By Sanjana Sanghi:
We usually say, “Let’s save the best for the last.” But I’d say, let’s not. And with this in mind, let me give you the bright side first, because the dark side is overwhelmingly frightening.
On the bright side
India does have the largest youth or child population in the world, that of 470 million. In other words, one-third of our total population comprises of individuals below 18 years of age. What an invaluable asset that could be to our glorious democracy, no? Especially when enrolment rates of children between 6 and 14 years are something like 96%, with enhanced “basic infrastructure” in schools. Almost 42% of schools in India are meeting the Right to Education (RTE) Act’s norms of an ideal teacher-pupil ratio. Over 70% have drinking water facilities, there has been an increase of 20% in “usable toilets” in schools, and the mid-day meal scheme is operating in 87% of the schools in the country.
The dark side
This situation is complex, and its components are many. So let’s break this down. As for students, 8 million, that is 4% of the total in number, never start school. 172 million, that is 90%, do not complete secondary school. 30% of our children are illiterate even after attending five-six years of school. Only 46% of class 5 students can read even a Class 2 level text.
This situation is not just alarming; it is a full blown disaster. Out of which, barely 10% emerge survivors. I use the term survivors here to refer to those who manage to scrape through school, but do not manage to fit basic criterions of reading, writing, mathematical skills or socially acceptable behaviour that could fetch them meaningful and economically sustainable employment.
A major cause for such outcomes is the “no detention” rule stipulated by the RTE till Class 8. It has led to a complete relaxation in classroom teaching, and loss of incentive for students. Scrapping of exams till the above notified level has contributed to the reduction and eventual removal of any form of performance pressure in the classroom. Teachers’ salaries have remained stagnant since years, and contract teachers with little or no professional training are deployed across states.
These factors together, have resulted in a speedy deterioration of education standards. Once we subtract the number of students who fall into various categories of failure of our education system as mentioned above, what we are left is roughly over a 100 million children who are rendered entirely deprived of any form of education, further raising the question of how they will be prepared for life beyond 18 years of age.
Of many other things that these children who are deprived of any form of education are subjected to, I’d like to familiarize you with just one such trend in India. That of underage marriages. As though this in itself is not gruesome enough, almost 4,50,000 of all the teenage girls who are made to enter these marriages either lose or are separated from their spouse and find themselves in an inescapable web of malnutrition, poor health and ignorance. Along with their vulnerability to sexual violence, they are socially ostracized and made a part of a vicious cycle owing to, at the root causal level, a lack of literacy amongst them and their immediate social surroundings. They are then left to fend for themselves, often becoming victims of child labour, human trafficking, or forced into becoming sex workers.
So who is going to be the saviour?
UPA’s “knowledge economy” and BJP’s “Make in India” electoral planks will remain distant dreams if the situation doesn’t improve. Let me explain.
In a democracy, we usually place our bets on the government in power, that is, our elected representatives entrusted with the responsibility of wholly dedicating themselves to greater public good. I found it necessary to spit out their role because it seems to have been forgotten. The free compulsory education for children between age six and fourteen under RTE was a great endeavour, but would only be of any use in creation of the UPA’s “knowledge economy” if implementation had been proper.
The BJP government, that had promised 6% of the GDP to be allocated to the education sector in their election manifesto, has failed to fulfil its promises too. In fact, they seem to have digressed in an entirely counterproductive direction considering the 29% cut in the 2015-2016 budget allocation for schemes pertaining to education, health, child and protection. Arun Jaitley recognizes the need for upgradation in over 80,000 secondary schools but current allocations will fail to cover even primary schools properly.
An increase is seen in allocation to programs addressing child labour. Child labour is the most direct and immediate effect of lack of education amongst children, therefore providing protectionism against this evil while keeping the problem of poor educational facilities entirely unaddressed will result in mere perpetuation of this trap.
The gap between the ambitious Make in India scheme proposed by our new government and the Right to Education act is one of the most pressing issues in India today that needs immediate attention.
Poverty, exclusion, social evils, malnutrition, and lack of opportunity are all problems with a single solution – education. If the 470 million children of our country could receive a basic standard of proper education, not just limited to examination certificates and certain years spent in school, then they will be capable of contributing positively to our economy, transform from liabilities to valuable assets, and make India a force to reckon with.
Ninth Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2013) released in New Delhi
10 things you need to know about RTE Act