Universal primary education - Does the government want an escape route?
It is bad manners to doubt the sincerity of a responsible person in anything he/she says. So that what Prime Minister Gujral and his Minister for Human Resource Development Mr. S.R.Bommai say with regard to achieving complete literacy, must be taken seriously, and without doubting their motives. (We commented on the Prime Minister's Independence Day announcement in the September issue of the Bulletin).
Mr. Gujral's latest announcement on literacy day 7 September'97 at a function organised by the Ministry of Human Resource Development is, however, bound to send a wrong signal. He said on this occasion: "Let us make it a rule that no child doing his 10+2 will get his certificate till he produces a certificate that he has made five people illiterate". It is bound to be interpreted as an escape route from his earlier announcement about implementing universal primary education.
Apart from the fact that such a rule cannot be implemented and cannot have legal sanction, it will defeat the very purpose of promoting literacy.
We have pointed out on a number of occasions that literacy drive (adult education), mid-day meal to school children, "value-based education" (whatever that may mean) and such other schemes are useful, but they are definitely no substitute for compulsory primary education. What is needed is that children upto the age of fourteen must attend regular school - with all the infrastructure that a school is required to have, and regularly taught by full-time teachers. Children belonging to disadvantaged sections may be helped by 10+2 students and other social activists after school hours, but certainly not at the cost of regular schooling.
Why can't the government and the bureaucrats understand a simple fact that as soon as all children upto the age of fourteen go to school and receive education there, illiteracy will be removed within a short span of time. It has been removed in Kerala, and a few other states are approaching the goal. They have done so through regular schooling, and not through any other "literacy drive".
It will be sheer dishonesty if the government seek shelter under dubious schemes, for that will mean dumping once again the constitutional provision "for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years".
R.M. Pal, September 1997