Where's the idea Sirji?
By Pankaj Sekhsaria
Nearly 33 per cent of Indians are illiterate and drop out rates for primary school students is 30 per cent. The overall teacher pupil ratio is 1:46. On an average, there are less than three teachers per primary school.
Only 53 per cent of habitations in the country have a primary school, nearly half of all children in the 7-14 age group cannot read and a staggering 10 million children remain out of school.
If one section of India’s corporate giants, film stars and advertising masterminds are to be believed, all those who strive to improve the fundamentals of our primary education are fools of the first order. The answers are much simpler. Put a mobile phone in the middle of nowhere. This country will be transformed. So, we were all looking in the wrong place so far; we were all wasting our time putting in place a system of primary education. It’s not working, so don’t invest anymore — maybe it’s not late even now to do away with it entirely.
The advertising industry is bound to spring up in vehement defence — with the fig leaf of creative freedom and creative license. When it is advertising, anything goes; anything should be allowed to go. Responsibility to a larger context in promotion of a business is either for someone else or then good in corporate social responsibility discussions and brochures.
Advertising of this kind is a mockery of the hopes and desires of a large section of people who are struggling hard to get their children basic education. The government may be discussing a bill to make primary education a fundamental right but the industry would rather have people ‘buy’ than fight for what should be fundamentally theirs.
That might well be the way to turn the argument on its head. Advertising is a statement on society and the intelligent, creative giants could soon have us believe that campaigns such as these are indeed mirrors for society to look into and look at itself. We are not ‘selling’, we are only reflecting the deepest concerns of our times and our people. It is the most selfless kind of corporate social responsibility endeavour that makes us all realise how badly our government and systems have failed.
It’s a call to the conscience of all. And yes, if we further our business on the side, surely no one should complain. Win-win, you see?
We would do well to bear in mind that countries which are considered developed and powerful today have invested and continue to invest huge resources in their people and the kind of education they get. In north America and western Europe, for instance, more than 90 per cent of kids are in primary school, nearly 14 per cent of government spending goes to education and there is one teacher for every 14 children at the primary level.
Compare these with figures with India and the direction for action cannot be seen more clearly. This is where innovation, creativity and high quality messaging are most needed. That’s the idea that ‘Sirji’ needs to work on. That’s where the real difference would be made.