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Illiteracy to blame for poverty: Kalam

August 14, 2004 18:00 IST

The text of President A P J Abdul Kalam's address to the nation on the eve of the 58th Independence Day:

On the eve of the 58th Independence Day, I extend to you my best wishes for your happiness and prosperity. My greetings to all of you at home and abroad. Let us, on this occasion, remember with gratitude, the selfless and devoted services of our armed forces and those of the paramilitary forces, who are guarding our frontiers on land, at sea, and in the air. I take this opportunity on this Independence Day to convey the best wishes of the people of India, to our men and women participating in the Olympic Games in Athens.

I met 200 freedom fighters from different parts of the country on August 9. I saw in their ripe age, their enthusiasm to bring back nationalism as a living movement. I salute our freedom fighters on this occasion. Let me dedicate this Independence Day broadcast to the great souls who pioneered our Independence movement. We remember them with reverence and gratitude for liberating us from centuries of foreign rule. Their saga of sacrifice has led to the realization of the singular and noble vision of heralding an independent nation.

Dear citizens, we must realise, the significance and the value of our freedom movement. Fortunately after our independence in 1947, we have come a long way in the field of education and have moved towards a knowledge society, as a result of the vision of our educationalists and the policies and actions of successive governments. Many of our educational institutions have excelled in the world. In order to revitalise our self-esteem and culture, it is vital to emphasise the role of the education system in creating an enlightened, dynamic and prosperous society utilising the advancement of science and technology. I therefore propose to discuss the education system in some detail later.

General elections
The nation is happy that the conduct of the recent general election and transition to a new government has taken place in a peaceful and orderly manner. In an increasingly complex world environment, this significant achievement emerging from India is yet another valuable contribution to world peace and stability. Now that the government is in place, we all have to get on with the work of building the nation.

External relations
We are steadily strengthening our presence in regional and international institutions including the United Nations.

We realize it is essential to strengthen and restructure the United Nations to make it more purposeful.

We cherish and advocate multi-polarity in the world order that respects the principles of sovereignty, non-intervention, freedom and democracy. While not forgetting the painful lessons of history, our foreign policy is aimed at a vision that seeks to establish India, the largest democracy in the world as a developed country with its rightful place in international fora.

Defence and security
With the rapidly changing global security environment, our nation's domains of security concerns have greatly expanded from what they were after Independence. Another measure of our nation's strength is the effective, firm and fair handling of a series of internal low intensity conflicts and the proxy war. I note with satisfaction of our continuing efforts towards good neighbourly relations, particularly the sustained progress of the peace process between India and Pakistan.

Economy
Our economy has yielded a growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product by over eight percent, driven by broad-based accelerated growth in agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing and services. Sustaining our growth, containing the annual inflation rate, containing the revenue deficit through prudent revenue enhancement and expenditure management are other challenges for the Centre and the States. The root cause of poverty lies in illiteracy, unemployment and lack of basic healthcare and there is a need to sharply increase public spending in these areas.

Water management
Certain regions like Bihar and Assam are affected by floods every year, and we are witnessing that even now. There is a need to find a long-term solution to control floods and to store and utilize surplus water for usage during the dry season and also the linking of regional river basins. In the Gangetic plain and in the Northeastern region, I recommend the construction of layered wells at the entry points of the Kosi river flowing from Nepal and the Brahmaputra river flowing from Tibet. These layered wells will store floodwater at different levels and will control the intensity of damage in low-lying areas by reducing the velocity of the flow.

In addition we may consider the possibility of underground water storage systems at river basin sites and at other places. The water thus stored will be useful during the time of need. A Water Mission has been rightly identified as a priority area by my government.

Employment generation
Our employment generation system has not kept pace with the inflow of educated youth. A three-pronged strategy is needed to make education more attractive and simultaneously create employment potential -- how do we do that? Firstly, the education system should highlight the importance of entrepreneurship and prepare students right from college education to get oriented towards setting up of enterprises.

Diversity of skills and perseverance in work makes an entrepreneur. In addition, college syllabi even for arts, science and commerce courses should include topics and practicals where such entrepreneurship is possible. Secondly, the banking system should provide venture capital right from the village level to prospective entrepreneurs for undertaking new enterprises. Banks have to be proactive in supporting innovative products for enabling wealth generation by young entrepreneurs by setting aside the 'conventional tangible asset syndrome.' Thirdly, there has to be an economic pull for generation of marketable products and enhancement of purchasing power among the people. This can come through the implementation of mega programmes such as rural connectivity, regional linking of rivers, infrastructural missions, power missions and tourism.

