Addressing gaps in the field of education

Education scenario in Mumbai

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: Only 49 per cent of the students between 6 to 14 years attend school.

That our government has a hard task ahead can be gauged by the fact that illiterates in India account for as much as 39 per cent of the population (55 per cent in the rural areas) far behind countries like China which can boast of a 90.9 per cent literacy rate.

And to think that ancient India ’s universities at Taxila and Nalanda were coveted centres of learning! Though the Portuguese missionaries were at the forefront in publishing and translation, Western education came into its own in India with the British. Today, education is a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution and is administered by both the central government and the states.

Organisations like the Mumbai Initiative for Human Rights Education (MIHRE) spearheaded by Allwyn D'Souza at Pius College, engage with educators and students in holding workshops and seminars. It may be noted that the Christian community runs the majority of private schools, colleges and other educational institutions in India, with or without grant-in-aid from government.

Significantly, the poor prefer to enroll in private schools although government-run schools are free. According to official estimates, the number of children between the ages of six and 14 attending school is only 49 per cent of the total. Illiteracy is followed by child labour and it is estimated that there are as many as 110 million child labourers. And that only one in five job-seekers has ever had  any sort of vocational training.

Last month, the Apparel Export Promotion Council was set up. The Institute of Apparel Management is India’s first multi-varsity for the apparel industry to expand its education and training programmes.

Now, the Indian Merchants’ Chamber wants to do even better. Last week, IMC President Gul Kripalani, accompanied  by IMC’s Chief Advisor P N Mogre, submitted a 100-day action plan to Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh for immediate implementation. IMC seeks to focus on skill-based vocational education by specifying budgetary allocations for existing institutions and creation of a National Skills Development Council consisting of members from various business sectors. It also intends to focus on an automatic access mechanism to students to fund their education at all levels through a ‘study and pay’ model of education rather than a ‘pay and study’ model, inclusive priority ending scheme, a ‘research environment’ at the school level and the encouragement of enrollment in PhD programmes, particularly in Science and Technology.

IMC has urged the deregulation of education, making UGC an independent regulatory authority for all areas of education, opening up the education sector for foreign investment,  implementation of the National Knowledge Commission recommendations.

The IMC also seeks the involvement of industry to sponsor doctoral fellowships to attract students to the PhD programmes.

As things stand, the US, UK and Germany are most favoured destinations for higher education. With over 93,000 Indian students at American universities, the Indian student population there is larger than any other international  group. Needless to say, there are  opportunities galore for  scholarships and exchange programmes pertaining to these countries.

For example, the American Alumni Association has been offering scholarships since the past 26 years. The British Council supports all expenses paid awards to outstanding talents in the creative industries; while Germany, a strong partner of international research groups when it comes to R&D cooperation, sponsors exciting fellowships to visit leading universities, research institutes and companies. Upcoming in August is the International Forum for High Potentials in Green Technologies organised by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education.

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