Monday, January 25, 2010

Education: An unfinished revolution

India's education system is a juggernaut. Over 290 million students attend educational institutions on a typical working day. Enrolment has increased tremendously in schools, technical and professional courses, colleges, distance learning centers, even coaching centers. In 1951, 19 million were enrolled at elementary level (classes 1 to 8), just 1.5 million from 9 to 12. Today, elementary sections have over 130 million enrolled, 37 million in higher classes. Higher education has seen a stunning 100-fold enrolment growth from 170,000 students in 1951 to over 12 million currently.

What drives Indians is hope that education will open doors to a better life. Here are some other numbers. India has the world's largest population of illiterates about 380 million. Nearly every child in the 6-11 years age-group is enrolled but by class 5, one-third have dropped out, by class 8, half; by class 10 nearly two-thirds are out of school. Only 10% go for higher education. In all, over 170 million children and youth in the age group 6-24 years are out of the education system.

Why is it like this? Experts cite the four Great Divides: rural-urban, men-women, rich-poor and the caste divide. In each case, there is a disadvantaged section, which finds it difficult to get access to education and thus gets left out. Back in 1951, 35% of urbanites and only 12% of rural people were literate. In 2006, 80% urbanites were literate but in rural areas literacy rate was 59%. The story of dalits and tribals is similar, although there has been an even greater surge in their desire for education. In 1961, literacy among dalits was 10% and among tribals 9%. This increased to 55% and 47% respectively in 2006, a massive increase but still behind more advanced sections.

Finally, there is the rich-poor divide. Among society's poorest third, literacy is about 46%. In the middle third, it improves to 65%, while among the richest third, it is over 72%. Though its gone up since 1951, government expenditure in 2006-07, total expense on education was Rs.1.33 lakh crore (3.6% GDP) is insufficient to educate 1.2 billion Indians. Forty years ago, the Kothari Commission argued that at least 6% of GDP should be allocated to education, but spending has always remained below par. Low government spending has led to growing inequity in education, as those with better resources get better education, while the majority have to make do with mediocre standards.

Source: The Times of India, January 25, 2010. This article is written by Subodh Varma.

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