We need the education system to focus on high value and productive employment opportunities. A recent study indicates that the unemployment level in the country is nine percent of 400 million employable people. That is around 36 million. We can definitely find productive employment for all 36 million people by launching certain missions like bio-diesel generation through plants such as the Jatropha, dry land and herbal farming in the available 33 million hectares of wasteland earmarked for cultivation.

Mission of Education
Education is the most important element for growth and prosperity of a nation. India is transforming itself into a developed nation by 2020. Yet we have 350 million people who need literacy and many more who have to acquire employable skills to suit the emerging modern India and the globe. Children who belong to weaker sections of society are undernourished and only a small percentage of them manage to complete eight years of satisfactory education. We need to think specifically about them. Education is a fundamental right of every Indian child. Can we allow the situation to continue in which millions of these children are forced into life-long poverty? Parents should be able to go to any school nearby and admit their children and happily come back home with the confidence that their children will get a good and value-based quality education in that school. The conditions of differently-abled children require equally important attention.

In view of such critical issues and their importance and also to break out of our historical mindset, an effective and self-renewing education system is therefore fundamental to the survival and growth of civilizations. Therefore, I propose to address the issues pertaining to education in some detail and suggest solutions that can be considered for implementation.

Inequality of access to educational resources
Let me share with you one important concern: unequal access to educational resources exist due to various reasons. I have seen in our villages three types of families. The fortunate ones who realise the importance of educating the young ones at any cost, guide them at all critical stages due to economic well-being.
There are families, who might realise the importance of education, but are not aware of the opportunities in time, nor the procedures and ways to realise these opportunities for their children. The third category of families are economically weak and do not realise the value of education. Hence for generations, their children are neglected and continue to live in poverty.

It is essential we enlighten and create awareness of education among all sections of society particularly in rural areas and among the urban poor. We should use technology for this important social purpose. It is possible for NGOs, social and philanthropic institutions and the media to focus on this area of creating awareness. We should mobilise resources for providing education to the underprivileged people. Let us elaborate the way ahead.

Mobilising resources for the Mission of Education
Over 50 years, successive governments have been committed to achieving the national goal of universal education and have steadily increased the budgetary allocation for education. However, 35 percent of our adult population is yet to achieve literacy. The expenditure on education as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product has a direct impact on literacy. Today our expenditure on education in India is little more than four percent of our GDP. If we have to achieve nearly 100 percent literacy, it is necessary to increase expenditure on education to six to seven percent of GDP. The two to three percent increase has to be sustained only for a few years. Thereafter, a lower percentage of GDP allocation to education will be adequate to sustain the high degree of literacy in this country for all time to come.

Clearly public expenditure alone from governments at the Centre and in the States might not able to meet the challenge of mobilising an additional two to three percent of GDP for the Mission of Education. It is here we have to generate additional resources for this noble mission. Expenditure on education, whether in the Centre or in the States can no longer be provided only by respective ministries or departments for human resource development. Every department of the government must play a significant role as a partner in human resource development organisation and contribute resources in terms of budget and infrastructure for implementing the mission of providing quality education to the whole nation.

To augment government resources, I appeal to the corporate sector to emulate the example set by some corporate leaders who have focused on education to make a national difference. Different regions of the country may be adopted by the corporate sector within an overall national mission for education. The mechanism should enable persons to have freedom to innovate and deliver directly.

Standardisation of teaching
The preferred school concept is arising because of differential quality and standards of teaching. There is a need to make the quality of teaching high in all schools.

There also is a need for preparatory education even in rural areas to make the child competitive when he or she joins the regular school. NGOs and the corporate sector can play a vital role in running such schools in rural areas. Rich parents who can afford can also adopt some rural children for educating them in preparatory schools.

Planning for good education for children in villages
I would like to recall a question asked by Master Kuldeep Yadav of Class Ten from Etawah during my visit to Saifai.
'Mr President, villages are also full of talent but facilities are available in the towns and cities only. Have you planned something for these children so that they can get good education in villages?'

I was glad to see a child's concern for his rural counterparts. We need to address this problem, which has multiple dimensions. It tells us about the non-availability of infrastructure in schools, the problem of syllabi followed in the school and the non-availability of quality teachers.

