Sunday, 27 July 2014

Education for all .

Ever since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in year 2000, primary education has seen major gains all over the world. There is now increased participation in secondary education and better gender equality. Better education has also resulted in reduction in poverty and hunger.

However, there is still a long way to travel. Millions of  children world over are still denied their right to education. Many leave school without gaining the skills required to be part of the successful workforce. Because of the stagnating economies of almost all countries, government budgets have become tight, leading to squeeze on funds for education. The struggle to meet the basic human needs every day is keeping lakhs of poor children away from schooling.

According to the Global Monitoring Report, there is an urgent need to reach the marginalized and harness their skills to build the knowledge societies of the twenty-first century.  For an effective response, it is important that the governments world towards protecting the priority social spending and make sure that in no way the education sector suffers, especially those institutes who are working to provide education to the poor and marginalized.
Out of the total out of school children, around 54 per cent are girls. Sub-Saharan Africa has the worst ration in the world. Besides, millions of children are leaving school without  acquiring basic skills that can help them get them a job.

Education for All goal can be met by not only  increasing domestic resources for education, but also by ensuring that the resources are distributed in a way that a fair share reaches those who need them the most. Many countries have introduced funding mechanisms that ensure that the resources are allocated to areas and groups that need greater support. For example, Brazil guarantees a certain minimum spending level per student, giving priority to schools in rural areas.

Just providing schools is not enough. Ultimately, what matters the most is how well the children learn. The quality of education being imparted needs to be good. However, the ground realities show that very little is being done to improve the quality of education. The entire focus of most governments is to send the children to school. 

International assessments have found that students in several developing countries perform much below the poorest-performing children in countries like South Korea or Japan. There are inequalities to be seen even between the rich and poor children of the developing countries. Evidence points to so many children failing to master the basic numerical and literacy skills even after finishing full school. The schools in several developing countries have been found devoid of quality infrastructure and teachers. In many countries, including India, there is a severe shortage of quality teachers.
Education for all Development Index (EDI)
This index, commissioned by UNESCO, provides a composite measure of progress in all fields, keeping in focus the six education goals adopted in year 2000. However, because of the constraints in getting data, the index measures the four most easily quantifiable goals: (1) universal primary education, measured by the primary adjusted net enrollment ratio (ANER); (2) adult literacy, measured by the literacy rate for those aged 15 and above; (3) gender parity and equality, measured by the gender-specific EFA index (GEI), an average of the gender parity indexes of the primary and secondary gross enrollment ratios and of the adult literacy rate; (4) quality of education, measured by the survival rate to grade five.

According to the 2013 Index report, basic education is currently underfunded by US$26 billion a year. The governments, it says, simply cannot afford to reduce investment in education. The report also calls for exploring new ways to fund the urgent needs.

The highlights of the 2013 report are:
  • In 2012, 25% of children under 5 suffered from stunting. In 2011, around half of young children had access to pre-primary education, and in sub-Saharan Africa the share was only 18%.
  • The number of children out of school was 57 million in 2011, half of whom lived in conflict-affected countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 23% of poor girls in rural areas were completing primary education by the end of the decade. If recent trends in the region continue, the richest boys will achieve universal primary completion in 2021, but the poorest girls will not catch up until 2086.
  • Even though gender parity was supposed to be achieved by 2005, in 2011 only 60% of countries had achieved this goal at the primary level and 38% at the secondary level.
  • In 2011, 69 million adolescents were out of school, with little improvement in this number since 2004. In low income countries, only 37% of adolescents complete lower secondary education, and the rate is as low as 14% for the poorest. On recent trends, girls from the poorest families in sub-Saharan Africa are only expected to achieve lower secondary completion in 2111.
  • Around 250 million children are not learning basic skills, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. The annual cost of this failure, around US$129 billion. Investing in teachers is key: in around a third of countries, less than 75% of primary school teachers are trained according to national standards. And in a third of countries, the challenge of training existing teachers is worse than that of recruiting and training new teachers.
  • In 2011, there were 774 million illiterate adults, a decline of just 1% since 2000. The number is projected to fall only slightly, to 743 million, by 2015. Almost two-thirds of illiterate adults are women. The poorest young women in developing countries may not achieve universal literacy until 2072.
    Education Scenario of India
    Since independence, India has made remarkable strides in literacy improvement. As per the 2011 Census, the literacy rate of India increased to 74.04 per cent in 2011, from 18.33% in 1951. There has been a sharp rise in the literacy of females over males in last one decade. States and Union Territories like Goa, Mizoram, Kerala, Tripura, Chandigarh, Puducherry, Daman and Diu and Delhi have attained a literacy rate of almost 85 per cent.

    Several programmes have been initiated by the Union government to achieve the goal of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE). One major programme was Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), launched in 2001, that aimed at achieving universal elementary education of satisfactory quality by 2010. Today, India has the world's largest network of  elementary education system. Universal provision of education has been substantially achieved at the primary stage (classes I-V). 

    Despite  significant achievements in recent years, serious problems of gender, regional, sectional and caste disparities continue to effect. Due to economic as well as cultural factors, a huge percentage of children continue to drop out. Shortage of teachers, lack of adequate infrastructure and poor quality of education being imparted are some of the aspects that need urgent attention and rectification. 

    Despite rapid strides in improving the education and literacy scenario, India continues to have the largest number of illiterates and out of school children in the world, and universalization of elementary education continues to remain a formidable challenge.

    One of the biggest challenges is improvement of skills of the teachers, as also their motivation levels. Teachers of government schools, especially State-aided schools continue to be under-paid. Many appointments are ad-hoc and selection processes are flawed, as also politically motivated. Community participation is very low. In many schools, the access, retention, and the quality of education being provided is questionable.
    The economic development of any country is built around its educational development and India is no exception. However, the cpacity of the government to pay for education is limited. Private and other investments in education can be one solution to limited government resources. The percentage of funds being made available to the development of the education sector certainly needs to be increased substantially to provide reasonable levels of quality education to all. 

    To improve the quality of education more focus has to be on research and development, which is the weak spot of the country at present. A weak system endangers the life of the intervention, its sustainability and impact.

    It is also important that the education system imbibes ethical values in our children. While there are no set ethical values that gaurantee success, it is important that the societal values match with the organisational values. The education system has to be geared to inculcate values such as wisdom, humility, rationality, intellectualism etc. at all levels.

    Right to Education Act: The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 (The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act) inserted Article 21-A in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine. Article 21-A and the RTE Act came into effect on 1 April 2010.
    The main provisions of RTE Act are:
    • Every child between the age of six to fourteen years, shall have the right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school, till completion of elementary education.
    • For this purpose, no child shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education.
    • Where a child above six years of age has not been admitted to any school or though admitted, could not complete his or her elementary education, then, he or she shall be admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age.
    • For carrying out the provisions of this Act, the appropriate government and local authority shall establish a school, if it is not established, within the given area, within a period of three years, from the commencement of this Act.
    • The Central and the State Governments shall have concurrent responsibility for providing funds for carrying out the provisions of this Act.
    • It also stipulates that private schools reserve 25 per cent of seats at the entry level for children belonging to 'disadvantaged groups' and 'weaker sections'.

    The enforcement of the Right to Education Act  was a historic step that brought India closer to achieving the objectives of Education for All (EFA), as also the Millennium Development Goal.