January 2008

Right to education

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The seminar titled 'Right to Education-Actions Now' was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Shiksha India, Aspen Institute and Institute of Quality, on 19th December, 2007 in Maurya Sheraton, New Delhi, India. The main sponsors of the seminar were: Ambuja Cement, Bajaj Group of Companies, Bharti, GMMCO, Haldia, Thermax, Sona, SRF, Organosys and Patton.

The centre of attraction of this seminar was Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, who called for accountability in delivery of elementary education and public healthcare services, effective use of resources and co-operation with unions in these sectors. Prof. Sen underlined the importance of expansion of inclusive growth. He suggested deployment of more economic resources in education and better organisation of public services. Prof. Sen said that resources generated from economic growth should be used for public services and public goods in general, rather than being absorbed only in private consumption. He also highlighted the issue of diversity. He said that India should ensure efficiency and accountability in delivery of public services through organisational reforms. Despite economic reforms, the slowness of progress on school education has been taking much longer to remedy. He observed that there has been some reduction in the proportion of poverty-stricken people. But the process could have been much faster if growth achievements are combined with ways and means of more widespread sharing of economic opportunities. Prof. Sen said that India has been catching up with China in life expectancy and infant mortality, but there is still a long way to go. Prof. Sen expressed concern at the shocking incidence of absenteeism and neglect on the part of many teachers, who come from elite background and who care less for students from disadvantaged sections of the society. He pointed out the poor state of school inspection system in India. To tackle these problems, he suggested positive collaboration with other social groups and particularly the unions of primary school teachers and health care workers. He said that an educated population can make even better use of democracy. He talked on the importance of democracy. He asked for the need for female literacy as it can have positive impact on their economic and social status. He said that education can have powerful effects on quality of life of even the poorest of the poor. Prof. Amartya Sen mentioned that the nature of education is extremely relative. He also praised the $100 computers-for-kids initiative by MIT Media Lab. He said that peer learning is essential. He said that the quality of food provided in the mid-day meal scheme (MDM) is poor in certain states of India. He said that there is need for looking at education for producing skilled labour force, which can be tapped by the IT, ITeS and other services sector. He said that poor people should be provided coupons, which can be helpful in accessing education. He said that education is something more than literacy. He mentioned that in Bangladesh, there is a law which says that the wife of every husband should read and write. 

Rakesh said that public-private partnership for constructing school buildings is need of the day. He said that there is need for concentrating on the 'Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan'. Vijay Bhakara talked on the accountability of the education sector. He said that there is need for measuring the quality of education. He mentioned about one census assessment report on quality of education. He said that the competency level of the children needs to be assessed, which has happened in Karnataka, India. He also mentioned about the School Adoption Scheme, which is running in Karnataka. Kalyan Banerji said that the quality of textbook is very poor in India. There is thus the need for good quality content, so that it enhances the quality of the children-the future of India. S Bhattacharya said that there is need for better implementation of already existing educational schemes. Governmental schemes cannot be substituted by other initiatives. Teachers' commitment and empowerment is extremely essential. India produces less number of engineers. There is a need to check why more and more students are taking commerce and management related subjects, instead of science/ technology. There is also the need to see why the system of Aanganwadi has collapsed in most states of India. He also mentioned that the pre-nursery school education system has collapsed. Drop-out is happening due to socio-economic reasons, he added. Students coming from rural background have hidden talents. Teachers must have the potential to tap the talent present in school children. There is also need to assess why there exists much focus only on English. He said that there is need to look at how to ensure accountability in educational schemes. S Bhattacharya said that the unhealthy competition in education need to be reduced. One of the biggest problem in Rajasthan is the transfer policy for teachers since every teacher want to be transfered to his/her native place.

However, Rajasthan has performed well in implementing the mid-day meal scheme successfully. During the 11th Five Year Plan, more allocation of financial resources with have been made on education, he added. He asked for passing of the Right to Education Bill by the Parliament of India. Jamshyd Godrej, Chairman, Shiksha India, talked on the importance of e-Learning tools to impart education at primary and secondary levels. He asked for the need of inputs from all sections of the population in order to make concrete progress in the field of education. He said that CII has been making positive efforts to promote education.

Gautam Thapar, Vice-Chairman, The Aspen Institute India, said, “In the context of globalisation, education assumes greater meaning. Greatness of a nation should not be measured by its ranking in global economic order, but by its ability to provide quality education. If we don't address the issue of education, our demographic dividend may turn into demographic disaster.” He added that the Aspen Institute India is ready to contribute to the promotion of education. The day-long session was attended by 200 participants from Indian industry, NGOs, principals of various schools across the county, teachers and students. The session included an interactive session with Prof. Sen during which he dwelt on an array of issues. The participants discussed future course of action to improve elementary education in India. Madhav talked on the need for educational initiative in rural India. He said that there is need for employing the rural unemployed in educational sector. In this respect, the educational initiative of the the NGO Pratham, was mentioned by him. But there is need for scalability of the Pratham initiative, he said. Anil Bordia, talked about the need for working with the Anganwadi workers. He mentioned about the Lok Jumbish. There is need for contribution by the citizens, he said. Education should not be made absolutely free, he added.

During the conference it was mentioned that the National Sample Survey is one of the the best surveys conducted by the Government of India, which provides a different picture than the statistics provided by the Department of Education. Motivation of teacher is extremely important for having a good quality education system. There is the need for developing a transparent and accountable institutions in the area of education. The focus of the discussion was on the mid day meal scheme and the purposes it serves.

During the post lunch session, group discussions (comprising more than 15 groups) were held, which revolved around several topics. Suggestions were provided by various groups on various topics, which include: ensuring better school adoption system, bridging gaps in education in rural India, developing teacher skills, team learning, etc.

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