India’s children and the Class Struggle

Fifty years into Independence, India’s children have little to celebrate: 6.3 crore (63 million) of them are still out of school. This despite the constitutional directive urging all states to provide “free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years”. The Constitution envisaged fulfilling this promise by 1960. Yet, if present trends continue, India is still 50 years away from reaching the goal.

Meanwhile, the absolute number of illiterate people in the population is steadily rising year after year. At about 50 crore (500 million), the number of illiterates in today’s India is larger than the total population of the country 30 years ago.

Even in the younger age groups, illiteracy remains endemic. About half of all adolescent girls, for instance, are unable to read and write.

The low priority given to education by this nation is apparent from the mean years of schooling, the average period spent in school by a citizen. Indians spend a little over two years in the classroom. The Chinese spend five, the Sri Lankans over seven and the South Koreans nine.

That so many children are out of school is a profound tragedy. Education is a basic tool for self-defence in modern society. The feeling of powerlessness that goes with being illiterate comes through loud and clear in any conversation with ordinary people. As Shankar Lal of Gadaula village in Banda, Uttar Pradesh, put it, “Anpadh aadmee jeevanbhar kasht mein rahta hai (An illiterate person is handicapped all his life).”

Lal was one among 1,221 Indian parents who were interviewed in a recent survey planned by a group of researchers based at the Delhi School of Economics and the Indian Social Institute. The survey covered all the schooling facilities in a randomly selected sample of 188 villages in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The survey’s findings will be released soon as part of the Public Report on Basic Education (PROBE).

The probe findings provide a startling picture of the schooling situation in India’s villages. To begin with, they shatter two myths that are often invoked to “explain” the slow progress of elementary education: one, a supposed lack of parental motivation; two, that work keeps children from going to school. The survey gives an eye-opening account of the appalling condition of elementary education in rural India — and of the government’s apathy. It makes it clear that the battle against ignorance is a grim one.

INDIA TODAY presents an exclusive preview of the PROBE findings. | Link

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