...equals all the people in the USA

India's illiterate population equals all the people in USA screamed the headline of a State of the Indian Education report in a leading newspaper. It did not end there. The other headliners were: 9 out of 10 in class I won't get to college, Most students pass, few actually learn and the supporting statistics were nothing short of chilling.

India does a good job of getting children to start school but fails miserably to keep them studying as they grow older. That is the sad but indubitable reality. And if the pass percentages are increasing thanks to dubious programmes, the learning curve is declining day-by-day.

The report was alarming. Education for all seems to have failed miserably. True that the numbers ring true: number of children going to school, number of schools, number of teachers and even number of children passing, but the ground reality is abysmal. In our rush to meet quantity, quality was forgotten along the way. True we have schools buildings but a large number of them are not fit for consumption!

Politicians are busy securing their future and brandishing issues like reservations in higher education for the most backward classes and castes, but one wonders who will benefit from these lofty programmes. I guess their own kith and kin armed with a sound education obtained from a good public school.

Education for the poor in India is dying a slow insidious death. The onus of a good education for all has to be on the government who alone can provide the needed resources and regulatory systems but the government seems to have failed, and in some cases even given up as is amply proved by the rush to hand over education to NGOs or private hands. Privatisation of education will ring the death knell of education for the poor.

A couple of years back I was contacted by a high ranking officer in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. A proposal for handing over municipal schools was being mooted. The officer wanted to know if i would be willing to take over the school located near our centre. This school is mostly attended by extremely poor and deprived kids. Wanting to now more I decided to play the game before hitting out and asked him what the deal was. We will pay the teachers salaries and you need to take over the rest was the answer. I wondered where the rest was supposed to come from: from donations or from fees. Needless to say the poor man got a mouthful from me! I had almost forgotten this incident.

Education in India today is a very sick child. And I am not only referring to state run schools. The other end of the spectrum is as dangerous. Instead of regular places of learning have sprung designer schools that bear no resemblance to what a school should look like hence alienating children from the reality that surrounds them and that they will one day have to live in. A ride from an air conditioned home in an air conditioned bus to an air conditioned school is what school is for some. Has one forgotten the gurukool of yore times where even the king's sons had to undergo rigorous and austere training?

Where is the solution? I wonder....