The Telegraph
Saturday , November 10 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Illiteracy’ rap on India

New Delhi, Nov. 9: India’s education system is marked by poor quality and produces “functional illiterates”, the chief of a UN body told The Telegraph here today.

“India has made a lot of progress in achieving education for all, but what kind of education is being imparted and whether there are adequate teachers are issues of concern. The result is functional illiteracy,” Unesco director-general Irina Bokova said on the sidelines of a conference by E9 (Education Nine) countries.

“Functional illiteracy” refers to inadequate reading and writing skills that leave a person unable to manage any employment task.

India enacted the Right to Education in 2009, mandating free and compulsory education for all children aged 6 to 14. The enrolment rate at primary schools is nearly 100 per cent now, and the funds allocation for elementary education has doubled in the past two years.

“The statistics suggest a lot of improvement in enrolment and spending on education. But the dropout rate is still very high and gender inequality is a big problem in India,” Bokova said.

Nearly two crore children enrol in primary schools every year in India but about 30 per cent of them drop out after Class V, and many more at the upper primary, secondary and senior secondary levels.

A report by the NGO Pratham and the results of tests conducted by an international body, the Programme for International Students Assessment (Pisa), have shown Indian schoolchildren learn little at school.

The Pratham report said that nearly half of Class V students in rural schools were unable to read Class II texts in 2011. India was ranked second from the bottom among 73 countries in Pisa’s international test on mathematics and the sciences for 15-year-olds.

India is a signatory to the Dakar declaration of 2000 on “education for all” by 2015. The programme has set goals such as free and compulsory education for all children, expansion and improvement of early childhood care and education, gender equality in education, skills training and an improved quality of education.

Unesco coordinates with all the countries on their progress towards these goals. Asked if the 2015 deadline might be extended because of the poor quality of education and limited access to schools in many countries, Bokova said there was no such proposal yet.

“We still have three years to go. We are constantly monitoring the progress (of countries),” she said.

E9 is a grouping of nine nations that have common problems such as illiteracy, high dropout rates and a large child population that does not go to school. Apart from India, the group includes Bangladesh, Pakistan, Brazil, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria.

Education ministers and policy-makers from these countries are attending the conference.

“We shall discuss the challenges faced by each country and frame a strategy to overcome the shortcomings. We will share the innovative initiatives launched by the member countries,” junior education minister Shashi Tharoor said.

The E9 countries are home to not only more than 60 per cent of the world’s population but also more than 70 per cent of the planet’s adult illiterates, about two-thirds of whom are women. They have more than half of the world’s out-of-school children.

Any significant progress made in these countries would therefore a have positive impact on the goal of education for all.