The role of parents
Parents have an important role in the education of their children and making them enlightened citizens. They must be aware of the need for good education of the child, male or female. Like teachers, parents also should set an example for the child in their overall behaviour and conduct. This will enable the child to develop love and respect for their parents and see them as role models.

Reducing dropouts
It is reported that 39 percent of children drop out from school after studying 5th Class and 55 percent drop out after studying up to 8th Class. This situation needs remedial action, especially since assent has been accorded to the 86th Constitution Amendment Act -- The Right to Education Bill for children between the age group of five and 14 years. But an Act alone cannot achieve the goal, unless education is delivered in a manner, which will take into account the socio-economic reality and perception of the people to whom it is addressed.

Apart from attracting children to schools, the education system should be able to provide nourishment and inject creativity among them. The aim of the education system should be to build character, human values, enhance learning capacity through technology and build confidence among children to face the future.

I have seen an education model implemented in Karnataka, which provides accelerated learning using computer aids so that children can have creative learning with the tools of creative animation through computers.

Dropouts are identified and brought to the school. This holistic phenomenon of learning once ingrained in the primary stage, where there is a happy learning process and non-threatening evaluation, has led to voluntary learning by the participants.

System of entrance examination
I recently received many e-mails from children and parents regarding too many entrance examinations which children have to appear in from nursery up to plus two level for entry into schools, colleges, universities and professional courses. I consider this as a heavy burden on children. It also has led to the proliferation of tuition and coaching institutes for preparing students for entrance examinations. We have to devise a common all-India examination to be conducted by a nominated institution of the government for entry into universities and professional colleges.

Examinations must also be so designed that attending a coaching course would not provide undue advantage to privileged students. Entrance tests should be more in the nature of aptitude assessment rather than creating a seniority list.

Examination reforms
I find there is a demand for a more transparent and reliable system of examination, evaluation and reporting. It is also noticed that examinations primarily test the memory of students. I remember during my studies at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai in the mid 1950s, they used to conduct open book examinations. This used to be one of the toughest examinations for students. I would recommend that examining bodies consider the introduction of the open book system of examinations. This will promote creativity among teachers in setting questions and the evaluation of the creative ability of the students. A secure examination system is the need of the hour.

Renewal of evaluation system
The examining bodies should have a reliable evaluation system and timely declaration of results. After the initial evaluation of the answer paper, a centralised core group can draw random samples from each batch and carry out independent evaluations. If there is no discrepancy between the initial evaluation and the core group evaluation and it is consistent with the performance of the students, it will be presumed that the batch marking is satisfactory. In case of a discrepancy further samples should be drawn for verification. Special training must be carried out by examining bodies for certifying the examiners in the evaluation process. In short the examining bodies must evolve very good procedures and then get ISO certification for their evaluation system.

Need for adoption of safety measures
The recent tragedy involving school children at Kumbakonam must have rung some bells in all educational institutions in the country. It is the responsibility of sponsoring organisations to see that their schools maintain basic minimum norms in the academic field as well as in the physical facilities which they provide on campuses.
Certain safety features must be built in our school buildings without which it should not be possible to get affiliation by these schools. There should not be discretion available with anyone to waive these conditions. Honesty in implementation is vital at all levels.

Technology enhanced education
Constraints of time and space together with the rapid obsolescence of knowledge in some areas of science and technology, have created a huge demand for different courses from different institutions in the distance mode. There is a need for a working digital library system that alone can, in the long run, provide the kind of access required for a Knowledge Society. Technology Enhanced Learning is a solution.

It attempts to exploit the rapid developments in Information and Communication Technology. As the communications bandwidth continues to increase and the cost of computer power continues to drop, Technology Enhanced Learning will become an economically viable solution. Virtual classrooms will have students from many locations taught by a team of geographically distributed instructors through the tele-education delivery system.

Ultimately, education in its real sense is the pursuit of truth. It is an endless journey through knowledge and enlightenment. Such a journey opens up new vistas of development of humanism where there is no scope, nor room for pettiness, disharmony, jealousy, hatred or enmity. It transforms a human being into a wholesome whole, a noble soul and an asset to the universe. Universal brotherhood in its true sense becomes the sheet anchor for such an education.

Real education enhances the dignity of a human being and increases his or her self-respect. If only the real sense of education could be realised by each individual and carried forward in every field of human activity the world will be so much a better place to live in.

The mission of education by the government at the Centre or States or their combination is the foundation to ensure the creation of enlightened citizens who will make a prosperous, happy and strong nation. May God bless you.

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