The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The Union human resource development minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, has reportedly taken an affront to UNESCO’s 2003 Education For All Monitoring Report, and flayed the organization for making wrong projections on India. Joshi stated that the report’s findings that India would fail to achieve gender parity targets — for both the primary and secondary levels by 2015 — were outdated. He claimed that India would achieve this within the stipulated period.

However, once the statistics of the 2001 census are decoded, the UNESCO projection does not seem too far from the truth. The Constitution made it obligatory for the government to provide free and compulsory education to all children till the age of 14 years. This was to be achieved by 1960. Unfortunately, the target dates have had to be repeatedly extended. The modified education policy of 1992 further revised the target date by the end of the last century. But the goal continues to be elusive even today.

The 14th report of the parliamentary committee on empowerment of women provides the current status of the girl child’s education. Though female literacy rate rose to 54.16 per cent in the last decade, it was low compared to the 75.85 per cent among males. Also, out of the 203 million added to the literate population during 1991-2001, approximately 107 million were males and 95 million were females.

Figure conscious

The contribution to the total decrease of 31 million illiterates during this period was respectively 21 million males and only 10 million females. Out of an estimated 60 million children out of schools, 35 million were girls. The problems of drop-outs, low participation of girls, tribals and other disadvantaged groups persisted.

The department of elementary education and literacy has informed the parliamentary committee that of the 19.2 crore children in the age group of 6-14, the number of non-schoolgoing children is 3.5 crore. Among these, 2.5 crore are girls.

The modified national policy on education of 1992 envisages a national system of education, where all students, irrespective of caste, creed, location and sex, have access to quality education. It took 11 years for the department of education to formulate an education scheme for girls at the elementary level. The expenditure finance committee has recently approved the budget, and the programme is yet to be implemented.

The Kothari commission on education recommended that the investment on education should be gradually increased so as to reach 6 per cent of the gross domestic product. The national policy on education of 1986 reiterated this. After 34 years, the allocation for education is only 3.8 per cent of the GDP.

The great divide

The problem lies with the lack of resources and the improper utilization of meagre funds sanctioned by the government. Although the government has launched various programmes to universalize education, the parliamentary committee expressed disappointment that the department of elementary education and literacy in its “action taken” reply has simply repeated the objectives of the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. Neither has it illustrated what steps can be taken to attain the objectives of this programme. The involvement of institutions like the panchayati raj has been limited to West Bengal and Kerala.

Additionally, Dalits and adivasis suffer serious discrimination. In its 2002 India Education Report, the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration stated that discrimination continues to obstruct the access of Dalit children to quality education. Dalits lagged behind the general population by as much as 15 per cent in literacy. According to the 1991 census, barely 24 per cent of Dalit women were literate. Shockingly, of the 900 million global illiterates, almost one-third were Indians. Yet, in July 2003, posts of 1.1 million primary school-teachers lay vacant. Instead of criticizing the “foreign” UNESCO report, Joshi should take a hard look at the report prepared in India by the parliamentary committee on the empowerment of women.

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