Published Online: November 7, 2001
Published in Print: November 7, 2001, as International



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Historic Effort for India

It has been 54 years since India gained its independence from Britain. And while the country has made progress toward educating every child during that time, education has been a privilege for children rather than a right.

But now, the government is launching an effort to ensure that all children receive eight years of free education. To do that, political leaders are seeking a constitutional amendment to state that attending school is a fundamental right.

Education leaders and observers from around the world are calling the move a historic stride toward achieving the long-cherished goal of universal elementary education in this developing nation of more than 850 million people.

The proposed amendment signifies "a firmer political commitment to ensuring elementary education for every child," said Suzanne Allman, the education officer at the New Delhi office of the United Nations Children's Fund.

As proposed, the initiative would be put in place in two phases, by guaranteeing five years of schooling by 2007 and eight years by 2010.

Over the past five decades, India has taken steps to increase the number of school buildings and teachers, and now almost every village has an elementary school. And so, enrollment in primary school has risen considerably.

Still, roughly 80 million of the 200 million 6- to 14-year-olds in India are not attending school, according to UNICEF.

Moreover, schools in the country are struggling with high teacher-absenteeism rates, huge numbers of vacant teaching positions, and dismally low student achievement.

However, Ms. Allman said the steady increase in enrollment suggests that "with strengthened commitment, additional resource mobilization, and willingness to build on successful experiences and approaches, there is a reasonable possibility of achieving the goals set."

Funding for education will also have to be increased, India's education officials said. The nation's Education Department is pushing for the government to allocate 6 percent of India's gross domestic product to education. As it is, a little more than 3 percent is spent on education.

Finally, the proposed amendment, while not guaranteeing education services for children under 6, says the state "shall endeavor to provide early childhood care and education for all children" under that age.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 21, Issue 10, Page 16

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