Wednesday, November 4, 2009

South Asians' Primary Duty to Children

Guest Post by Rakesh Mani

There has to be something wrong with Indian society for it to allow its children to be among the most deprived and malnourished in the world. Across castes and social classes, there is so little attention given to the inalienable right of a child to enjoy a childhood of good health, education and a nutritious diet. How can we get a society of adults to be accountable for the treatment of its youngest citizens?

Several reports from international organizations like UNICEF and the World Bank have been sharply critical of the abject failure of governance in health and education that has left Indian children way behind their counterparts in Sri Lanka, Nepal and even Bangladesh. According to some recent statistics, two million children below the age of five die every year in India. That’s one every fifteen seconds which, shamefully, is the highest figure in the world.

But let’s just focus on primary education for the moment. Through my own experiences of teaching in an under-resourced Bombay school for the last six months, some sights and sounds have become permanently etched in my mind – the family of five who cannot afford to send all their children to school, and therefore picked two, a girl and a boy; the beatings that a 3rd grade student can receive at home for scoring poorly on an exam that tests little more than memorization; young kids reciting poems in fluent English without understanding a word of what they’re saying.

Primary education here largely involves the teacher playing narrator in the classroom. Students are receptacles who must memorize and then mechanically parrot away the narrated content. The more meekly they reproduce what has been written on the blackboard onto pen and paper, the better students they are. For education here is little more than an elaborate ritual of filling student notebooks and issuing communiqu├ęs which students patiently receive, memorize and repeat.

But it’s quite apparent now that this factory-schooling model is not only dysfunctional but also destructive towards the myriad processes of human learning and growth. Pupils have to be encouraged to independently develop their own creative thinking processes. Curriculums have to be re-worked to foster a sense of competence, purpose and responsibility into students. And also equip them with a vital understanding of ethics and social responsibility.

As young kids are forced to submit to rote learning, they lose the critical consciousness they will need to intervene and transform their country in the years to come. As they embrace educational passivity, they will also more readily accept the imperfections and injustices their societies impose on them.

Ever since Jawaharlal Nehru decided in the early 50s to develop India’s higher education platform to compete technologically in the Cold War era, the importance of primary education in the country has been largely ignored. Instead the nation focused on building institutions that could produce more engineers, doctors and scientists. But how can we sustain these specialized programs without building sturdy foundations at school? Or rather, what quality of engineers and scientists must we be producing at these institutes of excellence? Excluding the IITs, what percentage of Indian graduates are able to compete effectively in the global economy?

As the Indian educational debate remains sharply focused on colleges and universities, it is worth remembering that elementary education is the foundation on which the promise of equal opportunity exists. Much work needs to be done towards making the primary education system accountable to the child for what she learns, and how she learns it. And we’re possibly in the worst of situations at the moment – more than 1 in 3 children who begin primary school will drop out before 5th grade and World Bank statistics show that less than 40% of Indian adolescents are attending secondary school. In this context, the new Right to Education Bill is being hailed as India’s great solution but alas, it is only a sketchy blueprint that has yet to be implemented effectively.

And then again, the bill only caters to children above the age of six. Meeting the nutritional and developmental needs of children under the age of six is critical for the educational journey they will undertake. But there is not enough public attention to this omission in the new bill.

For India’s children, things will clearly not change by themselves. If it takes a village to raise a child, it might take the whole nation to raise the ten million children born annually in India. There is a serious need for much more material that can be used for playful learning, and a need for more simple storybooks, which affluent children have easy access to. Urban slum children have no such resource, either at school or at home.

For a country like India, where almost 40% of the population is under the age of fifteen, this paints a highly disturbing long-term trend. And talking globally, 25% of the entire global workforce will be Indian in about twenty years – so be sure that the quality of education these kids receive is going to impact us all.

But perhaps this is not about numbers, or about economics. Maybe the harshness of the statistics tells us that there is something more sinister at play – that the dialog shouldn’t be about resources or economics at all but instead a debate on our values.

Author Rakesh Mani is a 2009 Teach for India fellow, working with low-income schools in Mumbai. He is also a New York-based investment banker, freelance writer and commentator who contributes to a variety of publications.

As a volunteer for "Teach For India", Mr. Mani is inspiring others by personal example. Teach For India is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and young professionals who will commit two-years to teach full-time in under resourced schools and who will become lifelong leaders working from within various sectors toward the pursuit of equity in education.

While there is no Pakistani equivalent of "Teach For India", there are a number of organizations such Human Development Foundation (HDF) and Development in Literacy (DIL), and Greg Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, which are focusing on improving primary education and promoting literacy in Pakistan.

