How Not To Educate A Poor Child

An Open Letter



The Editor In Chief

The Hindustan Times

We were attracted by the announcement made by the Hindustan Times that it intends to spend 5 Paisa earned from the sale of each copy on educating the children of India. It did not however tell us how it intends to spend this money. That is important since education of a child is not a sum of random acts. Schooling is a holistic experience composed of several components identified and selected through a Curricular Design which seeks to attain the education goals which a society sets for itself from time to time.

The issue of 19 April, 2012 of the Hindustan Times carried on its pages alphabet -sheets in English and Hindi with pictures. It asked its readers to cut all the sheets, staple them together to make a pictorial alphabet book and give it to a poor child to motivate her to read. This move seems to be driven by good intentions, however, it is clearly a misconceived , directionless and futile investment which does not help the poor child at all. There are social as well as educational reasons to say this. The Right to Education Act has made education a right, an entitlement for each and every child of India. It is not realized through some disparate acts of benevolence of some well meaning people. It is based on the principle of equity meaning thereby that the child is entitled to get education of equitable quality. It is to be done though a well defined institutionalized mechanism. What the HT does is to appeal to the conscience of its readers who , out of compassion for the poor children should find time to prepare a first language textbook for them by cutting and pasting these sheets. This is an act of pity which no self respecting individual would accept. The campaign designers must ask themselves this question: would they do this for their own children? If not, how is it right for a poor child? It would also be interesting for the managers of this campaign to do a survey to find out how many of its readers have actually indulged in this act of charity.

This campaign, apart from showing its insensitivity to the issue of equity and equality is also faulty in its design from the point of view of language pedagogy. In 2012 no language teacher ought to prescribe alphabet-books as the first learning tool. Language pedagogy has moved far ahead from the days when alphabets used to be the first step in language learning. Had the campaign designers taken care to read the National Curriculum Framework 2005 and the focus group papers on language teaching, they would have realized that now language teaching has become much more sophisticated. If the argument is that children deprived of the latest language teaching methods should at least be given this much, it again violates the constitutional principle of equality.

We have moved away from the ‘A for Apple’ nonsense after considerable effort, and it is disconcerting to see a major media agency reviving it without much thought.

Textbooks are only one part of it, significant and crucial though they are. Textbooks are held together by integrity of content and design, they are not merely a cut-paste- sew job. Designing of a first language book for a child in a multi-lingual context, requires a lot of responsible thinking which minds uneducated in the issues of language learning and unaware of the latest research in this field should not do. The first book in the hands of a child is a total experience. It should be able excite and stimulate all her/ his sensory perceptions. Moreover, the act of reading at the very first stages is now taken very seriously. It would do well to the designers of this campaign to have a look at the reading programs initiated by the NCERT and many states for the first and second grade children. Poor children deserve quality textbooks and reading material designed and produced well to last a full term, and printed on good quality paper and not on newsprint.

Seen even from the angle of social diversity, the  Hindi pictorial alphabets sheets use images  leave out a large population of children who have not been brought up in the tradition of upper caste male Hindu iconography .

The cavalier manner in which the whole campaign is designed again leads one to question the minds behind it: are they serious in their intention to support the educational system? If yes, they should give the money to the professional agencies involved in the business of schooling rather than squandering it on such tokenistic gestures which is also bad investment.


Apoorvanand, Professor, Delhi University, Member, Focus Group On Indian languages, National Curriculum Framework, 2005

Krishna Kumar, Professor, CIE, Delhi Unv, Former Director, NCERT

Kumar Rana, Pratichi, Kolkata

Shabnam Hashmi, Member, MAEF, NLMA

Vinod Raina, Member, NAC- RTE

14 thoughts on “How Not To Educate A Poor Child”

  1. Obviously in a country like ours that is full of accumulated complexities no solution on its face value appears to be most convincing and productive but still any intiative on the part of any quater should be seen with an open eye.And in this context I do not find any fault on the Part of THE HINDUSTAN TIMES to take initiative in the field of primary education; atleast amongst those who look down the right to education for the poor any attempt in this direction should be treated as a welcome step.

    True there may be different opinions on creating the best model and let there be debate on each and every point ; I will suggest that those who are really committed to have -nots must urge the initiators ofThe HINDUSTAN TIMES encourage group discussion and bring out small pamphlets containing basic material pertaing to languages and mathematics.At present even this attempt will help to generate a proper atmosphere particularly in rural areas and slum areas.


    1. I agree.
      Even if a poor child learns one trivial thing through those newspaper cut outs, it’s better than learning nothing at all.
      The group discussion idea is excellent. There are millions out there who want to help but have no clue where to start or what to do.


  2. thanks apporvaanandji et al for this very adequate critic of our urban “well meaning people”, who take part in initiatives which are so insensitive to the rural life situation. . i have been observing this type of half heartedness of urban policy makers in educational matters concerning the rural and the “poor’ children and youth over the past 20 years that i am living and taking part in life of rural “poor”.children and youth. i have often observed teachers from Govt. and private schools as well as bureaucrats and media too, they are mostly least bothered about education of rural “poor” children and youth. they in fact do more damage to their healthy development, of being mostly very curious and extremely intelligent children. even their parents are mostly very generous with spending cash from their meagre incomes for the education of their children, because they know that only if their children get good education will they be able to come out of the cycle of miseries the parents have to go through.

    in informal literacy classes on the roadside in front of a temple veranda they, the rural “poor” children have learnt to read and write and played self made darama pieces depicting the rural issues. i have found these children to be much more inquisitive and creative than some urban children from “rich” families.

    during a pad yatra my educationist friend usha rao was able to motivate in an overnight stay the children in bastar region to draw and produce their own little booklets with stories/ proverbs from their own culture and their own local language (and not Hindi) with a hand driven screen printer. their mothers used to feel highly motivated to continue their education and not oppose it as they did to govt. schemes.

