- Describe the perceptions of the value of formal education held by Neeraj, her mother, and her father.
- In what ways does custom govern Neeraj's life?
- Do you suppose Neeraj will continue her education? Explain your view.
- Whose interests would be served if Neeraj were to continue her education?
Neeraj, a young Indian girl, describes her experience going to night school. While she expresses her belief in the value of education, her parents are not convinced schooling will make a difference in their daughter's life.
Many Americans assume that free public education is a fact of life, but that is not true for over 100 million children around the world. The 20th Century saw a growing divide as more and more industrialized countries embraced state-supported education, and non-industrialized countries did not. In the non-industrialized countries, education remained bound by traditional practices or was available only to the wealthy.
To address this problem 1,100 participants from 164 countries met in Senegal in April of 2000 to adopt the Dakar Framework for Action, a re-affirmation of the 1990 World Declaration on Education for All. One of the commitments made in the Dakar Framework was to ensure that "by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality."
While the Dakar Framework states that education is a human right, the reality for children around the world is very different. Education is often restricted by gender and/or income. In some places there is a shortage of qualified teachers. Some children around the world must cope with diseases like HIV/AIDS within their families, schools, and communities. Lastly, there can be a conflict between traditional values and the push toward education.
Securing government and community support for education has not been simple. Looked at historically, education has been a challenge that spans ages. Confined to the secular or religious elite for millennia, it was only at the beginning of the 19th Century that Napoleon introduced the concept of free public education, to foster loyalty to the central government. Enlightenment thinkers and their heirs stressed the importance of education as a foundation for representative government. Later, industrialization created the need for basic literacy for factory workers. At the dawning of the 21st century, quality free public education has now been achieved for the industrialized world. The challenge remains to bring it equally to all the world's children.
To put a human face to the global crisis in access to education, WIDE ANGLE filmed seven children around the world as they began school in 2003. This effort resulted in the documentary TIME FOR SCHOOL. The film crew returned to visit them again in 2006, making a second documentary, BACK TO SCHOOL.
The first time I visited a night school was in my uncle's village where I saw a puppet show. So I thought going to night school meant we get to see puppet shows all the time.
In a tiny desert village in Rajasthan, India, 20 members of this Gujar -- or herding -- family live together, along with their goats and water buffalo.
My name is Neeraj.
I'm about nine or ten -- and I've been studying for the past year. If they teach us, we get knowledge and that's good. I study and I learn a lot -- math, multiplication, addition -- so I'm learning.
Did you ever go to school?
What would I go to school for?
What's so great about being educated?
Even if you study, these educated people have nothing to do.
Is there anything extraordinary that this son of mine has achieved?
Whether Neeraj studies or not, what will she do? There's absolutely no work here.
Anyway, the everyday chores will take over.
Though her parents aren't convinced that school matters to Neeraj's future, for the last year they've allowed her to attend night school.
I work during the day -- so then I go to night school.
I do so much -- I have to sweep, I have to bring water, I have to make dung cakes, I have to graze the cows.
But these boys do no work, so they go to the day school.
Why send your boys to the day school and Neeraj to the night school?
If there's someone to do the household chores, I have no objection.
But who's going to do the household chores?
Neeraj is still a kid. She's only engaged. We'll get her married once she grows up.
Her father-in-law owns a well, so she'll work there. She'll fetch water; take care of the crops, the sheep, and the goats.