India flunks UNESCO test in child education

Toufiq Rashid, Indian Express,October 26, 2006
NEW DELHI, OCTOBER 25: While the Sachar Committee report highlighted the worsening education indices for the Muslim community in India, a Unesco report released in Paris has more bad news for the education sector in the country.

The report gives India minus points (-1.7) in reducing the number of illiterates among adults above the age of 15 years in the country. According to the Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring report, while India had 27,30,66,000 illiterates in 1990, the number marginally reduced to 26,84,26,000 in 2004. This number is the highest in the world. This despite increasing literacy rate from 49.3% in 1990 to 61% in 2004.

India figures along with three other countries — Ethiopia, Nigeria and Pakistan — which account for a significant proportion of the world’s out-of-school children. The report says the children comprise child labour; children who cannot afford school fees; hard-to-reach groups such as those living in small settlements or remote areas where no schooling is available; children of migrant families; children in coastal fishing communities; those with special needs; Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe children; urban deprived children; and children from minority groups (read mostly Muslims).

India also tops in terms of gender disparity in education — for every 100 out-of-school boys, there are 136 girls. The numbers are comparable to Arab states (134), South and West Asia (129), Benin (136). Only Yemen (184) and Iraq (176) are worse than India.

On the EFA development index, the report gives India a score of 0.7. While 90 per cent children get enrolled in primary schools, only 79 per cent study till Class V. Only 71 per cent of these children enroll for lower secondary and 40 per cent for upper secondary. For tertiary education, the percentage enrollment is just 12.

Referring to a survey commissioned by the Government of India in 2005 (Social and Rural Research Institute), the report says a nationwide survey showed that 13.5 million children were out of school. The percentage for the 6-13 age-group was nearly 7 and for the 6-10 age-group, 6.1.

The analysis focuses on results for the 6-13 age group, in line with the practice by the Centre and state governments in India. The highlights are:

• The 7% rate of out-of-school children reflects 6.2% for boys and 7.9% for girls

• The 7.8% rate in rural areas is significantly higher than 4.3% in urban areas

• In urban areas the rates for boys and girls are similar while in rural areas they are 6.8% and 9.1%, respectively

• The variations across social groups were much larger than those across gender and place of residence — 10.0% for Muslims, 9.5% for Scheduled Tribes, 8.2% for Scheduled Castes, 6.9% for Other Backward Castes and 3.7% for the remaining social groups

• Among the states, the rates are highest in Bihar (17%), Jharkhand (10.9%), Assam (8.9%), West Bengal (8.7%), Madhya Pradesh (8.6%), Uttar Pradesh (8.2%) and Rajasthan (6.9%)

• By contrast, in the south, some states appear to have virtually achieved universal schooling for the age-group — Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu record out-of-school rates between 0.5% and 2.1%

• Surprisingly, the number of SC and Muslim boys who are out of school are higher than those for girls. This is not the case for Other Backward Castes or STs

The only positive remark is about the India’s Open Basic Education (OBE) programme of the 1990s, which has targeted neo-literates who have successfully completed literacy and post-literacy programmes.

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