My Vegetable Seller Student

(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer)
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A few months ago, while I was passing through a market, I noticed a familiar face behind a makeshift vegetable stall. To my utter shock, I saw Ishrat, a 9th class student, weighing some vegetables and putting them into a bag for an elderly man. As her teacher, I was surprised to see a 15-year-old girl selling vegetables during the day instead of focusing on her studies.

When our eyes met, she almost fainted, but I maintained my composure and walked up to her.“Pack me a kilo of tomatoes, and remember, this is the last thing you're selling to anyone,” I made her promise.


She had tears in her eyes but promised me she would never sell vegetables again. That evening, she even completed an assignment and sent it to me on WhatsApp around midnight. I was happy and satisfied, realizing that with a little care and guidance, she could improve and make progress if given a chance.

Ishrat comes from a social background where education is given very little importance. With both her parents being completely uneducated, it is highly unlikely that she receives any support at home for her studies. Amid this mix-up of poverty and lack of support, Ishrat recently received a shock of her life: Accompanied by her mother to seek the status, Ishrat and her parents have been informed that her performance is below standard and she will not be promoted to the next grade.

There is, however, a dark aspect to this situation. The school's lack of concern for her academic performance stems from the fact that authorities hold school heads responsible for poor academic results, especially in grade-10 exams, forcing them to expel students considered unlikely to succeed. The fear of potential consequences from the government, such as negative evaluations in their Annual Performance Reports (APRs) or the withholding of annual increments, motivates them to take punitive measures against“underperforming” students as a precautionary step.

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While school administrators may have dodged immediate repercussions, it prompts reflection: Are we, as educators and administrators, unintentionally adding hurdles to our students' journeys? While the government strives to increase enrollment in government schools, measures like detention inadvertently hinder continuous academic progress.

This invariably marks the end of her academic journey as she already feels discouraged by her school.“How can I sit in class with younger students while my peers have advanced to a higher grade?” says a disheartened Ishrat.“This is incredibly embarrassing for me.”

Not only does this unjustly deprive Ishrat of her only chance to enjoy her childhood with her peers, but it also ensures she will harbour a lifelong resentment towards the educational system in this part of the world. She may not excel academically, but losing a year in this way will have profound repercussions on her future.

I recall my father recounting how teachers would force a“delinquent” student to mount another boy's back, exposing his buttocks for a beating with a thin pomegranate stick. This form of corporal punishment was common in schools in the past. Unable to sit on the jute matting for days, he eventually dropped out of school. My father prayed fervently for divine retribution against the cruel teacher whose actions drove him away from education.

Years later, my elder brother experienced a similar fate when he was detained in class 6. Seizing the opportunity, my father, pressured by poverty, apprenticed him to a carpet manufacturing unit, sacrificing his education to economic hardship and flawed school practices. Today, my brother is a financial and emotional wreck; had he been allowed to continue his studies without restriction, his life would have been much better. Ishrat is facing a similar predicament, particularly at a time when initiatives like“Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” are being heavily promoted.

The slogan“Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” (Educate the Daughter, Save the Daughter) resonates loudly across India, but its impact is undermined by an education system that fails to support the very girls it aims to uplift. While the government promotes this initiative to encourage the education and empowerment of girls, the reality within schools often contradicts these noble intentions. Policies like arbitrary detentions and punitive measures disproportionately affect female students, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds. Instead of promoting an inclusive and supportive learning environment, these practices discourage continuous education, forcing many girls to drop out prematurely.

Consequently, the promise of“Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” remains unfulfilled, as systemic barriers within the educational framework prevent meaningful progress in the empowerment and advancement of women in India.

Pertinently, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 emphasizes a holistic and flexible approach to education. Regarding the detention policy, the NEP 2020 advocates for a shift away from the practice of detaining students solely based on their performance in exams. Instead, it recommends providing students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning and progress through formative and summative assessments. The policy encourages schools to adopt a continuous and comprehensive evaluation system that focuses on overall development rather than just academic achievement.

NEP-2020 challenges the traditional hardline approach adopted by many schools staying clear off the rigid structures and strict assessment methods. It promotes a balanced approach that caters to the diverse needs and talents of every student. This shift away from a one-size-fits-all approach marks a significant stride towards nurturing creativity, critical thinking, and innovation among learners, paving the way for a brighter and more dynamic future.

Meanwhile, girls like Ishrat will continue to suffer from these harsh practices until authorities make schooling more flexible and enjoyable, especially for girls. There's no denying that government-run schools often lack the proper infrastructure for effective education, even supplied with teachers who are not well-versed in their subjects. Given an imbalanced teacher-student ratio, with some schools excessively staffed while others severely lacking, the situation greatly disadvantages students, affecting their learning in ways more than one.

While girls like Ishrat may struggle academically, part of the blame lies with the government and the teaching community. In the meantime, Ishrat, while out of school, might be forced to take up some vocation or, in the worst-case scenario, break her promise and return to selling vegetables.

  • The girl's name in the story has been changed to maintain her anonymity. The author, an academic, can be contacted at [email protected] . Kashmir Observer doesn't necessarily subscribe with the author's opinion


Kashmir Observer

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