December, 1, 2003 Updated: 03:42 am
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More power to girls' education

Suhas Chakma

Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi reportedly took umbrage to UNESCO's 2003 Education For All Monitoring Report and flayed the organisation for making allegedly wrong projections on India. Dr Joshi stated that the UNESCO findings that India will not be able to achieve gender parity targets for both the primary and secondary levels even by 2015, were based on outdated facts and projections. UNESCO had cited India's overall literacy rate at 52 per cent against 65 per cent according to 2001 census. Dr Joshi also claimed that India would have an equal number of girls and boys going to school by 2015.
However, once the much-vaunted statistics of 2001 Census are decoded, the UNESCO projection does not appear to be far from the truth. The Constitution made it obligatory for the Government to provide free and compulsory education to all children until the age of 14. This was to be achieved by the year 1960, but could not be achieved and the target dates had to be repeatedly extended to 1990. The National Policy on Education, 1986, again extended the target date to 1995. The modified Education Policy, 1992, further revised the target date so as to achieve compulsory education for all children upto 14 years of age by the end of 20th century.

Although female literacy improved to 54.16 per cent in 2001 from 39.2 per cent in 1991, it was quite low compared to that of 75.85 per cent in respect of males. Further, out of 203 million added to the literate population during 1991-2001, 107 million were males and 95 million were females. The contribution to the total decrease of 31 million illiterates during this period was respectively 21 million males as compared to the 10 million females. An estimated 60 million children were still out of schools, of which, 35 million were girls. The problems relating to drop outs, low levels of learning achievement, and low participation of girls, tribals and other disadvantaged groups persisted.

The Department of Elementary Education and Literacy have informed the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women that as per the latest educational statistics, the population of children in the age group 6-14 is 19.2 crore. Of these 15.7 crore children are enrolled in schools and the number of out of school children in the age group 6-14 is 3.5 crore of which 2.5 crore are girls.

The National Policy on Education, 1986, as modified in 1992, envisages the concept of national system of education which implies that all students irrespective of caste, creed, location and sex have access to education of a comparable quality. It took 11 years for the Department of Education to formulate a scheme for education of girls at the elementary level. The Expenditure Finance Committee has recently approved the budget and the programme is still to be implemented.

The Kothari Commission on Education (1964-66) recommended that the investment on education should be gradually increased so as to reach to the level of six per cent of GDP. The National Policy on Education, 1986, also reiterated the investment on education be increased to six per cent of the GDP against the then allocation of only 3.3 per cent. After 34 years of Kothari Commission's recommendations, the allocation for education remains at only 3.8 per cent of GDP.

The problem does not lie only with lack of resources but also with improper utilisation of meagre funds sanctioned by the Government. Not only are allocations earmarked for education inadequate, even the funds allotted for Secondary Education from 1995-1996 to 1999-2000 were not fully and properly utilised.

Although the Government has launched various schemes/programmes such as the National Literacy Mission, Mahila Samakhya, Operation Blackboard, Non-formal Education, Lok Jumbish and District Primary Education Programme to universalise education, the Parliamentary Committee expressed disappointment that the Department of Elementary Education and Literacy in their Action Taken reply have simply repeated the objectives of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and have not informed as to what concrete steps have been taken so far to achieve the objectives of the programme. The involvement of grassroots institutions such as Panchayati Raj was limited only to West Bengal and Kerala.

In addition, 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 schooling. They lag behind the general population by as much as 15 percentage points in literacy. Barely 24 per cent of Dalit women were literate, according to the 1991 Census.

Of the 900 million illiterates in the world, almost one-third belongs to India. Yet, in July 2003, India required over 1.1 millions primary school teachers. Rather than flay the UNESCO report, we should take a hard look at home made 14th report of the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women of the Lok Sabha.

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