Criminal neglect of child nurturance

EducationWorld October 2020 | Editorial

The 65-page National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, proclaimed on July 29, has set ambitious goals. Yet with each passing day, there’s additional apprehension about policy implementation capabilities of the bureaucracy and red-tape ensnarled government machinery, to deliver its exciting promises.

In particular, there’s rising concern about the capability of the Central and state governments hamstrung by severe loss of tax revenue in the economy which is forecast to contract by 5-14 percent in fiscal 2020-21, to double their combined budgetary allocation for public education from the current 3.1 percent of GDP to 6 percent as promised by NEP 2020. Please note this promise has been made repeatedly ever since the Kothari Commission first made this recommendation in 1967. But it has never been fulfilled by any government at the Centre or in the states.

The price of this brazen and continuous neglect of public education by government, and mute acquiescence by the academy and intelligentsia, has been very heavy. Just how damaging is indicated by the Human Capital Index (HCI) 2020 of the World Bank released on September 16. A human development measurement innovation introduced in 2018 by the bank, HCI measures the quantum of productivity (on a scale of 1-100) a child born today in 174 countries can expect to attain by age 18. Unsurprisingly, against the global average of 56, because of suboptimal education and healthcare, a child born in India will attain only 49 percent of her potential productivity when she attains the age of 18. Against this, the productivity potential of an Australian child is 77, China 65, Brazil 55, UK 78 and US 70.

HCI 2020 provides several other data points which measure the progress of nation states in nurturing their human capital. Predictably, contemporary India whose leaders and compliant television anchors are given to boastful rhetoric relating to the country’s huge achievements, fares miserably under all parameters.

A child who starts school at age four in India can expect to complete 11.1 years of school by her 18th birthday. But her ‘learning-adjusted years of school’ which factors in actual learning outcomes, is only 7.1 years — cf. 11.5 in the UK, 10.6 in the US and 9.3 in China. Moreover, on the parameter of harmonised test scores with 625 representing most advanced attainment and 300 the minimum, HCI 2020 awards India a modest 399. And perhaps the worst news is that 35 percent of children born in India today will be stunted — because of child and maternal malnutrition and lack of access to healthcare facilities — and “at risk of cognitive and physical limitations that can last a lifetime”.

Even as academia and intelligentsia maintain the silence of lambs, NEP 2020 forecasts the transformation of 21st century India into a “global knowledge superpower” and believes the new policy which multiplies government control-and-command over education, will “instill among the (sic) learners a deep-rooted pride in being Indian”. Lofty rhetoric is not sufficient; it needs to be supplemented with purposive action.

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