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

March 24, 2015 6 By Duncan Green

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)!