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Letter from the Editor

Letter from the Editor

Perhaps the greatest mistake of post-independence India’s ruling establishment was the low priority it accorded to education on the national development agenda. Although there was a general consensus that the national education outlay — Centre plus states — should aggregate to 6 percent of GDP per year, in none of the past 57 years since the Union Jack was hauled down from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort, has it exceeded 4 percent. The fallout of this act of official omission is 85 million children (below 18 years of age) who have never walked through a school door; only 66 million of the 177 million in primary school enter secondary education, of whom a mere 9 million make it into tertiary level college and/or university. These statistics arguably represent the greatest national wastage of human resources in global history.

Somewhat belatedly, during the past quinquennium since this unappreciated publication was launched, the official mindset towards education has changed. To its credit, the much-maligned NDA government enacted the 93rd amendment to the Constitution which makes education the fundamental right of all children between the ages six-14. Since then the Union government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) or Education For All campaign has made a faltering start. Moreover last year, the newly elected Congress-led UPA government imposed a 2 percent education cess on all Central government taxes to fund SSA.

Meanwhile even as official government attention at the Centre and states has appropriately been focussed upon primary and elementary education, it’s also necessary to beam the spotlight upon higher education where standards of scholarship and academic integrity have suffered severe erosion. Beggared by excessive subsidisation of the small number of students who make it into higher education (tuition fees in government colleges and universities have been frozen since the 1950s) and shrinking capital and faculty salary grants, barring the few specially legislated islands of academic excellence such as the IITs and IIMs, the great majority of India’s 15,600 colleges and 311 universities churn out over 2.5 million substandard and unemployable graduates annually.

Now that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) treaty which was drafted on the premise that greater international trade and exchange of goods and services is in the interest of the global community (which India signed in 1995) and particularly its subsidiary GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) have become operational this year, the Union government is obliged to negotiate the entry of foreign education service providers — particularly universities — into this country. Should foreign universities and institutes be allowed free and easy access into India? If so, under what terms and conditions? These are the questions discussed in our inevitably first-of-its-type cover feature.

And in a poignant special report feature, assistant editor Summiya Yasmeen assesses post-independence India’s pathetic children’s rights and welfare record. Recently mainstream media has gone to town celebrating a possible scenario that gifted with the world’s youngest population, 21st century India can emerge as the back office and workshop of a rapidly ageing world. Is this possible in a society which spends a mere 0.9 percent of GDP on public health and welfare with children at the end of a long receiving line ? Read our enlightening special report feature before you arrive at any conclusions.

February was also an important month for our EducationWorld Books division. In record time we designed, printed and published Culturally Appropriate Policy and Practice (CAPP) — a first-of-its-genre three volume manual on inclusive education co-published with the National Resource Centre for Inclusion, India (NRCII) and the Spastics Society of India, Mumbai. CAPP I, II and III were formally released in New Delhi by Union HRD minister Arjun Singh on February 27, when he inaugurated the North South Dialogue III on inclusive education.

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