Riaz Haq's Note: This article focuses on the state of India's children, and raises fundamental questions about society's values. However, I find Mr. Mani's thoughts to be equally, if not more, applicable to Pakistan as well.

Under former President Musharraf, Pakistan followed India's lead by focusing on tertiary education with the higher education budget rising 10-15 fold in a short period of time.

Unfortunately, there was no commensurate increase or focus on primary or secondary education. As a result of the long neglect, Pakistan's primary and secondary public education is in shambles with insufficient funds, rampant corruption and ghost schools that exist only on paper with fictitious staff drawing salaries and perks.

This lack of focus on access and quality of children's education has resulted in the proliferation of madrassahs, some of which are highly radicalized, that fill the vacuum by offering a one-stop shop for poor children needing food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and basic education. Parents simply drop their children off at these madrassas, and essentially let these institutions raise their children, and brainwash the children in some cases.

As Pakistan now fights an existential battle against extremely violent radicals, many from the radical madrassas, the nation is now paying a heavy price for years of neglect.

Upon the urging of saner elements in Pakistan, and pressure from the alarmed world, a new education policy has recently been announced that will more than double education spending in Pakistan from about 3% of the GDP to 7%. If it is done correctly, instills proper values, and with transparency, then there can be hope for light be at end of the tunnel for Pakistan's younger generation.

Here's a video report about Pakistan's decrepit public education:

Related Links:

Teaching Facts Versus Reasoning

Pakistan's Children's Plight

South Asia Slipping in Human Development

Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?

Food Clothing and Shelter in India and Pakistan

Can Slumdog's Success Improve Children's Lives?

Persistent Hunger in South Asia

Quality of Education in India and Pakistan

Developing Pakistan's Intellectual Capital


Anonymous said...


I full agree with the situation. It is unfortunate that the Indian elite is going on the American style of aggrandizement rather than be on the ground and to help

Further the situation has worsened with the recession that the first to get hit is "return back to the society / donation"

Some where the money has become god across caste, creed religion, race and color.

In the same note there are educated people who do give it back to society in crores like infosys founders, tata and even middle class persons like murali of

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a BBC report today about India's "two faces":

In India, certainly in urban India, it just feels like the mercury is rising. Compare that to parts of Europe, my previous posting, where many people have plenty of everything. They are not pre-occupied with the hope of moving up, but with the fear of losing what they already have.

India, of course, could get it all wrong. The have-nots could remain stuck in their rut, increasingly angry and marginalised.

Hundreds of millions of people still survive on very little in this country and as they watch the new buoyant India flourish around them, there is bound to be a reaction.

A peasant-based rebellion, taking inspiration from the revolutionary teachings of Chairman Mao, is fermenting dangerously across a vast swathe of Indian territory. Unchecked, it could well spread fast. "That," a senior security official once told me, "is what really keeps me awake at night."

Unknown said...

Sabina E. said...

It is so pathetic how India is a rising global superpower whilst many Indians remain left behind.

Even worse, it's despicable when upper caste/elite Indians want to deny the poverty and reality of Indian society.

Anonymous said...

I donot agree. Every body has to own the responsibility of the children.

Today a quick analysis of the family pattern will bring out the contrasting fact that the more affordable people have lesser children and the less affordable have more children.

Whose mistake is that. Government promotes smaller family and the individual chooses to have a bigger one and then blame the government and the society for the same.

Carefull analysis will show the effectiveness of the family planning in the southern state and the better standrad living. Vice versa is the truth in the BIMARU states being bihar, mp, rajasthan and UP.

This particular phenomenon is applicable across caste, creed and religion.

Unknown said...

Surprisingly India spend 3.5% of GDP on education which is higher than China. Of course greater emphasis has been laid on tertiary education. In comparision, expenditure on health is a mere 1% of GDP. I am talking about public expenditure. Pakistan spends even less. Most countries spend an equal if not higher amount on health. I think there is something wrong with priorities since you can educate only healthy surviving children. Both countries spend between 3% (India) and 5% (Pakistan) on defence. Military muscle and nukes have not helped the lot of the poor and downtrodden. Just another interesting statistic. Bangladeshwith a per capita GDP of $431 spends about $8.5 on health. India with a per capita GDP of $1046 spends $7 and Pakistan comes a poor third with a per capita income of $879 spending a mere $2.6 on health. Figures from the 2009 UNDP Human Development Report.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a report in the Indian media with an Indian official Syeda Hameed admitting that India is doing worse than Pakistan and Bangladesh on nutrition:

New Delhi, July 2 (IANS) India is worse than Bangladesh and Pakistan when it comes to nourishment and is showing little improvement in the area despite big money being spent on it, says Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed.

