The way ahead
Educating minds, lightening the underbelly – the sustainable solution.
The road to freedom goes through books; salvation lies in knowing. Being educated is when you get to terms with your existence. It is when one gets hold of one's past, present, and future. Without it, we are nothing but puppets in the hands of destiny, government and every institution around it. All the talk about human development and the uplifting of the underprivileged is nothing but a hoax if the state does not make adequate efforts towards educating them.
Recognising the right of children to be entitled to free primary education, leaders from around the globe have decided to include the achievement of universal primary education as one of the Millennium Development Goals. The very idea of sustainable human development which is being promoted by IMF centres on the entitlement of children to a free, quality basic education. In an ideal world, education for all sections of society should be publically financed. The bitter truth, though, is that the world is not that ideal a place yet.
Every grand and pious idea as this is bound to bump in front of brutal realities of economics – that crude supply-demand truth. Such is the problem with financing public education in developing countries as the state is often found wanting in terms of its financial capabilities. This fiscal crisis (often a mix of several institutional shortcomings) is partly natural, partly man-made. However, the failure of the state in such countries to ensure free, quality education for the underprivileged in such country often boomerangs and emerges as a monumental problem. The cost of educating them is often outweighed by the colossal cost of not educating them. Such is the story of India – a country poised at the crossroads between the glossy dreams of achieving double-digit GDP growth and sustaining its ever teeming population while ensuring that they get hold of their basic necessities.
Despite the Constitutional amendment where Right to primary education has been included as a fundamental right under Right to Life (Article 21), the grim reality of our educational system is there for all to see. The stark urban-rural divide, the inability of the government to ensure a steady flow of 'educated' and not just literate human capital, ready to take care of their employment needs without depending on the state's employment schemes, has been a steady policy flaw.
'Education', in the purest sense of the term, helps them in breaking the shackles of caste, class, creed, sex, and hierarchies imposed on them by the society – is yet a distant dream for millions of Indians. And it is where the role of public-private partnerships and NGOs becomes very important.
Any developing society under the march of a steady inflow of capital and technology can never be subservient to the state machinery in ensuring its basic human rights. The grandest of stories of human success in any society has been made possible because of the steady partnership between the civil society and the community. India's success story has been no different. As a country, we have been blessed with a vibrant crop of philanthropists who have devoted their lives towards achieving such pious aims.
While we often crib against the absence of the state in the most interior parts of the nation, it is time we must approach this problem with a solution-seeking attitude.
The practical solution about providing affordable and quality education to the underprivileged would emanate only when the civil society of our country rises and takes up the responsibility. The role of NGOs in forging a sustainable and solution-oriented partnership with the state cannot be denied. Unless and until, are private institutions take calculated, informative and philanthropically motivated measures to channelise formal education in the hinterlands, the hydra-headed problem of lack of education among the downtrodden will never be tackled.
(The writer is a philanthropic educationalist. Views expressed are strictly personal.)