At a time when politicians and the media are engrossed in populist gimmicks and sensationalism, it was gratifying to come across an editorial on a matter of vital importance such as elementary education ("The continuing neglect of schools," Aug. 8). The Centre is trying to wash its hands of the responsibility of providing universal primary education by asking the States to legislate on it. A recent survey has shown that many girl students drop out of schools because of lack of toilet facilities. The pathetic state of school buildings is a shame on the country.
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Despite the Government implementing schemes such as Operation Blackboard, the District Primary Education Programme, and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the poor deprive their children of primary education in the belief that schools do not train them to earn their living. Rhetoric notwithstanding, our political leaders and bureaucrats do not regard elementary education of children of the lower income groups as essential to the modernisation of India. Those who control the education system are indifferent to the low enrolment and high attrition rate among the most backward. The result our country is among countries with the highest rate of child labour, lowest rate of enrolment, and a literacy rate that is far behind many Third World countries.
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All talk of compulsory primary education will have no meaning unless basic infrastructure such as safe buildings, toilets, drinking water, and furniture are provided to every school in the country. If States such as Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu have made remarkable progress in rural education, it is not only because of comparatively better infrastructure but also because of the active involvement of the people in matters of education. In many northern States, rampant corruption and teacher absenteeism are the bane of primary education. SSA and DPEP have no impact under these conditions.
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The editorial is a timely warning to the Government which spends crores on elementary education without fruitful results. Even private educational institutions that virtually plunder parents do not have clean toilets, libraries, playgrounds, and proper desks. Parents hesitate to complain for fear of their child being discriminated against. A committee comprising citizens from different walks of life must be formed to formulate norms regarding infrastructure in schools.
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On the one hand, our leaders are keen on widening people's access to education and, on the other, are indifferent to the pathetic condition of schools. Their priority should be providing primary education to all children. This will become possible only when the condition of schools improves and compulsory primary education becomes a law. In the absence of universal primary education, reservation in higher education will be meaningless.