By Naresh Chaudhary
At the time of India’s independence, less than a 5th of the population was literate. After independence, efforts were made to expand access. But the fact that access to education was a moral obligation enshrined and was kept beyond the purview of an enforceable right.
The rural world is changing rapidly, and people need to be prepared to rise to the new opportunities.
Its interesting to note whether it is the true history of being the seat of knowledge or being a country of such vastness and population that makes it the seat of education- at least in terms of the number of mushrooming educations centers. In the statistics provided by UGC we see a sharp rise in the numbers in just a few years.
According to the Census 2011 the literacy rate is at 74.04% ,in case of females being 65.46% and that of males being 82.14%. In a snap shot the rate grew to 74.04% in 2011 from 12% in 1947, which seems an amazing feat but what slaps on the face is the fact that India still currently holds the largest illiterate population of any nation in the world.
There are various factors behind such snail- walk. One is the disparity in the systems of education offered to the different segments of Indian population. Two the gender disparities, it is needless to acknowledge that female literacy and educational level is very depressed in India. Three, even with the various initiatives and programs from the government, the massive gap appears during implementation of these program.
With the landmark law of Right to Education, one really is forced to reflect on how important it is to crease our the past. Whether it is the DPEP (District Primary Education Programme) in 1994, the SSA “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” in 2001 or the right to education, the implementation of the programs and the monitoring of the same have not been without flaws. The eleventh plan pledges a spending of 6 % ( of GDP%) ; around 50% of Eleventh Plan outlay is for elementary education and literacy, 20% for secondary education, and 30% for higher education. Impressive
figures but the question that arises is that, how much is really reaching to the 70 % of the population that really needs proper encouragement in education.
The proliferating educational institutions and their concentration into the industrialized cities and metros are forcing the populace in the rural areas to get enmeshed into the poverty cycle leading to further distancing from the concept of education, with a a long gestation period. Primary education, lower poverty ratio, female literacy and rural education have become imperative parameters for ‘ true growth & development’ but the efforts into them seems like water into desert sand with more than 70 % of the total children ( 301million) in India stamped as underprivileged.
What is worrying is that there has been a marginal change in drop-out rates and the situation of girls is worse than that of boys.
Even with the will for education, children and parents especially in the rural settings , face regular discouragements like long walks to school, deplorable infrastructural facilities, no toilets, low enthusiasm from teachers, who in turn don’t have too much of a encouragement in terms of renumeration and training. On the flip side the need for economic hands and helping hands of girls leaves the families with the obvious choice and lower preference to education. This adds to the low literacy rate, which also not only creates a negative effect on the lives of both male and females and lowers the economic status of the country as well.
Therefore when we talk to iron the creases the most urgent thing to do is to create a task force of Government, NGOs and passionate individual volunteers, who can initiate a wave of improvements at the grassroots level:
1. Improve accessibility to education and health centers even at the most remote places in India.
2. Improve the infrastructure, quality of education & teachers and the water, toilet facilities.
No significant gender gap in learning outcomes.
4. Encourage health- seeking behavior and also access to health centers, install health centers near/ in schools and also conduct regular check ups so that drop put due to ill health is reduced.
5. Establish pay scales; and trainings of teachers as an important part of the curriculum, undertaken in partnership with the community ngos to ensure implementation and utilization of the funds for the same.
6. Establish proper monitoring and evaluation tools for the program to ensure good governance, proper utilization of funds and Community engagement programs to be designed to motivate families to prioritize education and look beyond just economics and towards a brighter future for the children in India.
7. This article is just a spark to the much needed discussion amongst the ones who can make a difference. The success of the same will be when the privileged – in wealth, education, influence and power- will contribute effectively into the discursive and implementive endeavor on the matter. I believe in the power of one – in the power that each of us can make a difference.
(Naresh Chaudhary is the Country Director of Childreach International India)