Class act? That's a cruel joke

Jun 09, 2011

India's education system is staggeringly huge. Its 300 million students and 6.5 million teachers could make up the world's fourth largest country. In this otherwise sleepy behemoth, far-reaching changes have been taking place in recent years.

Enrolment in primary classes is touching 100%. Over 120 million kids are getting free mid-day meals at school. The literacy rate has increased to almost 75%. The right to education has been enshrined as a law. There has been a surge of interest and attention towards education, largely because people no longer are willing to let their children stagnate in backwardness. Education is increasingly being seen as the door to a better life.

This momentum and the accompanying euphoria, however, hide a stark truth that many are unable to see: that the education system continues to suffer from four great divides. These are — ruralurban, men-women, rich-poor and between castes. These divides are built into the system. As a result, vast millions on the wrong side of these divides are denied the benefits of modern education, their dream of prosperity crushed.


Take the case of scheduled castes and tribes. They account for about a quarter of the population. Recent years have seen an intense urge in them to get educated. At the elementary (Class VIII) level, gross
enrolment ratios, that is, the ratio of those enrolled to the total number of children in the 6-14 year age group, have increased at a faster rate for dalits and tribals than for other sections.

But look beyond the elementary level and you see a grim picture. The drop-out rate for dalits is about 53% and for tribals a staggering 63%. This is way above the average for the country, which is 43%, in itself a pretty high figure. In some large states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan, over 50% of dalit children do not go beyond Class V. In other words, vulnerable sections like dalits and tribals, who are also among the poorest, are not able to continue educating their children.

By Subodh Varma

Showcasing a 'pro-poor' agenda in tribal heartland

Jun 07, 2011

Banswara (Rajasthan) -  It was another flagship scheme for rural India, only this time the setting changed from a poverty-stricken region of Andhra Pradesh to a tribal heartland in Rajasthan.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is back to showcasing its "pro-poor" agenda by launching a livelihood mission even as it battles widespread public perception that it has lost the plot.

UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi last week travelled to the tribal heartland of Banswara district to inaugurate the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) which officials say is a "revolutionary" measure. It aims to enhance the incomes of 70 million below-poverty-line (BPL) rural households through self-managed self-help groups (SHGs).  It provides for training in income-enhancing skills and financial subsidies so that the rural family comes out of poverty.

Banswara has over 72 percent tribal population and low levels of literacy. Located on the southernmost part of Rajasthan, it has several tribal districts in its vicinity, including Jhabua, Dhar and Barwani in Madhya Pradesh and Dahod in Gujarat besides Rajasthan's Dungarpur and Udaipur.

"The scheme had to be launched from an area which has problems of poverty and illiteracy. Banswara, along with neighbouring districts, is part of the state's tribal subplan," Raghuvir Singh Meena, the Congress MP from Udaipur, told IANS.  He said Rajasthan was chosen as a state for the launch of the scheme as it has sincerely implemented other central government schemes.

The livelihood mission seeks to build on the wide acceptability of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which was launched in 2006 by the UPA in its first term in Anantpur, one of the most backward regions of the country in Andhra Pradesh.

NREGA, which guarantees 100 days of employment a year to rural households, is believed to have contributed to the Congress' electoral success in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
Asked if NRLM would benefit the Congress, Meena said, "People appreciate those who work."

With the Congress out of power in tribal dominated states, including Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, Rajasthan emerged as a preferred choice.  According to the 2001 census, the female literacy in Banswara is just 28.43 percent while the average literacy figure stands at 44.63 percent compared to the national rate of 64 percent. The national figure has now risen to 74 percent.  Former rural development minister C.P. Joshi also pushed for the scheme to be launched from his native state of Rajasthan.

"There are a large number of vacancies in schools here and medical facilities are not enough. The launch of NRLM from this district signifies the commitment of the Congress to reach out to the tribals and poor," Rajasthan Tribal Area Development Minister Mahendrajeet Singh Malviya told IANS.

NRLM aims to reach all blocks of the country by the end of the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17) and aims to involve at least one member of the 70 million rural BPL families, preferably women, in SHGs.

Local people in Banswara did seem to be aware of NRLM and said any programme that helps them organise SHGs and enhances their skills was welcome.

"If we can borrow money to buy a buffalo, we can have surplus milk for the family. If all surplus milk is pooled together, it can be sent to a dairy and can earn us money," Geeta, a resident of Banswara, told the visiting IANS correspondent.

NRLM will also involve the private sector in training and job placement of rural youth. "If  industry wants people with a particular skill, it can train local youth," the official added.
Ministry officials said NRLM was "a revolutionary step" and its core belief was that the poor have a strong desire and innate capability to come out of poverty.

By Prashant Sood