`After Bread, Education.`

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By S.P.Timreichon

Quoting Nelson Mandela rightly pointed out, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And according to Bacon, “Reading maketh a full man; writing an exact man and conference a ready man.” In other words education is necessary for an all-round development of the personality of a human-being. It also means that without education a person is missing out on many opportunities that this world can provide.

As H.L. Wayland has also rightly pointed out, “Universal suffrage, without universal education, would be a curse.” Even a nation would be bankrupt of any furtherance, if its citizens fail to have the benefits of education. For the success of any democratic system, education is a must. Imagine a country with uneducated ministers voted to power by uneducated people – that would be a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, in our society today there are countless of people who downgrade the value of education and say that if a person is a graduate subsequently he/she has had enough education. But this is not correct. Knowledge is far too advanced nowadays for an individual to gain without its specialized branch of study. Industry, agriculture, medicine, the I.T. and many other areas have become so elaborate and sophisticated that not just anyone can take up any job without being educated.

An educated individual will hardly find himself ideal in the middle of a hardship.  He would push himself to find an appropriate solution to the problem that surrounds him. An uneducated individual in all probability leave the conclusion to chance or luck. It becomes imperative for him to be dependent on others. In olden times farmers in India, who could not read or write, were cheated out of their land and suffered exploitation and injustice only because they were illiterate. They were deprived of their rights by unethical landlords, moneylenders and middlemen. Even most women in India have been suppressed, dominated and ill-treated because they are illiterate and had little or no idea at all about their rights. Of course the situation is changing today as more educated people help women to identify their rights. This is what education prepares us for. Therefore, education can also be an effective tool to help eradicate social evils.

The French revolutionary Danton quoted years ago, “After bread, education.” In other words education is one of the most basic requirements after food, clothing, and shelter. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, everybody has the right to education. However, the situation in regard to education is not good. According to the UNESCO survey, more than 836 million adults in the developing world are illiterate. It further goes on to confirm that across the globe, one out of every eight children is not enrolled in primary school, and more than one third of adolescents are not in high school. It is no coincidence that the majority of these unschooled children and illiterate adults can be found in the poorest countries. The direct link between poverty and lack of educational opportunities has been demonstrated many times over the years. Tomasevski in 2005 stated this opinion “Denial of the right to education leads to exclusion from the labour market and marginalization into the informal sector or unpaid work.” The World Education Forum, held in 2000 set an aspiring goal: to achieve universal primary education by the year 2015. Globally, however, more than 115 million children of primary school age do not attend school. The constitution of India supports the right of universal education until age 14 and has had a long- standing goal of free and compulsory education for all children between the age group of 6 and 14. However, India remains a land of dichotomy. India has not made the mark yet on primary education. Current status of primary education in India shows about 20% of Indian children between the ages of 6 and 14 are not enrolled in school. Even among enrolled children, attendance rates are low. The situation is worse in certain sectors of the population: the poor, those living in rural areas, and girls. Basic education is a fundamental right, and it is the responsibility of the government to provide it. The vast gap in opportunity that we witness in our society is one form of injustice. Clearly, we are not investing enough in education. I am more familiar with the situation in Manipur than in other areas of the world.

It has been over 4 years now since the RTE Act has been introduced across the country. Making India the 135th country to give children age between 6 to 14 ‘Free, compulsory and quality education’ as per the Acts’ main focus. However, there are many barriers to achieving the goals of RTE Act in Manipur and some of the reasons are shared below;

* A significant segment of the population still lives in poverty.

* Physical distance can be an issue. In rural areas, some communities do not have a school nearby and this may prevent parents from sending their children to school.

* Social distance can be an even greater stumbling block. In many cases, the school may be in another community of a different socio-economic class, caste, or religion. While discrimination on the basis of caste is now illegal, however, attitudes related to tradition and culture of hundreds of years are not easy to change in a snap.

* Gender gaps exist. Literacy rates are 21% lower for females than for males. Among those children aged 6 to 14 not enrolled in school, 60% of them are girls.

* Schools often lack facilities and teaching aids including classroom space, toilets, drinking water, blackboards, and chalk.

* Teachers lack training and motivation.

India leads the world in the number of children not in schools.  As of 2000, over 27 million children in India or 1 in 4 were not in school, according to UNESCO. And the majority of these children are girls. While the enrollment of girls in public education has increased to a large extent since independence, today overall female participation in education at all levels is still low (The Government of India’s Ministry of Education 2004 – 2005 Annual Report). The fact that India has a large number of primary school-eligible girls has significant impact on India’s national growth. This is a problem not only for India, but also for the state of education and gender equivalence throughout the world.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru shared his views on the importance of education for Women, he said “If you educate a man you educate an individual, however, if you educate a woman you educate a whole family. Women empowered means mother India empowered”. Education is one of the most powerful tools to help people come out of poverty.  Gender discrimination still prolongs in India and much more needs to be done in the field of women`s education in India. While the male literary rate is more than 82% according to the 2011 Census, the female literacy is 65%. This gap in the male-female literacy rate is a major indicator in gender inequality which prevails in our society.

(S.P.Timreichon currently doing M.Phil in Sociology, Gandhigram University, TN)

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