Despite a strong and constant economic growth during the past two decades, India continues to face severe socio-economic challenges, such as education, health and poverty, which are closely linked. Improving education is now one of the Government’s first goal in order to boost the country’s economic growth. Plans are underway to develop academic infrastructures, especially in rural areas, in order to facilitate access to education for all.
Background of education in India
In the early 18th century, numerous European trading companies setteled on India’s coasts to develop business. In 1765, thanks to its control of the seas, greater resources, and more advanced military training and technology, the English East India Company takes over the Bengal region and uses its riches to strengthen its army. By the 1820s, most of India is annexed or subdued.
These events mark the begginning of India’s colonial period, during which the Company’s economic powers decreased, focusing more and more on non-economic fields such as culture, social reforms and education for all.
India’s education today
Education today in India remains one of the most important socio-economic challenge. In spite of a Government reform voted in 2010, making primary education free and compulsory for children between 6 and 14, some 300 million Indian people remain non-litterate. Gender gap in literacy rate also remain very high, up to 30% in some states.
It is true that the 2010 education reform increased consequently the overall enrolment rate for primary education (93%), especially in rural areas, but in 2011 despite this improvement, half rural children of age 10 still could not read at a basic level, over 60% were unable to do division, and half dropped out by the age of 14.
Public Schools vs private schools
Given the crisis of the teaching quality in free public education, most urban children in poverty turn to private institutions, up to 2/3 of all students in some urban cities. Although private schools do not offer any standardised assessment of performance, they are generally considered as outperforming compared to public schools. Their modest $2 per month fee makes them affordable to most of the population.
If Indian government struggles so much to set a proper educational system in the country, it is because the nation still has to fight numerous severe socio-economic challenges, despite its strong economic growth these past few decades. The major problem is that most of these challenges are interconnected.
Poverty and undernutrition
One of the most important factor challenging a proper education for all in India is its high rate of poverty. Although it has decreased from 60% in 1981 to 21% in 2011, 30% of Indian children under 5 remain underweight. To fight this crisis, the Government has launched in 1995 a Mid-Day Meal Scheme to attempt lowering this rate. The programme supplies free lunches on working days for children in primary and upper primary classes.
Modern Slavery and child labour
Consequently to poverty and undernutrition, many Indian children are forced to get a job in order to survive. Child labour has long been a major controversial issue in India. According to UNICEF, approximately 15% of Indian children are victims of bonded labour, child labour, human trafficking or else forced begging, although figures are difficult to obtain and remain very rough.
One of the reason why child labour is so widespread in India is because modern slavery is still very common. It is not rare for parents in debt to swap their kid for cattle in order to erase their due. Kids are then employed in the street, in the field or in plants for a negligible wage, with very poor health conditions. They are usually not paid during the three first years of work, considered as training years.
Languages and traditions
Development of India’s education system is also affected by some cultural aspects of the nation, such as languages and tradition. The fact that so many languages are spoken throughout the country makes it difficult for the government to develop a coherent national academic programme.
Traditions are also an important obstacle as many marriages are still arranged, most of them being prepared during childhood, often before women legal marriageable age is reached (18 years old). Women staying at home while men is studying or working is a concept that remains well-anchored in Indians spirits, in spite of the Government’s reform for free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14.
Another ground for low school attendance in India is the lack of quality regarding academic facilities. Indeed, drinking water, toilets and library are not present in every school in the country, which also shows important discrepancies between different States.
Amongst the nation’s effort to improve education, a special care is given to women as they tent to attend school way less than boys, and thus mainly for traditional reasons, like girls staying at home for chores and female infanticide and foeticide being still very common.