Shortly after taking over as the head of UPA government at the center, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in June 2005 constituted the National Knowledge Commission (NKC for short), headed by Sam Pitroda. PM understood that the quality of education has to improve in our country. Above all, he knew to the core of his heart that education must embrace all sections of society, and indeed it must reach all corners of the country.
Aptly therefore, when NKC came out with its first Report to the Nation 2006 on Jan 12 last, it started with the famous Tagore poem from Gitanjali, Chitto jetha bhoysunno, uchchwa jetha seer.. It is easy to imagine that an illustrious preamble such as this is a tribute to the great poet, but I believe it is rather a somber reminder to the people of this country that even after 60 years of independence, most people of our nation lack even the basic education.
Talking about Tagore’s immortal poem, it is so deeply meaningful that I can’t help but mention its English version:
WHERE the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
NKC’s report is singular in that it has recommended radical measures for expanding ‘knowledge base’ in the country. Going by news report in ET (Kolkata edition, Jan 13), NKC has asked the government to implement the following steps among others:
- Setting up a massive number of 1500 universities.
- Commissioning an independent regulatory authority for higher education.
- Allocating 1.5% of GDP for higher education. India’s GDP (or Gross Domestic Product, usually taken as the market value of all final products and services produced in the country) for 2006 is estimated at $796 billion (see CIA figures), 1.5% of which is about $12 billion. Since India’s GDP growth is expected to be thereabouts of 8.5%, it is clear that the allocation for education will also increase progressively year after year.
- Drawing up norms and parameters for universities to mobilize finance using vast tract of land available in campuses.
- Making English mandatory from Class I.
Though I haven’t read the report, I believe – contrary to the main thrust of ET news – NKC must have stressed on primary education and suggest ways on how to ensure that every child in the country gets it.
Sometime back, economist Abhirup Sarkar of Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata suggested that in the beginning, a practical approach can be to induce one member from every family to have proper education. If more come, it’s welcome, but government will bear all expense, including food, cloth, medical and shelter, even bearing the cost of higher education and if possible, a job.
Sarkar says that if this is implemented, it’ll have a domino effect not only on other members of the family but also the neighborhood and the village where the educated member stays.
Whatever it is that government ultimately decides, one thing is sure. It must use all weapons in its arsenal to enrich and ensure at least primary education for one and all. Higher education too needs overhaul and putting into practice NKC’s suggestions, but I feel primary education must rank as the topmost priority.
Today, on the occasion of 58th Republic Day, let that be the National Pledge.