[This is the first part of Nilima's undergraduate thesis. Please Contact me if you'd like a copy of the whole paper. This thesis won UVM's Wertheimer Award for Best Political Science Honors Thesis, 2006].
Only one half of the citizens in India -- the world’s largest democracy -- can read and write (UNICEF, 2005). As globalization flourishes, including industrialization and media technology, uneducated people suffer marginalization and disproportionately few opportunities. This project analyzes the Indian elementary school system’s failures on behalf of the poor and the potential use of media (broadly defined) to mitigate these failures.
In light of contemporary technological booms in India, Fareed Zakaria explains:
The country [India] might have several Silicon Valleys, but it also has three Nigerias within it, more than 300 million people living on less than a dollar a day. India is home to 40% of the world’s poor and has the world’s second largest HIV population. But that is the familiar India, the India of poverty and disease. The India of the future contains all this but something new. You can feel the change even in the midst of the slums (2006 p.35).
Zakaria paints a hopeful picture for India’s future, one transformed by free market economies, foreign investment and information technology. As India runs to avoid falling behind in the globalization race, opportunities for advancement abound. Despite, and partially because of this seeming progress, 44 million child laborers remain outcasts from this success (ILO, 2005). As mechanization overtakes even agriculture and craftsmanship, formal education is more critical than ever before. This project focuses on merging an abundant resource, modern technology --specifically film and television -- with a desperate need: education for the poor. I provide a broad overview of the Indian government, the government elementary schools and mass media infrastructure. The democratic government and media structures are relatively stable, powerful and well-established institutions compared to the school system. Secondly, I look at alternative schooling systems and innovative methods for using film and television to supplement education. Based on the existing governmental infrastructure, as well as lessons learned from the development projects presented, I make suggestions for using media as a tool to increase education.
Hopefully India is facing a truly new age, one which the government can and will help to harness India’s newfound wealth to promote education and greater equality. The frightening alternative is a repetition of India’s past – ostentatious consumption by a few elites in a desert of poverty. The new criteria for dominion would be technological savvy rather than British or Royal Lineage. The new maharajas, instead of parading through the streets in their chariots, would whoosh by the village streets in their ‘Beemers’, leaving the impoverished masses to choke on their exhaust clouds.
Bhaskara’s dusty bare feet, which poked out from oversized pants, shifted until he caught my attention. He didn’t ask me for my south Indian breakfast, but just stared hungrily. I handed him a 2-rupee coupon (about four cents). That would suffice to buy a large scoop of oopama -- hot wheat cereal with tomatoes, onions, chilies and spices.
“Thank you Auntie,” he mumbled in broken English. No longer wary of me, his dark eyes lit up and he smiled before darting off. I immediately wished I had given him more, and was ashamed at my wariness from having been conned in the past.
It was January ’05, I’d traveled to India through UVM’s URECA! or Undergraduate Research Endeavors Competitive Awards program. Mine is a documentary film about Jeevodaya, or Child Care India (CCI), a grass roots organization centered in Bangalore, which works to prevent child labor through education.
My relationship with Bhaskara had nothing and everything to do with my filming project. Though he lived four hours from my film site, he taught me most directly the need for education, and the cyclical nature of poverty that traps so many kids. When he found me again the next day, I questioned, “Where are your parents?”
“Only one man,” he responded, almost proudly patting his chest. He meant that he, a boy of twelve, was alone. Though his use of “man” charmed me, it spoke to his prematurely adult condition.
“Any brothers or sisters?” I persisted.
“No . . . you are my sister.” Now I was hooked, and even more saddened. Either he subsisted in such neglect that I, a near stranger did feel familial, or he resorted to obsequious flattery in order to avoid starvation. I learned through rough translations that he slept at a bus station or visited his sickly grandmother in her village. He occasionally attended crowded government schools, where students are beaten and many, even with supportive parents, remained illiterate. I bought him clothes, food and searched for a good residential school -- without which he had no viable future. As it approached time for me to leave for Bangalore,, my search had only led to frustrating dead-ends. Strangers promised to educated him in exchange for my US dollars. I promised Bhaskara I’d return after shooting and keep looking for a suitable solution.