India, where my heart longs to go

For a few years, I’ve had in my head that I might want to teach children in India. I have never researched the educational situation there, but I have amassed a vague collection of knowledge about education on that side of the world, most of which may not even be correct. I see photographs of children living in dirt, poking through trash heaps. But I also hear, mostly in conversations about America’s educational pitfalls, how India and China crank out math and science geniuses by the boatload, then ship them to America. These students’ drive is intense, and all they want to do is study. They are no competition for our distracted and unmotivated youths of America, these conversationalists usually conclude.

I’ve skated on the tip of the iceberg, as far as researching this country’s education system. I hope you don’t mind reading a few statistics.

Here is what the government of India has decided in terms of education:

The legislative department of India upheld The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in 2009. It mandates that all children ages 6- 14 be enrolled in primary schools. It excludes the states of Jammu and Kashmir, which lie on the northernmost point of India, sandwiched between Pakistan and China. I see how this could be ambiguous territory. Also, children with disabilities should have a right to pursue education. They are allowed to transfer. Children from the “weaker section”, or lower class, shall not be discriminated against in terms of education.

It all looks so good on paper. I wonder if this is really the situation in India.

World Bank says that the number of out-of-school children was an estimated 8.1 million in 2009, which was a significant cut down from 25 million in 2003. Most of the students still not enrolled are from “marginalized social groups.”

Estimates of child poverty show that about 33 percent of Indian children up to age 14 are living below the absolute poverty line. This statistic increases a couple digits in urban India.

The absolute poverty line in India is defined by a number of factors, such as calorie intake and expenditures, and it is based on minimum living standards. Beyond that vague explanation, I admit that the poverty threshold is a bit more statistically defined than my simple mind can follow.

Another article I was looking at points out that just having literacy and a primary education is not of much value in the job market. It also says that “educational poverty” (aka no access to any elementary education) and “income poverty” are directly related. Elementary education has seen massive growth during India’s post-independence period. And though concerted efforts have been made to place children in primary schools, little attention is paid to the relationship between higher education and success in the labor market or development of the society as a whole. A few researchers have found that it is secondary education that cements the gains from primary education. With only a primary education, the article argues, it may be easy for students to slip below the poverty line once again after completing schooling.

So it looks like South Africa is not the only nation with a shortage of opportunities for higher education.

Article: Post- Elementary Education, Poverty and Development in India, by Jandhyala B G Tilak


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