    I want to ptaise you in your critic of the people who design such cheap and insensitive programms as your article points out. it is just a reflection of the dominant mindset that if you are economically poor you are also otherwise poor which is such a wrong and arrogant belief!

    rural “poor” children deserve an educational system as good if not better as the urban ‘rich’ children can and do avail of! it is our moral responsibility!


  3. Your touching faith in RTE is hilarious! The flaws in RTE are so huge that its gng to ruin our education system (whatever was left of it) completely. The process has already started with the idiotic CEE of Mr Sibal. The focus on infrastructure instead of learning outcomes, the over-regulation of private schools with zero regulation or accountability of government schools are going to be the death knell of our school education system. I say more power to HT if it can motivate people to make such alphabet books and distribute them to poor kids!


    1. parul, pray tell us about these huge flaws in the RTE so we can clearly understand what makes the HT campaign smarter. after all, if you have a simple, elegant solution like stapling together newspaper pages and handing them out to poor kids to solve the literacy problem, why waste time on the RTEs and the CEEs (?) and the NCERTs?


      1. Sukesh, for one thing, the RTE is immensely empowering to the government bureaucracy. A centralized education system suffers from the same flaws as any centrally planned system. At any rate, ‘right to education’ is a ‘positive’ faux right – it obligates others, the government, which means the tax payers, to facilitate this ‘right’, as opposed to ‘negative rights’, say the right to life (you need not give me life support – just refrain from taking my life).

        Frederic Bastiat in 1846 wrote: Education is also bound up with the same fundamental question that precedes all others in politics: Is it part of the State’s duties? Or does it belong to the sphere of private activity? You can guess what my answer will be. The government is not set up in order to bring our minds into subjection, or to absorb the rights of the family. To be sure, gentlemen, if it pleases you to hand over to it your noblest prerogatives, if you want to have theories, systems, methods, principles, textbooks and teachers forced on you by the government, that is up to you; but do not expect me to sign, in your name, such a shameful abdication of your rights.

        Don’t expect me to sign this faux right either.

        RTE is part of the grand scheme what Prof R Vaidyanathan of IIM Bangalore calls ‘nationalization of the family’. The nationalization of industry was such a self-evident disaster that nobody attempts it any more. (Well, they do in some jurisdictions: But the nationalization of the family flew under the radar. “The West has nationalised families over the last 60 years,” writes Vaidyanathan. “Old age, ill health, single motherhood — everything is the responsibility of the state.” Author and columnist Mark Steyn: ‘The nationalized family is the key to understanding why the West’s economic “downturn” is not merely cyclical. Like any other nationalized industry, the nationalized family prioritizes more and more perks for its beneficiaries, is unresponsive to market pressure, and revels in declining productivity’.

        There is no if about the West’s decline. Only when. And the answer is: sooner than one thinks. The statists in India want to take the same path to the edge of the cliff.


      2. The above post:I see a certain resonance with libertarians and a part of the Republican party, if you please. However, for all those who advocate a hands off policy for the state, don’t you think that the policy only works for a comparatively well to do society and not a desperately poor disenfranchised one, where there is no “right” that will get abdicated.


    2. you seem to believe that poor children do not have access to alphabet books/ charts etc available for a few rupees. the ones begging on the streets of course dont, because they dont want to study at all. but the rural children are 99% in schools because their parents want them to. it is the many other loopholes in the educational institutions which are the cause of the poor situation of the rural children and youth. that is where serious intervention by privileged people like you and me is required. certainely not charity approach!


      1. You say that the poor children begging on the streets do not have access to alphabet books/ charts (which in your opinion are available for a few rupees) because they don’t want to study at all. You can’t be serious. And the manner in which you’re suggesting is very irresponsible & insensitive. Do you believe that these children choose not to study simply because they don’t want to? Please understand, these kids are brought up in an environment which is extremely difficult & dangerous. They learn to make tough decisions about their life at an age when they can’t decide what is better for them. They are vulnerable to so many different kinds of horrors. And, honestly, in such an environment buying alphabet books become least of their priorities.


  4. I do not get HT in Chennai. I have no idea how the campaign was designed. But in general such campaign taken out by newspapers should not be taken seriously. They may call it corporate social responsibility but this campaign would be a means to boost the paper’s circulation. Many products and services use such tactics. After all, newspaper publishing is also a business and businesses are run for profits.


  5. questioning HT initiative is not looking fair for me. it may or may not provide desired results. Their intention may be questioned. Till now nothing tangible changes in elementary education that is true after too many flagship initiatives by govt.tself like DPEP,SSA & some micro programme by different NGOs or foundations. Not only programmes some important piece of legislation like NPE -1986 , RtE -09 & guiding documents like NCF-05. The situation of goverment education has worsened , though do not know by whom & how it happened. How much more HT will worsen the situation. Now come to the language learning theory which is one of the concern in this open letter “that the alphabate method (nonsense A for Apple) of teaching has moved away after considerable effort. But we have to accept still Alphabate method of teaching is there in most our schools -may be goverment or private. So alphabate method is there in the space. Whatever it may be if child learns then let the child learn why we are so much worried for the method


  6. komal you have misunderstood my words of curse it is not the children who are forced to beg who are responsible for the situation they are in. i think i used the wrong word too i am with you that the beggar children are also in a very bad situation, i wanted to focuss on the rural children whose parents are willing to spend on their education and yet they are not able to get the best for them to change their life situation to one different from that of most of the parents themselves…
    And the manner in which you are writing that i am very irresponsible & insensitive is rather exaggerated….


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