NEW DELHI – As 70-odd underprivileged children attended prayers Thursday morning at the Sangharsh Vidya Kendra school, in a slum area on the outskirts of Jammu, the winter capital of Kashmir, the Indian finance minister spoke at length on the need for quality education for all Indians while presenting this year’s budget to parliament.
Despite such initiatives, which have provided these children of slum dwellers in Jammu and others living in poverty across the country, who otherwise would be out on the streets begging or rag picking, with education opportunities, India has long struggled to provide quality education to all of its youth.
“The government means business. However, it remains to be seen how that will translate in reality,” Ranajit Bhattacharya, member of the Annual Status of Education Report, a research unit of educational nonprofit Pratham that takes out a yearly stocktaking report on school education in India, told EFE.
During his budget speech on Thursday, finance minister Arun Jaitley proposed a program entitled “Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022,” with a total investment of 1 trillion Rupees ($15.6 billion) in the next four years.
This would include investing in research and related infrastructure to impart quality education to Indian children.
India made education a fundamental right in 2009, becoming one of 135 countries in the world to do so.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE) came into effect in 2010, and makes education free and compulsory for children between the ages six and 14, under Article 21A of the Indian constitution.
Seven years on, however, while India has recorded high enrolment rates in the 6-14 age group, learning levels have been poor, Bhattacharya says.
A 2017 ASER report found that by the age of 18 years, 30 percent of children drop out of school and are sucked into the child labor industry.
According to India’s 2011 census, there were more than 10.2 million children between the ages of 5-14 who were “economically active.”
Bringing these children back to school would require increased and more nuanced efforts.
“The government will have to decentralize education and look at remedial action. Do not disturb the existing school system but recognize the gap in abilities across a classroom,” Bhattacharya concluded.