Scholarships comes in all sizes : How can we take education to those who are missing out?
“To be a scholar is to be a honeybee. You have to keep visiting the flowers time and again to ascertain their food value.”
- Manasvi Singh
Same is the case with scholarships. When one does not yield results, you visit the next, then another, and another and so on till you get one. This might sound easy if you know where to look for scholarships. But the situation changes if you do not know what scholarships are in the first place.
To say that the world of scholarships in India is unorganized would be an understatement. On one hand, there is more than 20000 crores worth of scholarships available for Indian students. On the contrary, not even a small section of the entire population is aware of this. If you do not believe my words, do this small test.
Ask the person sitting right next to you a simple question. ‘Do you know of any scholarship that I can apply for?’ Minus google search, his chances of replying with a ‘yes’ are lower than the chances of life existing on Mars. This implies the herculean gap that exists between scholarships and its seekers.
Dropout rates in India linger around 4.34% (source: MHRD). This means that almost 4–5 students out of every 100 miss out on education at primary level. The problem is deeper than we comprehend. A further investigation reveals that most of the dropouts happen at class 8 level. Interestingly, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE) allows students aged 6–14 years to get free elementary education up to class 8. The dropouts happen because students lack the resources to continue education beyond the purview of RTE. But again, this is not the problem we are trying to address.
The problem is lack of awareness about scholarships as an instrument that can aid in curtailing dropouts. Scholarships can act as the bridge between unemployed and unskilled to employed and skilled.
How do scholarships help?
Abraham Lincoln once famously said, ‘the best way to predict your future is to create it’. Scholarships help you to create your future. You make an informed choice of opting to find avenues to study rather than dropping out of education. In India, just like the world, scholarships come in various forms. Here are the key categories forming the major chunk of the entire scholarship corpus.
Most of the government scholarships fall in this criteria. Candidates coming from a poor family background whose annual family income is usually less than 2.5 lacs per annum are eligible to apply for these scholarships.
The challenge, however, is to ascertain who amongst those below the specified income level needs it the most. There are cases where the student’s family income is less than 25000 per annum. Do such students stand a better chance of availing such scholarships or do they stand any chance at all? This is something that will continue to haunt the policymakers and educationists for times to come until such people are identified as groups requiring special focus. Such groups can then be assisted with special packages that are not meant for those who fare comparatively better.
Again, most of the government scholarships fall under this category. Students are disbursed scholarships basis their academic merit.
There are students who are in the A-grades, who have invested efforts and emerged victoriously. Then there are students who have fared better but just could not make it to the victory mark. Does this mean that they are less driven, less knowledgeable, less capable? And ironically, the merit is dependent on a stale education system that is in need of an immediate overhaul.
Merit-cum-need based scholarships
The third most popular category of scholarships provided by the government. Both income level, as well as merit, are the criteria to get a scholarship.
Many, if not all, students fall under this bracket. The volume of funds reserved especially for this category should be adequately higher than the rest. It is still to be seen, how education ministries achieve an equilibrium amidst all these categories.
How can we take education to those who are missing out?
Scholarships are a great tool to curtail dropouts. They are also pertinent in pursuing quality higher education. A vast chunk of the entire student population remains unaware of the perks of applying for and availing a scholarship. What is more worrying is that the enablers of education, the torchbearers of the future of India, the teachers too remain confused or largely unaware of these wonderful tools.
Mass media: Although scholarships do find a place in mediums of mass communication, the impact they create is too small. Education supplements these days are filled with advertisements of admissions to higher education institutes without realizing that students first need the funds to even think of taking this step. An admission policy that clubs with scholarships can help attain the dwindling balance. These eminent institutes also miss out on a pool of talent because the applicants lack the resources and ways to apply for such colleges.
Camps: Just like the revolutionary polio eradication drive by the government of India, the country is in dire need of an ‘education enabling drive’. While social entrepreneurship initiatives like Buddy4Study are toiling hard to reach out, a big push from the government is still the missing piece of the puzzle.
Teacher education: Yes, the teachers need to be taught again. It is not only the subjects they teach that would make a difference, it is also the lamps they light. Teachers can pave the way for a brighter future for the students by guiding them towards variously available scholarships and help them to fill the application forms. Remember, a positive first step is half the battle won. Many students do not win a scholarship because they never apply for one.