in India. Legend has it that while he was tending sheep he was asked by the then Chief Minister – K Kamaraj why he was not attending school. His response was direct “If I go to school, will you give me food to eat? I can learn only if I eat.”

The much appreciated noon meal scheme, which was introduced in 1962 by the then Chief Minister K Kamaraj, was to help improve the effectiveness of primary education by improving the nutritional status of primary school children. This scheme was further upgraded by MGR in 1982 and was repositioned as ‘Nutritious food scheme’ and on launch day it covered 55.96 lakh children. All these children who were provided healthy food and education in 1982 should be 36 years of age now.

So by providing nutritious food and education can Tamil Nadu take pride in a very healthy and educated workforce? While the powerful vision of a few political leaders in the past have helped uplift a large section of people, the tamed vision of the current crop of leaders has ensured that this huge ‘demographic gold’ is frittered away.

Ever since the introduction of noon meal scheme – Food and Education have always been in the forefront in Tamil Nadu. The free rice schemes, the Amma Canteen and the Engineering colleges and Samacheer Kalvi (Tamil Nadu Uniform System of School Education) to name a few prominent ones. What we witness now is a state government which is stuck in a time warp, unable to think beyond food and lost when it comes to providing employment opportunities to those whom they nurtured.

Tamil Nadu has devised a very simple entry and exit level strategy to ensure that education is accessible to a large section of people in order to climb a few rungs in the competence hierarchy. This strategy – ‘Education for all’ is fine as to kickstart the process. It’s time we realize that it is the society that has carved out those years for a student to enlarge their minds, to get them to be ready to play a heroic role in society. Hence education today must be designed to adequately challenge the student and not make it purposeless and low on stimulation. Challenging the student beyond or below is equally counterproductive. So it becomes imperative to constantly feed the education system with new ideas and thoughts. This is the road policymakers have feared to tread and preferred to dig their heads and hide behind figures like 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER)

When the IT boom saw the rise of Engineering Education the state benefitted immensely. Now with Information Technology hitting the plateau and with the onset of artificial intelligence and robotics our college education system does not seem nimble and competent enough to change. According to Satya Pal Singh, Minister of State for Human Resources, of the 526 colleges in Tamil Nadu only 177 have enrolled a total of just 12,399 students this year. This also can be attributed to the fact that most large private engineering colleges and deemed universities are owned and run by politicians who are not inclined to academics and scholarship as much as they are inclined to run an efficient system that is profitable. Most of these colleges are highly competent in running canteens and transport systems and teaching is one among those services.

That is exactly where the college system and the government would be found wanting. Tamil Nadu has hit the depths when it comes to attracting investments.

Back then that boy herding cows asked “If I go to school, will you give me food to eat? I can learn only if I eat.” We have come to a point in time when food is not as scarce as before and the information is in the palms through the mobile phone. The question now would be “If I go to school, will you give me a job?”

Image courtesy McKay Savage

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