Sunday, August 17, 2008

The dangerous divide

Ending the duality of the educational system

Albert Camus, the famous French philosopher once remarked that ‘by definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more’. This observation remains just as applicable for the present state of Indian education. In course of perusing the annual report of Ministry of HRD, I realised that it still focuses only upon an inapt definition of educational dualities and addresses the same in an isolated fashion. In reality, our education system suffers from many variants of duality, viz. rural-urban divide, rich-poor dichotomies, and gender disparities, in addition to ever accentuating discrepancies along enrolment, caste, religion, and physical and mental disability lines.

The most obvious among them is the rural-urban rift. As per the latest data, only 60 per cent% of the rural Indians are literate compared to 80% of urbanities. Furthermore, the rural education is plagued with infrastructure bottlenecks and teacher shortages. The divide that forms the fulcrum, the drop-out rate, can be seen through the lens of Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER), wherein it indicates the ratio of enrolment in particular age-group. It explains why very few people attend higher education compared to primary education. Consider this: GER for the age group of 6-11 years is found to be above 95% which falls down to 70% for the 11-14 age group and further topples down to 40% as we reach the age group of 18 and barely touches the figure of 10% in higher education category. This occurs primarily because by class 5, about 30% of the students have quit studies, by class 8 about 50% and by class 12 nearly 75% have left the school.

The next and the most awkward divide is the one of gender; for every 100 boys one finds only 80 girls (as per the HRD ministry report). On an average, 78% of men are found to be literate compared to merely 55% of women, which further reinforces the point that the girls’ drop-out rate increases with increase in age. One needn’t be an expert economist to comprehend the fact that most of the time it is because of financial crisis that children forgo education opportunities. Among the poorest one-third of the lot, literacy rate is just 46%, for the middle one-third it stands at 65%, and for top one-third (that is the richest class) it is over 70%. To further compound this extant problem, there exists the caste divide. Among the scheduled castes, the literacy rate is 55%, and drops down by 8-9% in the case of scheduled tribes. While the OBC are relatively found to be at the most advantageous position with the literacy rate of 66%, it is again less than the other caste where the average literacy rate is somewhere around 75% per se. The drop-out rate of these class increases (average drop-out rate for SC/ST is 74% by class 10) with increase in age. Thus only 5% of SC/ST completes higher education; to make the matter worse, among SC/ST girls, the gender gap in education is almost 25%. The case of religious minorities is no different. Sample this: in India, where Muslims constitute 15% of the total population, one finds a mere 10% of them to be literate.

Finally, one might wonder as to what is my exact intention following the definition and presentation of outputs and achievements along the above lines. Obviously it was not to pin point the present discrimination but to suggest a holistic approach for policy makers to consider from all possible directions and dimensions. Otherwise the dualities will act as a drag on development, and even more so in case of India embracing globalisation.


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