Hindustan Times  New Delhi, September 04, 2014

Dear Prime Minister, We know you are busy giving final touches to your ‘Guru Mahotsav’ speech. It will probably be studded with your trademark anecdotes, witty alliterations and quotable quotes.

But, we are sure that you have left some blanks in your script—if there is one— to accommodate our last-minute suggestions and requests.

All of us often wonder why parents prefer to send children to private schools—where they are made to pay exorbitant fees that verge on extortion— but to government institutions for higher education.

One reason is that teachers at the elementary level lack the commitment and quality required to build a strong foundation, even though government school teachers get paid five to six times the money an average Indian makes.

The 2013 ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) survey—a reliable barometer of the level of learning in rural areas— shows only 32.6% students in standard III of government schools could read text meant for standard I. In private schools, the figure was 59.6%.

Similarly, just 20% children in standard V of government schools know how to divide and just 18.9% in standard III could do simple subtraction.

You are fond of the ‘Make in India’ slogan. How about a ‘Guru in Government School’ slogan? How about holding teachers accountable for results? How about giving them targets and assessing their performance annually? How about a ‘student fails, teacher pays’ policy? In return, free them of the responsibility of giving polio jabs; rid them of the burden of cooking mid-day meals and conducting elections.

Teaching children is a full-time specialized job; please do not let our teachers find valid excuses for staying away from classes.

Here is a suggestion to begin with: why not have a separate ministry to focus on elementary education instead of putting everything under the HRD minister?

Dear Mr. Modi, w

e know that the role of school education is to help students read and write; understand the basic concepts of arithmetic; develop a scientific temperament; and a taste for art and culture; question superstition and separate the logical from the illogical and supercilious.

But some of us worry that the ongoing ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindutva’ rhetoric triggered by the Dinanath Batras of this world may end up making our children regressive by loading their impressionable minds with balderdash masquerading as swadeshi wisdom.

We all are, for instance, fond of childhood tales that ‘Pushpak Vimans’ were the preferred mode of transport during and before Ram Rajya. But we would all like these fantastic tales to be subjects of bedtime stories and not school syllabuses.

The world knows that the Wright Brothers invented the aeroplane; our children would become laughing stocks if they were to venture out and argue that scientists from our ‘pracheen sabhyata’ had managed to invent those mythological airplanes millenniums ago.

This is the age of education without barriers, an era of universities without geographies. You would agree that we will not gain anything by breeding a generation that fails to make the transition from our schools to the top medical colleges of the world simply because they were told that gau muthra had more medicinal value than a course of antibiotics!