Thomas Friedman, in his globally discussed treatise The World is Flat, writes: “The first, and most important, ability you can develop in a flat world is the ability to “learn how to learn—to constantly absorb, and teach yourself, new ways of doing old things or new ways of doing new things.” Everyone knows that children learn not only in schools but also from all that is happening in the immediate social, cultural and natural environment. They learn to respect life, relationships and people around them. Initially, the family elders are the role models. Children try to emulate their example in various ways. Their capacity to absorb, analyse and internalise is far more swift, enhanced and active than that of elders. As they grow up, they learn about the basics of democracy in school, and observe how constitutional values are being put to practice by elders.
During the 16th General Elections, I particularly observed interest of children in the 13-17 age group. Not eligible at present, they shall get their chance in 2019. Their enthusiasm is at its peak, probably far ahead of other age groups. They participate in the nitty-gritties of the electoral exercise and are happy to work as volunteers. Their active participation is particularly evident in cities, towns and villages. Without their support, the political parties would be at a loss to find real workers and volunteers. General Elections could become a great exercise for young persons, as also for others, to have a fresh look at the Indian democracy—its functioning, where are the gaps and what corrective steps are required. These elections could not present a decent and exemplary level of discourse on national issues that could have strengthened the faith of impressionable minds in the power of democracy.
The Election Commission launched a huge public education programme this year and it worked considerably well. A lot of credit for the significant rise in voting percentage must go to the non-voters, the below 18 category. The way children insisted that their parents vote was indeed very encouraging as it indicates the strength of Indian democracy. In several interactions with this group, they articulated their liking and disliking. Most of them denounced, in no uncertain terms, certain expressions and aspersions being cast against their adversaries by the ‘leaders’. They were most concerned about the remarks that could damage the social cohesion and religious amity. In India, children learn in every classroom together with children from several other castes and religions. They never think in those terms; they are dear classmates. An innocent query was raised by a girl of around 11 years coming from a small town, “Why do they talk of caste or religion in their speeches? In our school, we do not discriminate on such flimsy considerations.” One wishes this question is posed to those who thrive on the politics of caste, creed, region, religion, linguistic diversities and the like. To me, this girl represents the mood of young India. This is also a reminder that talent is not confined only to some posh areas and ‘public schools’ but is spread all around and everywhere.
As everyone has to strive hard to create a common future, none can be deprived of the right to learning and equipping oneself for the progress of the nation. In every sector of human endeavour, quality manpower and values come from a sound educational policy that has its roots deep in the Indian soil and which is dynamically committed to progress and accepts all that is beneficial to the people of India. Individual talents are like buried treasure. It must be untapped from every child and every individual, and added to the national cognitive capital. This could form the basis of the new policy of education in India. Reshaping of every school and reforming elementary education has to be the first priority.