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Recently during an interaction with a notable personality from my town, I was pleasantly surprised about his views on Christian missionaries (neither is he a Christian nor was he aware that I am one). He said Christian missionaries who came to India a few centuries ago were ahead of their time. They fought social evils such as sati, child marriage, caste system etc., and were largely successful in their efforts.

Though the community is numerically small, its contribution to the socio-economic progress of the nation was profound and visible, he said. He added that if not for Christian missionaries India wouldn’t have prospered much. Before missionaries arrived, education in India was a privilege enjoyed by the elite upper classes. It was limited to gurukuls where guru would tutor upper-caste young boys. Common people, including women from the upper-caste families, were alien to this elite education system. When missionaries arrived they began to start schools for common people. As per him, India owes a lot to these missionaries, and many political groups are doing injustice by persecuting Christians in India.

Even today, Christians in India run thousands of schools and colleges. Hundreds of educated politicos, bureaucrats, service-sector officials have studied in Christian schools and their contribution to nation building has been immense. I believe this has become possible because along with academics there was a great thrust on moral teaching by these schools.

In recent decades India has made a significant progress when it comes to accessible schooling. It is hard to find a village in India, even in the remotest parts of the country, where there is no school. This is an impressive achievement, but with this other issues have cropped up. The commercialization of schools has brought corporates in the market and many a time it is competition among them—on the scale of infrastructure, guest teachers and grades—that leads to the loss of real value of education.

Due to government schools in every village, student enrolment has increased significantly. As enrolment has risen—and more students are completing more years of schooling—aspirations have risen, too, across the states and boards. However, the quality of education has been compromised.

Christian groups must come forward and educate poor and orphans for free and make education accessible to all.

We, as a society, tend to think that education will lead us out of poverty, providing better livelihoods and opportunities. But this faith is prompting new questions about the whole education system. While most children are enrolled in school, the question arises: are they learning? Are we adding value or just numbers and grades?

Also, because of the presence of competitive education sector there is a lucrative chance for stake holders to make profit, and in the process education is compromised. Many Christian leaders and groups have fallen for it, and, as a result, quality education is out of reach of the poor. When education is accessible to all in a society, the entire society stands to gain. Education ensures a fair and just society. If education is accessible to all, without any discrimination of gender, religion, caste and social or economic standing, the entire society can benefit and advance forward. Christian groups must come forward and educate poor and orphans for free and make education accessible. If we can’t make education affordable then the lower strata of the society will lose out, and the gap between rich and poor—already too wide—will widen further.

Christians schools and educators have a big role to play. In schools we need to create an environment that teaches social peace, public justice and national righteousness instead of self-centeredness. Today, there is immense economic deprivation and exploitation in the society, there is social disharmony among different religious groups and social evils approved by cultures that must be addressed by Christian educators and schools. In last couple of years religious intolerance has grown and the majority approves of, and justifies, it. If we as Christians speak up on human rights issues and show the constitutional mirror to the society we can change the mindsets of the people.

In today’s competitive world, there is need a in the society that should be addressed and responded to holistically. Because education that doesn’t ensures social justice, economic strength and political freedom isn’t education at all.

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