A nation-wide survey has brought out findings which are, if not shocking, not very complimentary to the state of elementary education in India, which is aiming to put every child in school by the year 2010. The survey was conducted by an NGO in Mumbai, Pratham, for the Planning Commission. Now, for some figures. The survey, confined to two age groups–7years to 10 and 11 to 14 years–and conducted in a cross-section of nearly 30 districts in as many States, shows that one-sixth of the number of girls joining schools at the beginning of the academic year drop out within a few months.
On an average, one-fourth of the number of students–both girls and boys–are not able to write down a full sentence by themselves, not even when it is dictated. The survey had tested children’s abilities in writing, reading, and arithmetic. In Allahabad and Lucknow districts of Uttar Pradesh, nearly 80 per cent of children between 7 and 10 years, studying in government-run schools, could not read. The situation in private schools is only marginally better.
The country, which eradicated scourges like small pox and malaria, and is on the threshold of similar success against polio, is fighting yet another–illiteracy. We have to view the survey findings against this backdrop. Success may be far away, but that does not mean that we can delay taking efforts any longer. Any resolve in this regard need not wait for an auspicious hour or day. However, now that we are about to usher in a New Year, let us take advantage of its shade and decide that in 2005 and in the following five years, we will first prevent drop-outs, and then revamp the educational system at least to help children acquire functional literacy.
We are reminded of our President Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam’s exhortation: Each one teach one. Nothing can be simpler or more straight forward.