The inclusion of education as a fundamental right in the Constitution of India is best described as delusionary. It says all but does nothing! With the dawn of 2008, the Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report, released by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a reaffirmation of India’s poor performance in alleviating illiteracy and the complete absence of drive in the programmes that the government is running to tackle the problem. A staggering 35 per cent of the world’s total illiterate population are India’s liability. Simply put, India has the largest number of illiterate people in the world.
The 2001 census puts the figure at 296 million. Although, India’s literacy rate has improved from 44 per cent in 1981 to 65 per cent in 2001, a lot remains to be done. Koichiro Mastuura, Director-General of UNESCO, says: “Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, three highly populated countries, continue to face major challenges, in terms of both the high number of illiterates and the deep disparities that exist between urban and rural areas. This poses a serious obstacle to national efforts to achieve Education for All and eradicate poverty.” India’s ranking has fallen from 100 out of 129 countries in the EFA Report 2007 to 105 out of 127 in EFA Report 2008. India is at the rock bottom of the list where mostly countries from sub-Saharan Africa are placed.
The UNESCO has defined six EFA goals covering all the major aspects of education such as addressing issues of gender disparity, regional disparity and accessibility of schools to vulnerable and backward classes along with improvement in quality of education. It also mentions deadlines for attainment of goals like removal of gender disparity by 2005 and universalisation of education by 2015. India has already missed the bus on universal primary education, gender parity and total literacy. It has performed very poorly almost on all the counts. In fact, it is a nearly impossible scenario where all the children of school-going age in India would go to schools by 2015, as envisioned and expressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the release of the EFA report. Although, the EFA report speaks highly of India’s “revolution in distance learning” and of programmes like Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, these efforts should not be a reason for solace. India hasn’t achieved the target of eliminating gender disparities by 2005 and there is a high probability of not achieving total literacy by 2015. There are regional disparities which is also a cause of concern as highlighted by the report. There is a huge gap in the literacy levels in Kerela and Bihar which define the ends of the spectrum on the band of regional literacy levels. Little change has been seen since 1991 regarding the level of regional disparity. Gender parity is also lacking. Despite the success of women oriented programmes such as Mahila Samakhya and Kasturba Balika Vidyalaya which have led to an increase in enrolments, dropout rates have remained high owing primarily to the household work that girls are entrusted with, especially sibling care. Similarly, disadvantaged children, especially from rural areas and urban slums, continue to be deprived of education facilities. In fact, the quality of education imparted in the schools which are running under the government themselves lack in the quality required to make education meaningful, and the report comes down heavily on this point. It says, “There is a pressing need for significant improvement across entire EFA spectrum.”
Educationists and social scientists have persistently reminded the government of the target areas that it should commit itself to if the threatening problem of illiteracy has to be solved effectively. And less surprisingly, the guidelines recommended by the educationists have been along the same lines that the report has suggested, but there has been no change in the government stance and it has all fallen on deaf ears. National Knowledge Commission, headed by Sam Pitroda, has been continuously writing to the government, spelling out a list of actions which, if followed by the government, can go a long way in solving the problem at hand. Educationists have unequivocally agreed that education demands attention from the centre and it cannot be pushed under the carpet as a state subject. The centre has to play the catalyst and allocate appropriate funds for the development of human capital. India barely spends 4.1 per cent of its gross domestic product on education, especially school education, which is grossly inadequate in face of the humungous populace in dire need of education facilities. The investment in education by the government is directly proportional to the quality of education imparted in the already existing schools and negates the positive results that can be expected to be drawn out of the programmes that the government has undertaken. Hence, stepping up of funds and increased participation by the central government is a crucial step that has to be put into action sooner or later. We expect more from the United Progressive Alliance government which is committed to the cause of education. Enrolment has increased but this should not provide any comfort to the government about its education policies as the dropout rates have remained stubbornly high and the staggering number of illiterate population speaks for itself.
Another matter of concern is the literacy programmes for adults which have taken a backseat with the current government. National Knowledge Commission says that none of the aspects of education can afforded to be neglected and it has given this wise statement based on national and regional conferences held on education.
The government has a long way to go to enhance the quality and quantity of education among Indians. Despite India’s marvellous economic performance on the international platform, the rate of growth of expertise of human capital has largely remained an unattained dream. The economic performance is not sustainable if not matched by a growing human capital base. India is currently a land of young people and if these young brains are not educated, they will paralyse the nation and a golden opportunity would have been lost.