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March 24, 2015

Some healthy scepticism about ‘Citizen Engagement’ (and why I’m excited about MOOCs)

March 24, 2015

How can India send a spaceship to Mars but not educate its children? Guest post from Deepak Xavier

March 24, 2015
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Oxfam is going through its own (belated but welcome) process of ‘Bric-ification’, with the rise of independent Oxfam Deepak_mugshotaffiliates in the main developing countries. Oxfam India is one of the leaders, founded in 2008 and focussing its work on 7 of the most deprived states in India. It is rapidly becoming an advocacy powerhouse within India, running campaigns on everything from gender inequality to ‘Stand strong with the Indian government against US bullying and protect access to life-saving medicines for millions across the world.’  Here Essential Services campaigner Deepak Xavier (right) introduces its latest campaign on education, complete with interactive online infographics and online petition.

India launched its first Mission to Mars – Mangalyaan – in 2013. Mangalyaan reached the red planet in just 325 days, covering 680 million kilometres. Commending the mission’s scientists, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “A one-km auto rickshaw ride in Ahmedabad cost 10 Rupees and India reached Mars at 7 Rupees per km.” I do join

RTE campaign interactive graphic

RTE campaign interactive graphic

him in congratulating the Indian scientists who made it possible.

But it all makes me wonder what stops a country that can achieve such a scientific feat from providing its children – who are often called future of this country – with their basic rights? The Government recently estimated that there are still 6 million children who are out of school even after 5 years of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act). What this historic Act promises is just a basic right that every child should enjoy. It makes me feel even worse when I note that out of the total children who are out of school, the majority – 75% of them – belong to just 3 socially marginalised communities (Dalit – 32.4%, Muslims – 25.7%, Tribals – 16.6%). The proportion of out of school children from these communities is almost double the proportion of their share in the population.

The RTE Act has certainly contributed to huge changes in school education. More children are now in schools, more teachers are

India's cheering scientists

India’s cheering scientists

teaching, more children study inside a classroom, and there are many more such changes. But we lag far behind the targets set by the Government in 2010. The final deadline to fully comply with all RTE Act norms was fixed as 31st March 2015. Yes, just 10 days from now. As of now, only 8% of the schools fully comply with all RTE norms. In other words, 92% of schools have failed to comply.

The Mangalyaan travelled at 87,000 km per hour to complete its journey. In the 1,825 days since its implementation, the RTE Act was expected to cover the full distance – reaching full compliance. But it is only 8% of the way there. At this rate, it will take 63 more years to reach full compliance.

But we don’t have to wait for another 63 years to fulfil the basic right of India’s children as long as the Government and people of this country do what they are supposed to do. Just imagine where Mangalyaan would have landed, instead of Mars, if the Indian Space Research Organisation scientists had spent only half of what it costs to get there. Yet that is what is happening in education. Back in 1966, the Kothari commission recommended that public spending on education be increased to at least 6% of GDP by 1986. Today, nearly after 50 years after the government accepted that recommendation, public spending on IMG_20150324_090421education is still hovering around 3.4% of GDP. It has stagnated at around 3% for the last 15 years – at a time the country was witnessing unprecedented economic growth.

India can give every child its fundamental right to education. For this to become reality, we, the people of India need to raise our voices and demand our children’s right to go to school. The Government should become the real duty bearer and increase public spending on education to at least 6% of GDP within the next 3 to 5 years.

After all, sab bachon ka #HaqBantaHai (all children have the right)!

Mangalyaan_RTE

6 comments

    1. Hi Ken,

      We have been trying very hard to raise resources for the campaign from Indian people, primarily from the growing middle classes. Though it takes time and is tougher than raising funds from overseas, I feel it’s the way forward. Having said that, I do feel it’s important not to undermine the importance of grants to NGOs from overseas donors. Grants to NGOs from overseas donors will be extremely crucial till the time Indian NGOs reach the stage where their entire revenues come from domestic sources.

      On aid to the Government, India is now giving more aid to other countries than it receives. (https://www.devex.com/news/in-latest-indian-budget-aid-spending-dwarfs-aid-receipts-82915)

      As for the Government, it’s not scarcity of resources. To elaborate, the Central Government alone gives tax exemptions to the tune of 5.7% of GDP. Customs duty (44%), excise duty (37%), and corporate income tax (12%) contribute to 93% of the total exemptions. If willing, the Government can certainly afford the cost.

  1. Thanks Deepak for this excellent post and pointing out the importance of political will in ensuring the fundamental rights like education. It’s an irony that governments in our region claim they don’t have resources when we talk about investing more in education, but when it comes to prestige projects (like space exploration), or worse- military, they seem to have unending cash flow available!

  2. At the outset, I must say that I fully agree with you Deepak when you say that we cannot afford to wait for 63 years to educate our children. Of course by that time, like in Zeno’s paradox, the target will be that much further away. However, I also do not think that getting children into schools is enough. There is much work to be done on quality of education. Let us leave that aside for a moment though because this comment is about something else 😉

    I am not sure that I can find it in myself to support the comparison that you draw, perhaps inadvertently, to the Mars mission.

    First, I do not believe that the two programs are incompatible / mutually exclusive. It is not as if the Mars mission took away funds from primary education. You may not have wanted to make that point but it is a legitimate interpretation for the reader as a comment already shows.
    Second spending money on space programmes has, imo, actually benefited the poor. Useful to remember that better weather forecasting has been because of the investment in space program and we all know what the benefits were during Typhoon Phailin.

    I feel that comparisons and metaphors are useful in breaking down the dense language that we are prone to use. The London bus comparison for the even-it-up campaign was a good one. However, sometimes, and in your case they detract from the point being made.

  3. THE PROBLEMS CONCERNING INDIA TODAY ARE ”MINDBLASTIG”, AND CONCERNING EDUCATION WHEN YOU HAVE DIRECTORS LIKE RATAN N. TATA GIVING U.S.$ 50’000’000.- TO THE AMARICAN EDUCATION SYSTEM, (WHO DO NOT NEED THIS, BUT IT GIVES RATAN A BOOST !) LIKE HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL WHEN THE INDIAN EDUCATION SYSTEM WHOULD HAVE POURED BLOOD TO OBTAIN THIS DONATION !
    AND THEN YOU HAVE THE FAMOUS TATA- FLOPS OF THE ”TATA-NANO-CAR” / THE ”TATA COMPRESSED-AIR-ENGIN-CAR / THE ”TATA NANO-HOUSE” / ”ENERGY FROM THE HIGH WINDS AND STRATOSPHERE.” ETC, ETC,
    A VERY SAD STORY OF MUCH MONEY BEING SPENT BADLY, ALL PROGRESS NEEDS MONEY, AND INDIA NEEDS MUCH MONEY TO BE SPENT IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION AND FOR THE RIGHT CAUSE NOT SPLURGED AND WAISTED !
    BAD CHOICES BY MEN WHO HAVE THE ”POWER” TO UNDERTAKE THE CORRECT CAUSES THIS IS NOT PARDONABLE AND MUST NOT BE FORGIVEN !
    MR. RATAN WILL BE REMEMBERED IN THE ”HOUSE OF TATAS”. SAD !

    JACK VICAJEE BERTOLI.

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