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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 33 New Delhi August 8, 2015

On Education Policy

Saturday 8 August 2015

The people of Goa can be justifiably proud of the progress achieved over the last five decades in core sectors such as education. The literacy rate in Goa was about 30 per centat the time of liberation. It is now hundred per centif we exclude some persons above the age of 50 years. In 1961, in my own village there was just one primary school with about hundred students. The village has now been subdivided into three panchayats and has several primary schools and high schools with thousands of students in their rolls. This is mainly due to the government aided and private institutions. The government schools themselves are in an appalling condition. Attendance at several government primary schools, which I visited over the last few years, was almost hundred per centbut in the circumstances in which most of them function, there is not much learning to be done. Four classes are often taught simultaneously in one classroom and in some cases eight classes in two languages. There are no black boards or they are not repaired, rice bags (for the mid-day meal), discarded furniture, school records etc are all bundled together in the same classroom along with the children. The teachers in government schools are as hard working and the students as bright and intelligent as their counterparts in private schools. What is lacking is the minimum infrastructure. As a result, all those who can afford, enrol their children in private schools.

The children in government primary schools come from the poorer sections of society and their parents are often illiterate. These students require special attention but on the contrary they get no attention at all. The government primary schools have suffered from what might be called a “social attention deficit”, a sheer lack of attention and concern by the community at large, including policymakers, at all levels.

The Fundamental Right to Education for all children up to the age of 14 years is enshrined in our Constitution. The State Government must provide the required facilities to the students so that they can exercise their Fundamental Right. Inequalities in education will be accentuated in the Computer Age. The dangerous “digital divide” can only be prevented if necessary steps are taken right now. The ideal is the “Common School System” with quality government schools known as “neighbourhood schools” in every locality where all children, irrespective of social class or religious affiliation, will go. This is the system prevailing in Scandinavia and other educationally advanced countries. This approach was also endorsed by the Kothari Commission on Education which stated: “If our educational system is to become a powerful instrument of national development in general and social and national integration in particular, we must move towards the goal of a ‘Common School System’ of public education.”

The UNESCO and leading educationists across the world agree that the use of native languages in early childhood education enhances self-confidence and academic performance. In the 17th century, the colonial government felt necessary to suppress the languages of Goa in order to preserve its rule. In 1684, a decree (alvara) of the Viceroy directed that within three years, Goans should abandon the use of local languages and take to the use of Portuguese. A royal decree, dated March 16, 1687, affirms “for reasons of political expediency including the preservation of Portuguese India the decree (of the Viceroy) is approved”.

Cultural identity contributes to people’s sense of belonging and overall well-being. Language is central to culture. It is through language that culture expresses itself and develops. People and nations who have flourished have always promoted their own language. In Goa, the medium of instruction at the primary level ought to be either Konkani or Marathi. Konkani is the official language of Goa and Marathi is and has always been the literary language of a large segment of our population. An essential prerequisite in this regard is that schools should be equipped with qualified teachers and textbooks need to be revised to make elementary education a rewarding and enjoyable experience for the children. It is necessary to have Konkani teachers’ training programmes and there should also be projects to sensitise parents as to the need for their children to learn in their mother tongue. The State Government and schools may collaborate with the West Zone Cultural Centre under the Union Ministry of Culture to conduct programmes for the children so that they appreciate their national heritage and culture. There are also private organisations such as SPIC MAKAY and INTACH that conduct similar courses for children.

Konkani should be taught in schools through the Devanagari script. Devanagari is important for access to Indian culture and other Indian languages. The importance of national languages and assertion of the national cultural identity is growing everywhere in Asia. India is not and should not be an exception. In emerging India it will be necessary to be fluent in at least two Indian languages—the local language and Hindi—for success in mainstream economy and society. English is at present the main international language. In this globalised world the importance of English is inescapable and English may be taught as a subject from the Third Standard.

The Goa University ought to be a centre of academic excellence at the national as well as international levels. It should be a powerful instrument to enable the youth of Goa and the country at large to deal with and thrive in today’s increasingly competitive world where education is the key to success. Turning our University into a Central University would have advanced this objective and would have improved significantly our University education.

The emergence of the “knowledge society” where knowledge is the primary asset, rather than capital or labour, makes universal literacy and quality education a must. The government should formulate with a sense of urgency a comprehensive strategy and allot sufficient resources to improve drastically the quality of education in Goa.

The author is a former Union Minister.