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Chethan Kumar,TNN | Jul 27, 2015, 04.47 AM IST
Around 3% of the total 20.4 crore school-going children in the country are deprived of their right to education. (AP file photo used only for representation)
BENGALURU: A Union government-backed survey has revealed a disturbing trend: in the six years since the Right to Education Act, around 60 lakh children between ages six and 13 years remain unschooled in the country.
While children from Scheduled Castes and Tribes form 49% (29.73 lakh) of the deprived kids, those from Other Backward Classes constitute 36%, which shows RTE has brought little change in the lives of marginal groups. At 77%, a majority of out-of-school (OOS) children are in rural areas. Besides, 15.57 lakh Muslim children too are out of school, comprising 25% of unschooled children.
Speaking to TOI from Delhi, Rakesh Senger, director, Victim Assistance and Campaign at Bachpan Bachao Andolan, said: "It's not necessary that even this number is accurate as a recent study by us shows that many children who continue to work as labourers in Delhi are being marked present in schools. That is just dubious. There is a long way to go in this regard."
Activists argue that families from backward communities fail to send their children to school largely because doing so reduces the family's earnings. It means even with subsidized education for these children, families believe their earnings suffer if their kids go to school, thus neutralizing the government's efforts to incentivize children's education.
The only silver lining lies in gender parity: at 29 lakh, girls constitute about 48% of unschooled children. It means fewer girls are out of school than boys.
What's the right figure?
The number of OOS children has always been the bone of contention. A July 2015 Unesco report saying India "has made impressive progress provision of primary education it notes," is based on the 2012 figures provided by India according to which 1.7 million (17 lakh) children are out of school. The number was borrowed from various agencies.
The Unesco report clubs India with some of the worst performing nations. "At least 1 million children were denied the right to education in each of the following countries: India, Indonesia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan and the United Republic of Tanzania," it notes.
Bringing a law is easy, but following it up with concrete action to fulfill its spirit is more important. Instead of focusing on children in rural areas and wooing them to government schools, now most discussions on RTE seem to revolve around the role of private institutions, which are mainly in urban areas. Instead of playing the blame game, authorities must take urgent steps to not only enroll poor children in schools, but also ensure that they continue to attend classes so that the country will have a brighter future.