Educating India

These are some new slogans we have been hearing a lot lately. Now the point is, India is tying to educate its citizens and she has been trying for years! So how far has she succeeded?

First of all, the abysmal ground reality is that India’s literacy rate is still below 75 per cent. Though the rate has of course increased over the years, we are not yet there. And we still have a long way to go! The adult literacy rate (15 yrs and above) is about 61 per cent while the youth rate (15-24 yrs) is about 73 per cent. Amongst the states, Kerela has the highest literacy rate and Bihar has the lowest. Nonetheless, the growth in literacy rate has been incredible. Most people know that literate females are fewer than their male counter parts in our country. At this point, one must keep in mind that most of India is rural and a bit orthodox in their thinking.

Today, as most of you might have noticed, English is becoming increasingly popular. Ever noticed that little kid who comes to you at the traffic signal? Doesn’t he know a few words of English? So would you call him literate or illiterate? The National Literacy Mission defines literacy as ‘acquiring the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to apply them to one’s day-to-day life’. That child may not have gone to a school, he may not even know that he was talking in English! Most of them today don’t know ‘Hindi’ numbers, but on the other hand English numbers are on their finger tips. It is the same with directions and simple words like ‘yes’, ‘no’ etc. How many times have you sat in a rickshaw and then suddenly realized that the driver knows English? Or don’t you absent mindedly give him directions in English? Or what about when you just know the address of somebody’s place, and your driver helps you point out the house? Ever thought about how he reads those house numbers? I wonder how many people have realized that the digits on a cell phone are in English and not in Hindi or any other regional language. But it is a common misconception that just because a person knows English, people think he’s educated! Most of them know English only because that is what they have grown up hearing. Come to think of it, the logic people use indirectly means even a 2-3 year old kid is educated! On the other hand, many people also think that just because a person doesn’t know English, he is uneducated. This is also not true. Many people in India are educated in their regional language and not in either Hindi or English.

Today, the government is trying to increase the literacy rate with the help of a whole lot of new programs. The ‘Sarva Siksha Abhiyan’ was started in 2001, and it aimed at ensuring that all kids between the ages of 6-14 years attended school and completed 8 years of education by 2010. This wasn’t the first program to be launched but earlier programs weren’t as successful. One of the most popular schemes adopted to attract children to schools is the ‘Mid-Day Meals Programme’ launched in 1995. The department of education has started Bal Bhavan centers all over the country to promote creative and sports skills in children between the ages of 6-14 years. They conduct programs in fine arts, aero-modeling, computer education, sports, martial arts, performing arts etc. Off late, new programs to promote the education of girls have been initiated. One such incentive is a fixed amount of money which is given to the family at the end of the school life of a girl child.

Today, private companies too are lending a helping hand to this noble cause, Like the ‘Teach India’ program launched by The Times of India, or the NGO ‘Literacy India’ which helps underprivileged children with their dreams and aspirations of good quality higher education or the National Literacy Mission which pays special attention to women’s education. Another foundation that helps educate the underprivileged is The Smile Foundation. Mission Education is a national level program started by the foundation which focuses on basic education for underprivileged children and youth. They are working with ‘partner organizations’ in various states across India. One can visit the following link for more information on the organization.

Infact, recently even a telecom company has started an advertisement campaign with the same theme — how to educate more people with less resources. It is something to think about. The idea is that through the concept of distance learning we can teach those who do not have access to schools and colleges near them.

One of the major problems we face is lack of infrastructure. It is not easy to create schools for our large and ever growing population. Today ‘good’ schools mean expensive schools, mostly private which most lower middle class people cannot afford. That is the fact—every year education gets more and more expensive. It is a vicious cycle—the more the population, the more the unemployment, and the more the unemployment, the more illiteracy, and the more the illiteracy, the more the population will keep growing! We need to break this cycle somewhere. And like they say, nothing is impossible! If each one of us contributes in our own way, we can make a difference. The government had come out with a slogan, a few years back – Each One Teach One – if we follow that slogan, we could easily help the cause. You don’t need to go out on the streets to find someone to teach, just look in your own house—the maid’s daughter, or that little boy who comes to collect the garbage. They should be studying instead of working. But yes since for them earning is important for survival, we can make a difference by giving them lessons. We just need to wake up from our complacent lives and try to make a difference!

Priya Ganguli

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