Dnyaneshwara, the great Marathi saint, described education as knowledge poured from one heart to the other. Our society has always valued the importance of knowledge, learning and scholarship. The ancient Indian system of guru-shishya parampara is one that illustrates the traditional approach of holistic education, where it moves beyond the confines of imparting knowledge and becomes a process that leads to enlightenment. Education rouses the mind from the slumber of ignorance and it is only when provided with the nourishment of education that the mind of a person is truly awake.
This metamorphosis through education plays a crucial role in our life as it awakens the minds of people and turns them into thinking beings. The irresistible power of human thought is what shapes not only our consciousness but also our perception of the world around us. It is only a thinking population that can truly participate and therein transform the society we live in. Hence education, with its power of awakening the minds of a billion people, can play a critical role in determining the destiny of our great nation.
The social context, within which education as a tool of empowerment functions, is also equally important as it helps in understanding the dynamics of its impact on the process of nation-building. In a democratic and secular country that revels in its diversity and spirit of tolerance it is essential that education upholds and imparts these values to successive generations to strengthen and protect such traditions. Education is the path to knowledge and know-ledge is the path to truth. No education can be truly enlightening if it fails to instill in people a respect for truth and purity of purpose and with it the nobleness of humanism.
The issue of providing education to every child in this country is very close to me. I have emphasized my desire to see every person to be touched by the light of modern education. Education must teach the lesson of gender equality to both boys and girls and negate the deep-rooted influence of gender bias which forms the bedrock of social prejudices. With determination and popular participation the vision of universal education can be realized.
The government is committed to providing elementary education to all under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Our concerted efforts towards universal elementary education have resulted in a manifold increase in educational institutions and student enrolment. However, there are still many impediments and we need to put in place practical solutions to make our education system more effective.
Poverty remains the biggest hurdle in the path towards universal education. Our drive towards educating the nation must focus on poor and remote areas and be sensitive to local problems that come in the way of families sending their children to school. The high rate of school dropouts in economically backward regions and tribal areas is directly linked to economic compulsions where girls and boys have to often work to earn a living for their families. Even though laws are in place to deal with the evil of child labour, it is still present. Only through increased awareness and sensitivity can we succeed in ensuring that every child is taken away from the grip of exploitation and delivered to the doorsteps of a school. It is also important that the education imparted is relevant to their needs.
Education, particularly the imparting of life-skills to students, cannot be one-dimensional. Every student must be exposed to all fields of knowledge so that he or she can choose and participate in different sectors. We need to pay special attention to vocational skills needed to modernize our economy. Vocational education itself needs to be revamped in a manner that encourages our youth to develop entrepreneurship and self-employment skills. We also need to expand opportunities in higher education. We must impart quality education and make our institutions world class. Collaboration with other universities within the country and abroad and the creation of networks for “knowledge sharing” could open a whole range of possibilities.
There is perhaps no greater hindrance to the path of progress than social prejudices. The girl-child in India is still, in many cases, born into a dismal life of prejudices. Educating the girl-child and empowering her remains the litmus test for our nation in its commitment to equality of education. The 2007 ‘Education for All’ report published by UNESCO observed that a child whose mother is illiterate is twice as likely to be out of school as one whose mother is educated. Sensitizing the people about the importance of educating the girl-child through effective awareness campaigns is crucial in driving away such notions. The male-female gap in literacy rates continues to be unacceptably high and this divide is sharper in rural areas.
We must move ahead purposefully to realize the dream and vision of universal education. It is a process in which we must all participate and recognize our individual capacity in contributing to this national effort. Each one of us who has been a student is also a potential teacher.
Education after all is the strand that links one generation to another and therein maintains the continuity of the traditions of learning and knowledge that form the very essence of human civilization. We are at a turning point in our history where our decisions today will shape the India of the future. Education is the tool which will usher in this great awakening and help us build a stronger and more prosperous India.
The writer is the president of India (Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil).