Saturday, February 8, 2014

dna edit: Long shadow of illiteracy

Friday, January 31, 2014 - 09:08 IST | Agency: DNA
The states and the Centre have cut a sorry figure in UNESCO’s 11th Education For All Global Monitoring Report. The country is least likely to meet EFA’s 2015 goals.
Even after four years of attending school if a child fails to grasp the basics, it’s not his/her fault. The kid is paying a steep price for being poor. In fact, 90 per cent of such children, coming from the lowest economic stratum of the society, remain illiterate after four years of education. The literacy percentage gets better after two more years in school; still for 30 per cent of them six long years have been an effort in vain.
Nothing illustrates the fact that poverty and illiteracy go hand-in-hand better than these findings from UNESCO’s 11th Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report, which contains some alarming facts about the state of education in rural Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu as well. If 44 per cent of 11-year-olds — the average age of a student in class V — in Maharashtra and 53 per cent of the same age group in Tamil Nadu cannot perform something as elementary as a two-digit subtraction, it’s time to review the government’s efforts in providing education to the disadvantaged.
The UNESCO report must be studied against the backdrop of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the RTE —  the two crucial contributions of the UPA government about which it is extremely proud and emphatic. The Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra was hauled before the Bombay High Court late last year for its ineptness in implementing RTE in all aided and unaided schools in the state, especially in Mumbai, to ensure free compulsory education to all students till class VIII. In spite of Kerala achieving a very high rate of literacy — an impressive 93.91 per cent in 2011 — and narrowing the gap between male and female illiteracy to 4.04 per cent around that time — the condition in neighbouring Tamil Nadu evokes despair. These contrasts invariably point to the differences in states’ expenditures on education. As per the report, while Kerala spends as much as $685 per student (Rs42,949 approx, as per current rates of conversion), for Bihar it’s a paltry $100 (Rs6,270).
Tardy progress on the education front means that India is most likely to miss the 2015 EFA goals of universal primary and lower secondary education and youth literacy.
As of now, a chunk of the nearly two-thirds of India’s population living in the villages is still quite far from becoming literate, let alone educated. It also means that the figures of the 2011 Census, which pegs literacy at 74.04 per cent are not something to be proud of.
Though the Centre has increased its education fund in the 2013-14 annual budget — which is now 4 per cent of the GDP — given the ground realities, it urgently needs to take it up to 6 per cent of the GDP to accelerate and strengthen literacy programmes. True, there has been some progress in the last few years with more schools coming up in villages, a sharp decrease in dropouts and midday meals for impoverished students. But it is far from adequate for a country as vast and diverse as India.
The wide chasm between the rich and the poor in something as critical as education pricks the nation’s conscience.

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