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Atal barb in education spat

New Delhi, Nov. 10: The conflict between the human resources development ministry and the Unesco over use of appropriate census data spilled over to the opening day of the international meet on Education For All (EFA) here.

HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi in his inaugural address said: “The 2001 census shows the highest jump in the literacy rate in any decade since Independence. More significantly, for the first time, the number of non-literates has gone down by 32 million.”

The Centre had blamed the Unesco for not using the latest literacy trend available in India’s 2001 census. In its recently published document on global monitoring of EFA, the UN body had used the 1991 figures on the ground that the 2001 census did not have an age-wise break-up.

Unesco chief K. Matsuura used today’s forum to defend his organisation’s work. Countering the criticism that Unesco’s Institute for Statis- tics (UIS) is not doing a professional job of collating data, he said: “I am certain that UIS is doing a fine job. We should recognise that the collection, analysis and presentation of statistics will involve a long time.”

He, however, added: “We are looking more closely at the data collection systems and the need to strengthen statistic- related capacity.”

The Prime Minister honed Joshi’s contention — as also that of other developing countries — against developed nations reneging on their commitment to pitch in with adequate financial aid. “I am afraid the ‘Fast Track Initiative’ started by the international funding agencies in 2002 has so far been neither fast nor adequate. We need to accelerate the process if we wish to ensure that we do not slip on the Dakar deadline of achieving EFA before 2015,” Atal Bihari Vajpayee told the delegates. The Delhi summit is a sequel to the one in Dakar two years ago.

Joshi has already said he would urge the ongoing summit to put India on the Fast Track Initiative path.

Vajpayee also emphasised that EFA should translate into “quality”, and not just functional, education.

The education sector has been increasingly debating the government’s growing tendency to shift responsibility for primary education to the informal sector. Some experts have argued this would widen the gap of “quality and non-quality” education between the rich and the poor.

“The difference between the poor man’s schooling and the rich man’s schooling is becoming starker with each passing year,” Vajpayee said. “The difference will further widen the already unacceptable divide between the haves and the have-nots, especially in view of the fact that quality educa-tion is crucial for reaping the benefits of the emerging knowledge economy.”

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