EDUCATING THE BACKBONE OF INDIA’S FUTURE
‘A person aged 7 and above who can both, read and write with understanding in any language is considered literate’. This is the commonly used definition when we talk about literacy. When India became independent in 1947, the literacy rate was very low. The earliest figures from the year 1951 show that the literacy rate was only 16.67%. Fast forward to 1991 it was 52.10%, which is still quite low as only half of the population was literate. The last census was carried out in 2011, according to which India's literacy rate was 74.4%, with 82.14% male literacy rate and 65.46% female literacy rate. The latest survey carried out by the National Statistical Commission in 2017-2018 shows that literacy rate has increased to 77.7%.
Since Independence, India's literacy rate has increased six times. But the increase over the years has been very sluggish. The Global Literacy Index for people aged above 15 years is 86.3% which is much higher than our national literacy rate. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the United Nations has laid out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) out of which Goal 4 is about Quality Education. It talks about achieving inclusive and quality education for all, that reaffirms the belief that education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development. However, according to UNICEF, about 63.67 million children remain out of school. In India at least 35 million children aged 6-14 years do not attend school.
The above figures are pre-pandemic. In December 2019, a mysterious respiratory illness originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan and quickly spread to other countries across the world, infecting and killing millions of people. To contain the spread of the coronavirus, lockdowns were imposed. Due to lockdowns, transport systems, businesses and educational institutes were shut down indefinitely. India was no different. The government imposed the lockdown on 25th March 2020, which went on to extend for several months to come. While the lockdown helped to slow the virus and strengthen the Indian healthcare system, it had serious economic implications. Due to businesses being shut down, around 140 million jobs were lost and the unemployment rate rose to 26% in India. The lockdown caused the Indian economy a whopping 4.5 billion dollars per day.
Children bore the brunt of the pandemic more than anyone else. As the parents lost their jobs, due to the pressure of supporting the family; children were forced to do small, odd jobs to meet their ends. Infamous for a great percentage of child labour, the statistics for child education in India had improved significantly over the years, thanks to extensive work done by governments, various NGOs and international agencies like UNICEF. All this was washed away due to months of lockdown. UN officials estimate that around 24 million children will drop out of school due to the pandemic. Young girls who dropped out of school were forced to get married. Kids were sent back to coal mines, work in garbage dumps or in the worst cases, even beg on the streets. As economic activity increases gradually, the condition of all sectors of society will improve. The toughest task would be to get the children back to education.
NGOs working for child education have an intricate role. Such NGOs have been spearheading the movement to provide quality education to the most vulnerable and marginalized children in the poorest states of India. The public education system in India commonly known as Government schools is already ramshackle. The quality of education provided and the academic standard of these schools is poor. Government schools lack basic facilities like proper seating arrangement in classrooms, electricity, lack of toilets that hampers learning. Government schools are often neglected by the society and the government itself. This is where NGOs come into picture. NGOs spread awareness about the importance of primary education amongst the parents and community. Most of the NGOs working for child education use child-friendly and interactive teaching-learning methods to make learning a fun experience. The idea is to ensure that all children are able to play, interact and learn with other children of their age. For this, NGOs conduct enrolment drives where vulnerable and out-of-school children are identified and enrolled into classes. Some NGOs also run learning centers where children are provided after school learning and assisted to take a leap to formal schooling. NGOs working for child education play a significant role in ensuring that every child has an opportunity to build a better future through education.
UrGesture is associated with 2 NGOs, namely Amrit Varsha and Dadu Foundation which provide free education to underprivileged children. Amrit Varsha is based in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. It provides free food, general education, sports training etc to children from poor families. Their mission is to reach out to 100 children in the coming year and provide them with education and basic facilities. Dadu Foundation is based in Morbi, Gujarat and provides access to quality education, healthcare services and livelihood opportunities to children and young people. Such small-scale NGOs play a significant role in improving the ground reality of a region. Even through their limited reach, they try to make a difference in the lives of people by providing them the bare minimum which everyone deserves.
Contributing to such NGOs can change a child's life forever. By funding such NGOs, we can ensure that no child is left behind when it comes to getting proper education. Humanity is bound to face many challenges ahead. Creating a better future for the younger generation is not only a responsibility but also a necessity. Due to the changed scenario, it becomes more than ever important now to contribute towards child education. No child should be forced into labour due to lack of funds or facilities.
Education is important for the socio-economic development of any nation and is a base for ending inequality. Young generation is the backbone of India's future and the first step towards becoming a developed nation is educating the children.