The following essay on the theme of education was written last year for the first Annual Essay Writing Competition organised by Management Compass. It won the first prize – a “prize worth 10,000 Rupees” (5000 Rupees cash and the rest management books). The essay was published in the November 2007 issues of the magazine and also on their website (and a grand prize distribution ceremony was held in Delhi).
Read the essay. You will find humour and sarcasm, among other things. Please bring English errors and typos to my notice. I have not edited the essay in any way. I have only inserted two photos on this page to make this web page aesthetically pleasant.
“The ten most important Indians are the education ministers of the ten largest states. The next ten are the secretaries of these ministries. Alas! they do not realize their mission.”
Ok, Quiz time. Name any one education minister of any of the states of India and any one education secretary. Your time starts now…
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0!
I am sure you cut a sorry figure.
Don’t feel sorry for yourself. More than 99 per cent of Indians (including yours truly) will flunk this test!
Ironically enough, these people (who are consigned to oblivion) are the most important Indians today. Not Shah Rukh or Aishwarya, Sachin or Sania, Manmohan or Sonia, Ambani or Mittal, but the most important Indians are the education ministers of the 10 largest states and the secretaries of these ministries. These ‘Super 20 authorities’ hold the lever that will uplift India to soaring heights. They have the key to unlock India’s potential. There is, needless to say, something with education without which all else fails to deliver and that is what makes these education ministers and secretaries so special.
Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Gujarat are the 10 largest states of India in that order with respect to population. They constitute most of India and have varying degrees of literacy, from an abysmal Bihar (47 per cent) to Maharashtra (76.88 per cent). Ensure their literacy and you have ensured a better India in more ways than one. And why just the 10 states? All the states and union territories are as important, including Orissa with a literacy rate of 63.08 per cent and Jharkhand with a literacy rate of 53.56 per cent.
It would be in order to briefly examine the role of the secretariat, minister and the secretary in policy making and implementation. The secretariat consists of the ministries and departments such as the education department. The minister is the political head of the ministry while the secretary to the ministry (usually from the IAS) is its administrative head. They are strategically placed to deliver the goods. On the analogy of human machine — Sir Richard Tottenham has remarked — the minister represents the ‘will’, while the secretary represents the ‘brain’ (and the field organisations represent the hands). Given their power and authority, the minister and the secretary can virtually move heaven and earth, so to speak, with respect to the work relating to their ministry if they choose to! Put simply, they can make or mar the nation.
Alas, thanks to lack of education, there are two Indias in this country! One India is e-literate, the other India is illiterate. One India says, we have a towering presence; the other India says, we are knee-high to a grasshopper. One India says, it’s as easy as ABC; the other India says, we are yet to grasp the three ‘Rs! One India leads from the front; the other India drags its feet! In the 60th year of our freedom, the time is ripe. India is waiting in the wings and saying it’s time to fly; the world is our oyster and the sky is the limit. All the developed nations have almost 100 per cent literacy; while we are a little over 67 per cent (recent NSSO data) and that too is crude literacy rate! Any education minister/secretary listening?
The ‘Super 20 authorities’ have a ‘historic mission’ indeed. Today’s India has a ‘historic’ opportunity to secure its place amongst the developed nations. We have tremendous human resources, a thriving economy and a vibrant democracy, enough to make others jealous. Alas, what we do not have is enough literacy, without which all else comes to nought! Without education, “India – a superpower” is a castle in the air. Only literacy could be the pillars upon which this castle could be firmly established. And the ‘Super 20 authorities’ have to shoulder the responsibility of sculpting these pillars. But alas, the size of the leviathan of state is increasing with the rise in the number of bureaucrats and jumbo- size cabinets, while their motivation and morale to build a better India is on the wane!
Education has many spin-offs. Education is antidote to poverty, hunger, malnutrition, HIV-AIDS, corruption, apathy and other malaise. Education leads to deepening of democracy, more effective policy implementation, better family planning, women’s empowerment, elimination of social ills like child labour, female foeticide, prostitution, dalit exploitation and the like. Education is capable of liberating us. It is our panacea, cure-all, elixir. Any education minister /secretary listening?
That the ministers and secretaries do not pay enough attention to their responsibilities is an open secret. MLAs want the powerful home or finance portfolio but nobody wants to be the education minister. Ditto for secretaries. A motivated, committed and efficient district collector (who later becomes a secretary) can play a major role in mobilising the entire district administrative ministry, in particular the school education department. But most of our collectors are “jeep-bourne”, “VIP-chasing”, power-drunk, mai-baap authorities (No wonder IAS is also “I Am Sorry”, “Invisible After Sunset” and “Indian Avatar Service”)! If only they knew that “a drop of ink can make a million think!” If only the ‘power-fool’ MLAs and secretaries knew that the ultimate power rests with ‘education’, we would not be lamenting the state of affairs in our country today. These ‘Super 20’and their counterparts in other states have the power to bring smiles on the face of more than one billion Indians, if only they realised their calling!
So, our India continues to be between 120 and 130 in the global Human Development Index (HDI). We have achieved so much since independence thanks to our democracy, human resources and education. Alas, what we have not achieved is also due to lack of education! We have a plethora of programmes and policies — Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid-day Meal scheme, District Primary Education Programme, Operation Blackboard, Mahila Samakhya, National Literacy Mission, to name a few. From 151.20 crores in the first five-year plan to 43,825 crores in the 10th plan to the proposed 2.5 lakh crores for the 11th plan, we have come a long way from the 18.33 per cent literacy in 1951.
Where is, however, the universal access to education, universal enrolment and retention, equity and outcome which we could be proud of ?! The drop-out rate is more than 50 per cent at elementary school level! Only 65 per cent schools are pucca! More than 42,000 schools still function without a building of their own, while over one lakh schools have only one classroom! Only 5 per cent schools have separate lavatories for girls and only 8.7 per cent have separate urinals! A recent study by the World Bank found very high teacher absence rate in schools, thanks to little monitoring, penalty or disciplinary action! And all this data is mere drop in the ocean!
The US has 2,000 universities, we have a mere 200! The PM in his Independence Day speech has promised 6,000 new quality schools, one in each block, 370 new colleges in low-enrollment districts, 30 new central universities, 5 new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, 8 new IITs, 7 new IIMs, 20 new Institutes of Information Technology, as well as 10,000 new vocational schools and 50,000 new skill development centres! This is in keeping with the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission. And if our ministers and secretaries do not realise their historic mission, better late than never, all this will go to the dogs. And we Indians will only read inordinate statistics of India’s educational achievements published by various governments as full-page advertisements in national dailies, along with smiling photographs of Sonia, Manmohan and some chief minister!
The real wealth of a nation is its people. Nelson Mandela has rightly remarked, “Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world.” Our education ministers and secretaries can use this weapon to change our India. A historic opportunity is knocking. This ‘knock’ is music to our ears while our ministers and secretaries complain of noise!
With a mere 67 per cent literacy today, we are poised to be a superpower. Imagine what we can do with 100 per cent literacy! They say, educate a man and you educate only one person. Educate a woman and you educate the whole family. To this we may add, educate the education ministers and their secretaries and you will educate all of India! The mission cannot be accomplished without the missionary zeal. “Education is the progressive discovery of our ignorance”. Let’s hope our education ministers and their secretaries luxuriating in the secretariat looking for short-cuts like ‘OBC reservations’ realise their ignorance on India’s top-most priority. May the majority of Indians have at their tongue-tip the names of some education ministers and secretaries, just as they know their favourite actors from Ash to Big B. Amen!
Research Scholar, School of International Studies,
JNU, New Delhi-110067