New Delhi, India was the location for mass public protests. For the first time in Indian history, people took to the streets to fight for education. The peaceful demonstration held at the end of November argued for children's education as a basic and fundamental right.
Men and women travelled from all over India to show their support for a bill which would make elementary education for children between the ages of 6 and 14 compulsory. Many of the protestors were from poor rural areas where education for children is especially bad in terms of facilities, quality of teaching and expense.
On November 28th following the mass demonstrations, the lower house of the Indian Parliament passed a bill which introduced the basic rights of children aged 6 - 14 for free compulsory education. Following the subsequent approval of the amendment bill in the upper house it has now become a compulsory Constitutional requirement for children in the stated age range to receive schooling across India.
With the right management and appropriate resources, this could in turn be the fuel for some of the greatest achievements in the 21st Century. However first some of the issues outlined below will need to be dealt with.
India is the second most populous country in the world with a total of 1 billion people. Illiteracy is thought to affect one-third of the population, with particular concentration in rural areas. Rural parents have been previously sighted as heavily responsible for this phenomena. Yet according to recent surveys undertaken by the New Delhi School of Economics and the Indian Social Institute, many unsubstantiated beliefs about rural families and education are totally unfounded.
For instance, the assertion that parents of rural children have little value for education was incorrect and over 80% saw the importance of education for freedom and self-defense. Likewise the belief that rural children are expected to work on the land and do not have time for education is equally fictitious. The survey found that most rural children have plenty of time on their hands and it is in fact the schools, teachers and expense that keeps the child away from education.
Studies showed that the factors for children only receiving on average 2 years of schooling revolved around the following:
- In rural areas schools have little or no facilities and many stand simply as a hut with a tin roof. There are often no toilets, desks, books, water, or furniture. This environment, especially in India's harsher climates, makes any kind of learning very difficult.
- In some locations, teachers have a reputation for being lazy, uninspiring and even violent towards the children. Once again, such situations hardly encourage children to attend schools.
- For some poor families, the financial burden incurred to send children to attend a government primary school in northern India is very serious and sometimes a deterrent for sending children to school
To alleviate such problems will take a great deal of effort & commitment by both the public and private sectors of India. In terms of the school environment, financial contributions by government, state, non-governmental organizations and the private sector will be needed. The new Bill requires children to be able to attend school within 1km of their home, this in many areas will mean the construction of new schools. Parents cannot be expected to improve facilities.
New organizations, committees, examinations, personnel and money will be required to help improve the quality of teaching staff, alongside greater government and state assessment, the introduction of teaching standards and improved teacher training.
For those families that cannot afford the costs of sending their children to school in spite of the fact that the actual education is free may require added incentives. The Government may need to come up with such schemes as providing meals, books and supplements.
Since the amendment of the bill, there has been action to address some of the issues of providing compulsory primary education. The Government has admitted that they are unable to meet even the targetted 6% of GDP on education and are therefore trying to attract sponsors for education-related activities, projects or even sponsors of children. Companies, organizations and individual contributors are being sought-after. Attainment of such sponsors is fundamental to the success of the new bill and the education status of children throughout India.
After 40+ years of procrastination on the subject of education for 6 - 14 year olds, the government has finally committed to making this compulsory. Clearly to turn this from a legal requirement to an actuality will take a tremendous amount. There is much to be done and this will inevitably take time. Progress will be watched with great interest.
Times of India
A Learning Experience
Back to top