The Power of The Alphabet

Education is that crucial weaponry that every citizen needs to be armed with. This is an essential prerequisite for not only the betterment of one’s own condition, but for the larger goal—benefit of the

nation as a whole. It does not take much time to figure out how this magical remedy can became a panacea for all the ailments that seem to have taken the country in their vice like grip. Once the masses are educated, his chain reaction is likely to follow—-birth rate gets regulated, economy receives a boost, individual standard of living goes up, social evils take a beating, etc. No doubt, the dreamlike picture would take time to happen; nonetheless it is not a pipedream if efforts are made concertedly and conscientiously.

With independence, the people inherited a system of education which was not only unsatisfactory in its reach, but was also characterized by the presence of large inter-regional as well as structural imbalances. Only 14 percent of the population was literate, and only one child out of three had been enrolled in primary schools. The low levels of participation and illiteracy were ignored by sharp regional and gender disparities.

Since independence in 1947, India has taken major steps in tackling the problem of illiteracy. According to the 1951 census, only18.33 percent of the population was literate. This figure has increased over the years to touch 52.21 percent in 1991 and 65.38 percent in 2001. The increase in literacy figures in the post independence era is no mean achievement. However, worry steams from the fact that 34.62 percent are illiterate despite the innumerable programs that have been launched to tackle illiteracy. The magnitude of this problem is very high and constitutes a serious handicap for the socio-economic development of the country. The number of illiterates in the age group 15 and above is the largest for any country in the world. About 40 percent men and 60 percent women in India are illiterate, even if one sticks to the basics minimum definition of literacy adopted by the government.

For several decades, India was reluctant to allow external funding in the primary education sector, but this changed in the early 1990s. Initially, the government formulated its policy and plans, outlined its financial requirements and then approached the international agencies for funds. Increasingly, however, International agencies are participating in drafting the policies and plans from the outset. This has been the experience, for instance, with regard to the World Bank-sponsored District Primary Education Programme (DPEP). The funding by external agencies could lead to serious and undesired consequences, as is made clear by the World Bank’s role in the education sector in India.

On one hand, it expresses interest in improving the literacy situation, but quite unnervingly it has pressured the country to go in for cheaper alternatives to education, such as literacy drives and non-formal education. Instead of elementary education, governments were encouraged to provide five years of primary education, the rationale being that eight years of universal free elementary schooling was too much for a developing economy to promise its people. Poor countries have been pushed to opt for adult literacy and non-formal education, minimum levels of learning and multigrade teaching with fewer teachers.

The policy of the World Bank innovations, such as introduction of parallel systems of education and the replacement of the regular teacher is so critical, and it is tantamount to institutionalizing discrimination against the poor, a majority of whom would be Dalits (the oppressed castes), the tribal people and religious or cultural minorities, two-thirds of each segment being girls. Most of the disabled children will also fall in this category, earmarked for discrimination.

The government needs to do a reality check of the situation. It may take another decade to arrive at its targets if it goes by its own resource use and indigenous policies. However, if it falls into the trap of achieving minimum goals, even if one would like to term it mediocrity, through external funding, India will still be far from achieving the true power of the world. It will be having robotic minds that can perform basic tasks involving reading and writing, without having learnt the essential lessons in analysis, discrimination or appreciation.