India Is Wasting Its Demographic Dividend
New Delhi, Nov. 25 -- We are a nation of 350 million children aged 4 to 17, many of whom although enrolled in school will never get past Class 8. A new book by Harvard economist Lant Pritchett reveals that an average Class 8 student in India would be learning what students learn in Class 1 or 2 in the United States. Is this the future we are preparing them for?
Research suggests that 80% of brain development takes place by the time a child turns five. And yet the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) applies only to children from six to 14 years. As a country we need to expand this right to include children below the age of six years. In developing countries, such as Mexico, the free and compulsory education is offered to children at the age of three. To give this critical pre-primary intervention due focus, the government must mandate two years of pre-primary education within the current schooling system with a well-designed curriculum to provide a strong foundation for all children. We should also establish an early childhood education (ECE) accreditation agency for setting standards and quality assurance of pre-schools. We must also address the fact that nearly three-fourth of teachers engaged in ECE today lack adequate professional qualification.
A critical dimension of our education crisis is that even those children who are in school often do not acquire foundation skills -including literacy and numeracy - that enable them to successfully continue in school. The Annual Status of Education Report is a testimony to the fact that we are failing to help millions of children make the crucial transition from 'learning to read' to 'reading to learn'.
We need a nation-wide literacy and numeracy drive to ensure that all children master basic reading and numeracy skills by Class 2, a goal defined clearly in our Twelfth Plan. Under Tony Blair's regime, Britain introduced a 'national literacy hour' that required teachers to devote at least one hour a day to improving children's reading standards, through carefully structured daily lessons. …