India Insight

from The Human Impact:

Malala: An icon for millions of girls who want to learn

When it happened two months ago, it shocked the world. Masked Taliban gunmen stopped a school bus filled with children in northwestern Pakistan, boarded it and shot 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck as she sat in the bus with her friends.

Her crime? She was a campaigner for the right of girls to go to school -- an act strictly forbidden by Taliban militants who are still active in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

This was her punishment for defying their edicts, the Taliban had said.

Fortunately, Malala survived and her story -- as well as her determination to continue to fight for girls to go to school despite the threat of death -- has captivated the world and made her into an international icon for girls' education.

Around 35 million girls across the world do not go to primary school compared to 31 million boys, says the World Bank.

The reasons are vast and varied but often stem from a combination of poverty and patriarchal customs such as child marriage in regions such South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where three-quarters of the world's out-of-school girls live.

The emerging world’s education imperative

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

Official delegations from the world’s nine most populous developing countries just met in New Delhi to discuss a subject vital for their countries’ futures: education. The meeting of ministers and others from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, known as the E-9, is the latest in a series of encounters held every two years to fulfil the pledge of “education for all” by 2015.

The E-9 account for 54 percent of the world’s population, 42.3 percent of children not in school, 58 percent of young illiterates (aged 15-24), and 67 percent of adult illiterates (two-thirds of whom are women). So the challenges are enormous: children, from families too poor to think about education, beyond the reach of schooling and too malnourished to study; and too few schools, classrooms, teaching resources, and adequately trained teachers. Rampant illiteracy underpins other problems, including exploding populations, gender imbalances, and widespread poverty.

Are Indian institutes casting a negative light on minority groups?

By Annie Banerji

Just when you thought the reputation of India’s higher education sector couldn’t get worse, two recent developments regarding scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SC/ST) cast doubt on the approach of a few of New Delhi’s academic institutions.

In one case, two Delhi University officials have been arrested for supplying fake caste/tribe certificates to students for admission to colleges. In another case, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, a branch of one of the most prestigious engineering and technology oriented institutes of higher education in India, has proposed to dish out “etiquette lessons” for its freshman SC/ST students.

The arrest of two permanent employees of Delhi University’s Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) cell came after a 26-year-old man allegedly managed to secure admissions for a dozen students in eight colleges this admission season.

Could Delhi University’s perfect 100 pct demand drive students abroad?

By Annie Banerji

Students across India did a double take this week when one of India’s most sought after commerce colleges declared that 100 percent marks in school-leaving examinations would be the eligibility criteria for admission to a bachelor’s degree course.

Delhi University, which attracts several thousand aspirants from all over the country annually, on Wednesday published its first list of admission criteria that had spiralling percentages in the late nineties and even a perfect 100 marks out of 100.

India's Human Resources and Development Minister Kapil Sibal gestures during a news conference in New Delhi April 11, 2011. Sibal has said the education system needs reforming in light of one University demanding students score 100% on an entry examination.Terming the perfect score demands “unfortunate” and “irrational”, the human resources and development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal told CNN-IBN that the education system needs reformation.

Has India squandered its English advantage?

When the British were finally expelled from India in 1947, driven out of a country scarred by decades of imperialist rule, they left at least one parting gift: a linguistic legacy that has formed a crucial ingredient in the country’s economic miracle.

English proficiency is hailed as an invaluable foundation in India’s rise to the top of the world’s information technology and knowledge outsourcing industries, fuelling the country’s rapid growth with billions of dollars of business every year and streams of overseas investments into global IT centres such as Bangalore.

Nine-year-old Chinese pupil, Sun Minyi, listens to his teacher during a special English class at Chongming county, north of Shanghai July 12, 2002. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

But, as Asian rival China surpasses India’s English proficiency rates for the first time, that advantage over other developing economies looks to have been squandered.

Right to education: a leap that falls short?

INDIAIs the government short-changing the nation on right to education?

Not all is hunky-dory with the ‘right to education’ law that has come into force.

The law puts to work a constitutional amendment of 2002 that made education a fundamental right.

Fali Nariman, the famous jurist who argued the landmark ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution case, points out that the amendment took away more from the children than it gave to them.

Indians attacked: time for action vs need for calm

Days after accounting graduate Nitin Garg was stabbed to death in Melbourne, the incident has not just triggered anger but also speculation of strained diplomatic ties between India and Australia.

Flowers and candles from a vigil are seen at the park where Nitin Garg was stabbed in the western suburbs of Melbourne January 5, 2010. REUTERS/Mick TsikasAustralian authorities have repeatedly maintained the attacks were not racially motivated, an argument spurned by the Indian press that cited past incidents of a similar nature, targeting mainly Indians on a student visa.

From the point of view of Australian authorities, terming the attacks as racial will have larger ramifications for a country whose economy depends on the international student sector to a great extent.

Kevin Rudd: Re-reassuring Indians?

The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, currently in India, is expected to address concerns in India over attacks on Indian students.The issue blew up in May this year after a spate of attacks on Indian students amid allegations of racism.The Australian leaders have been defending the safeguards and measures taken since then, but every time there is a fresh attack the media goes to town with the issue.With over 80,000 students enrolling in Australian every year the attacks, whatever their nature, have hardly dampened the outflow of students.Rudd won’t be the first to offer a reassurance and given the regularity with which incidents are reported it doesn’t look like he would be the last.Indian students continue to be interested in Australian education.Is this because they can sense that the issue is has been blown out of proportion?Or are they voting with their feet on the state of Indian education system?Are we still sold out over the lure of a ‘foreign degree’ and willing to run the risks for it?

Do we need sex-education in schools?

A parliamentary committee, with a varied political membership, recently recommended that there should be no sex education in schools.

Sex even if done at the proper time, with a proper person, in a proper place, is a topic that makes many Indians uncomfortable.

The committee itself refused a power point presentation on the question “after going through the hard copy because of its explicit contents.  The Committee felt that it was not comfortable with it and could be embarrassing especially to the lady Members and other lady staff present.”

India’s Gujjar mess underlines problem of relying on quotas

There is no doubt that India is a deeply unequal society, that people at the bottom of the pile face discrimination, and struggle for the opportunities they need to raise themselves up. But is the answer caste- or tribe-based quotas in government jobs and universities?

Members of the Gujjar community beat a burning effigy of Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje during a protest in Bikaner district of India’s desert state of Rajasthan May 28, 2008. REUTERS/Vinay Joshi (INDIA)This week, the debate is back in the headlines, as the Gujjar community takes to the streets again, blockading India’s capital to reinforce their demand for more quota-based jobs . Nearly 40 people have been killed in the latest violence, most shot dead by police.

I am not qualified to say whether quotas are right or wrong.

On the one hand, they reinforce caste identity and rivalry and seem to fly in the face of a secular India. On the other, they can be a useful tool in forcing an end to discrimination and giving people a leg up.