Education is the Key…

Arun Kapur

The challenge facing education today is more varied than past challenges. It encompasses the rapidly increasing diversity of the nation's population, the growing internationalization of commerce and culture, the explosive development of information technologies, and other great technical and social transformations. In this globalized world of the twenty-first century, almost all nations have become increasingly multi-cultural in character, creating new opportunities and difficulties for education.

I believe that the opportunities created by global processes will be actualized only if we continue to insist that education is a basic human right and to resist the tendency to reduce education into yet another market commodity. If we fail, I fear that our world will become increasingly unequal, competitive, polarized, conflicted and dangerous.

However, too many children in our country are still forced to contend with education of poor or unsatisfactory quality. There can be no equity in educational achievement while the social distribution of quality remains uneven. Many children, the majority of whom come from the poorest of the poor, do not have access to effective teaching and learning, to a basic supply of textbooks and other materials to support learning.

There are also thousands of children who remain on the margins of the education system - rural children, disabled children, girls, street children, ethnic minorities and children affected by conflict or HIV/AIDS - marginalized either by violence, natural disasters, social exclusion, extreme poverty or gender inequality.

The formulation of an effective response to all these facets is certainly an extremely complex enterprise. But there can be no doubt that if we can ensure that all our children get the opportunity of a good education, then massive development progress is possible. There is irrefutable evidence that education creates the opportunity for sustainable livelihoods, raises agricultural and industrial productivity, provides the basis for sustained and equitable growth, improves health and nutrition levels, reduces family size, significantly reduces the HIV/AIDS infection rate, promotes peace and productive approaches towards handling conflicts, and raises the level of community participation in local decision-making. Education alone strengthens people's ability to develop innovations and solve problems and creates a framework for environmentally sustainable behaviour.

Education is the most powerful engine of social change enhancing the opportunities open to each individual. It is an indispensable element for achieving sustainable development; it is the absolute key to economic and social progress. The role of education in creating new directions in society to bring positive change is tremendous. Bridging the education divide in India , opening up educational opportunity to all – this, in my view, is one of the biggest challenges we face in the 21st Century.

I support that education should indeed become an 'education for everybody' regardless of age, social and economic background, gender and residence, founded on the respect for difference. As society is rapidly changing, each individual needs lifelong learning: learning how to learn should be seen as a fundamental skill for all. The expanding area of adult basic education, for out-of-school children, youth and adults is essential to achieving learning throughout life. Education provided must be in terms of levels to be attained, and knowledge and skills to be acquired, not in terms of compulsory school education. In order to achieve these aims, education must lead to the acquisition of:

  • key skills, used as personal development tools and, later on, as a basis for lifelong learning;
  • initial vocational guidance;
  • the knowledge, values and abilities that are needed for individual development, and for the exercise of participatory and responsible citizenship in a democracy.
The challenge is a huge one. But the prize is very great. At Ritinjali, we implement various programmes to address this lack of opportunity to education by the marginalized sections of society. All our programmes are aimed towards equipping deprived individuals and communities with education, skills, expertise and information. For more information, e-mail us at ritinjali@ritinjali.org or call us at 011-26789072. You can also visit our website at www.ritinjali.org

This lack of opportunity is also being resolved by several other organizations through the implementation of various initiatives. The call to civil society, however, to address this issue is especially important. While governments and international agencies can make top-level policy changes, pass new laws, and re-structure institutions, new social programmes are ultimately effective only to the degree that real changes take place at the grassroots.

Put another way, social action inevitably begins with individual citizens. And citizen action, focused through civil society organizations, has proven in many cases to be the best way to achieve lasting change.

Let's resolve today - together - that we will do what needs to be done to make this happen.

Arun Kapur
Chairperson