children, education and then some

While this has been articulated time and again, it is heartening to note that even a politician (indeed the Prime Minister!) recognizes that having excellent education at the graduation and postgraduation levels is a bit pointless if children are dropping out of primary school.

In an interview with Rajat Gupta for the McKinsey Quarterly, Manmohan Singh articulates the scenario of education especially at the primary and secondary level.

The IIMs and IITs,11 the regional engineering colleges, they have served us well. But ultimately, if the educational pyramid is not right there are limits to getting dividends. Therefore we are making, for the first time, the most determined effort to ensure that all our children—particularly children coming from disadvantaged families, particularly the girl child—in the next four or five years have the benefit of minimum primary schooling. But that will generate demand for upgrading the quality of our secondary schools. We have not given that much attention toward upgrading our secondary-school system, and that is our next step. After what we have done in the last one year, primary education is well looked after. What we have now in place is a system which will ensure that all our children who are of school-going age are in primary school. But the secondary-school system will require a major effort, and it worries me.

This is a far call from someone like Murli Manohar Joshi, who insisted that lowering fees at the IIMs would end all of India’s Education problems. The interesting thing however is that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan was more focussed and structured than anything the Congress had ever done. Previous programmes like Operation Blackboard were shameful excuses.

Yet, education has never been even an Election issue in India. Once in a while, you hear something float by, some arbitrary politician making a very vague promise, and that gets drowned in the noise of crumbling mosques and burning trains.

At another level I think in India we just don’t respect children. If we do, we respect a group of children because they are ours, or somebody else’s. Because their socio-economic background would mean that someday they will pick up the big jobs and become the bada sahibs. This lack of respect for children is reflected everywhere. In our laws, where you can get away with doing just about anything to a child, or on our streets, where children beg. And the unforgettable worse-than-sweat-shops factories where little children weave carpets, make bangles, crackers and line sarees with gold.

And I make no emotional appeals here. A country which cannot clothe, feed and provide a safe place to sleep for its children (while it can apparently launch nuclear missiles, give its neighbour a run for its money and teach the world how to meditate!), cannot do anything for its minorities.

Etc. Etc.

(Link via Zoo Station)

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