Interview

Knowledge and Education to Glare in Every Hinterland of India : Minja Yang, Director, UNESCO New Delhi Office

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Information and communication development has been one of the major concerns of the United Nations in general and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in particular, since their inception. In India UNESCO has supported many programmes and activities relating to development of skills and facilities in education, computers and information science. The role of UNESCO in India being more relevant today when there is a knowledge explosion distinctly visible here, Digital Learning is trying to see the responsibilities UNESCO is furthering from different stand points like, as a means of bringing about desired social change, paving the path for free flow of information, and institution building. Minja Yang, Director, UNESCO New Delhi Office and Representative to India articulates all the fine points in an exclusive chat with Rumi Mallick of Digital Learning.

 What are the most critical challenges of education in India?

Without any doubt, it is Education for All. Enrolling all children in school, and retaining them until graduation with quality education that will prepare them to be responsible, productive and above all, happy citizens are challenges before India. The number of school drop-outs and adult illiterates are increasing every year, close to 300 million citizens of this country is functionally illiterate, this is more than the population of Japan, France and Germany put together.

 What is your vision for promoting education in India?

Education must be given top priority on the political agenda of the central and state governments. 3% of the national budget for education is clearly insufficient to make the great leap forward necessary. India’s productivity as an agricultural economy is now being matched by its industrial growth, and the IT-based knowledge providing services. So imagine, what India can become if the nation’s population become literate, and if the excellent quality of education already available to some can be made accessible to all! I dream of every corner of India, including its geographically isolated regions, being connected, gaining access by Internet to the best possible learners’ material in all the major languages of the country, and an army of teachers in every hinterland of this vast nation imparting with the knowledge that can be gathered from all the information now available on Internet, making learning an enjoyable exercise. ? What are the specific areas of education interventions by UNESCO-India? The UNESCO New Delhi Office covers Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, in addition to India; so our limited human and financial resources are being put into promoting quality through teachers education and literacy. We are focusing on content development, particularly for distance learning material, in an “integrated” manner.

 With reference to India, how is UNESCO addressing the issues of access to education services and information resources?

UNESCO’s interventions are based on its mission to promote the free flow of information, knowledge and data, and its major objective to build a knowledge society based on sharing such knowledge and incorporating all the socio-cultural and ethical dimensions of sustainable development. In India, we are focusing on this in a number of ways: support in the development of enabling policies such as the community radio policy and the national broadcasting bill that are now under consideration; advocacy and awareness building in terms of the economic, social and political benefits that ICTs can bring; reinforcement of community media access models which we have been building over the past six years, such as community radio and community multimedia centres (CMCs), and community learning centres (CLCs), where we experiment with a wide combination of low cost traditional and new media devices and the Internet for bridging gaps, overcoming barriers and accessing masses in their own local languages and culturally and context specific ways.

 Do you think rural schools in India are ready for ICT

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