Thursday, October 24, 2013

Aarakshan: a study on education inequality

Recently I watched "Aarakshan," a Bollywood movie containing the usual dances, but dealing with a serious issue with a unique impact on India, and with repercussions for the whole world.  Here in North America we talk about privatizing education.  The movie really seems to demonize that idea while at the same time exposing arguments on the other side.  Much like the university quota system used in the United States, India has reserved education spots for the lower castes.

In the movie there is an under handed move to establish private education at the expense of those who cannot afford it.  Teachers are lured away with money and intimidation.  There are personal tensions that involve different castes, religions and of course personalities.  Some members of both high and low caste do their best to make education available to the disadvantaged.   Amitabh Bachanchan stood on the side of the righteous and Manoj Bajpayee played his creepily best as the opponent.  A little romance provided by Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone.   My favorite musical team Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy provided a few songs.

Education, to my way of thinking is the most critical issue in the world.  It impacts on everything else--war and peace, health, climate change, finance, industry, freedom etc.  Money and the profit motive can have a positive impact on the quality of education, but can we afford not to optimize our resources so that every person has an equal chance to improve?

India is deeply enveloped with religion and castes.  From the movie these factors are integral.  In fact it is resistance to the concerns of the higher castes of their children mixing with lower caste children that is a key issue in the movie.  As in America some deserving members of the more favored castes do get left out and "Aarkshan" acknowledges that problem.  In the movie the dedicated, unprejudiced teacher triumphs over the sleazy profit motivated investor.

Religion is a driving force for private schools.  Religious instructions do not belong in public education and in the minds of some this unacceptable.  What is preferable to me is to improve our understanding of other religions.  This has to be neutral, but admittedly that would not satisfy many people.  One can only hope that after a few generations it will become obvious that those who understand alien religions better are in positions of power and influence that more people will seek that type of education.

Evolution is a trigger issue for many people.  It may be many years before it is more widely accepted, but the sooner the better.  Climate change also seems to offend some sensibilities.  In fact to some people there seems to be a conflict between religion and science, admittedly of concern to fewer and fewer people.

The best education should be provided to those with the most talent.  Identifying talent needs to be part of the education system which will result in arguments not only about measurement but definitions of talent.   It seems legitimate that a society would want our future leaders to get the best education, no matter what level they started from.   That doesn't mean that the rest of us do not deserve the best available education.  Short sighted people will resist the taxes necessary to make all this happen, but it should be a much higher priority if we are to survive.

Everyone is entitled to spend their money for anything legal.  Society owes it to itself to make sure public education is not sacrificed.

Prakash Jha is noted for political movies that make you think.  "Aarakshan" is a good movie to provoke thinking on education.

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