'There has been an enormous infusion of funds. But the National Family Health Survey gives a different story on malnourishment in the country. We don't know, something is just not clicking,' Hameed said.

Speaking at a conference on 'Malnutrition an emergency: what it costs the nation', she said even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during interactions with the Planning Commission has described malnourishment as the 'blackest mark'.

'I should not compare. But countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are better,' she said. The conference was organised Monday by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Ministry of Development of Northeastern Region.

According to India's National Family Health Survey, almost 46 percent of children under the age of three are undernourished - an improvement of just one percent in the last seven years. This is only a shade better than Sub-Saharan Africa where about 35 percent of children are malnourished.

Hameed said the government's Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, which is a flagship programme to improve the health of women and children, had not shown results despite a lot of money being spent on it in the past few years.

'We have not been successful in improving the status of health of our women and children,' she added.

The annual budget for women and child development (WCD) ministry in 2008-9 is Rs.72 billion. Of this, Rs.63 billion is for ICDS.

According to Unicef, every year 2.1 million children in India die before celebrating their fifth birthday. While malnutrition is the primary reason behind it, other factors like lack of health facilities, hygiene and good nutrition compound the problem.

Narrating her experiences while travelling the length and breadth of the country, Hameed said in many areas women were still starving and finding it difficult to feed their children.

She said emphasis should be given on inclusive breast-feeding for six months after a child's birth, maternity benefits for pregnant women and food fortification of ready to eat mid-day meals.

'We are concerned and worried that we are losing human beings in such a manner. It is a disappointment and a blot. We have just improved a fraction and we are determined that we do not let it get worse,' she said.

'It is frustrating to see this dark and dismal picture of undernourishment in the country. We have to learn the experiences from other South Asian countries,' she added.

The NFHS survey found that levels of anaemia in children and women had worsened compared to seven years ago -- around 56 percent of women and 79 percent of children below three years are anaemic.

Vinita Bali, managing director of Britannia Industries, said the problem was very critical and action was needed from both the government and the industry.

She said their 'Tiger' biscuits had been fortified with iron and had shown amazing results. These biscuits have been provided to children in Hyderabad with a midday meal.

'We conducted a study and found that in six months of taking these biscuits, the haemoglobin increased. The biscuits are not only healthy but also fortified,' she said.

'There should be a balance between prevention and treatment. Our focus should be to target the most vulnerable and then only we will have a much healthier future for India,' he added.

Unknown said...

This is a delayed acknowledgment of the failure of the system including the planning commision to understand the magnitude of the problem. If you need to feed 60 million malnourihshed children, you
need a billion rupees a day. The government does not have that kind of money unless it cuts spending on other heads. We have to get our priorities right otherwise the situation will only get

Anonymous said...

The main problem I think lies it it's population. India's population is increasing at a rate faster than people can be pulled out of poverty.

Government is also rather inefficient compared to other countries.

Population control is key. China could not be where it is today if it didn't control their population growth.

Unknown said...

There is no way that any of the countries in South Asia with the possible exception of Bangladesh will come anywhere close to achieving the MDGs. I think the figure of 240 million kids below age five is incorrect. It would be about half that number since the number of malnourished kids is about 60 million which is about half the total number. We add about 28 million kids each year of which nearly 2 million die.

Riaz Haq said...

There's been a rash of teenage suicides in Mumbai this year, according to a BBC report:

Inexplicably, teenage suicides have become an almost daily occurrence in Maharashtra - one of India's most developed states - and its capital Mumbai (Bombay).

The toll of teenage suicides from the beginning of the year until 26 January 2010 stood at 32, which is more than one a day.

While there are no comparative figures for the same period in 2009, there is a consensus among the concerned authorities in Mumbai that teenage suicides are spiralling out of control.

There is also a general agreement between psychologists and teachers that the main reason for the high number of teenagers taking their own lives is the increasing pressure on children to perform well in exams.

The scale of this largely preventable problem is dizzying - both in India with its billion-plus people and particularly in the state of in Maharashtra.

More than 100,000 people commit suicide in India every year and three people a day take their own lives in Mumbai.

Suicide is one of the top three causes of death among those aged between 15 and 35 years and has a devastating psychological, social and financial impact on families and friends.

'Needless toll'

World Health Organisation Assistant Director-General Catherine Le Gals-Camus points out more people die from suicide around the world than from all homicides and wars combined.

"There is an urgent need for co-ordinated and intensified global action to prevent this needless toll. For every suicide death there are scores of family and friends whose lives are devastated emotionally, socially and economically," she says.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's BBC commentary by Soutik Biswas on India's "rights revolution":

Ensuring the basics in life remains the biggest challenge for India, six decades after independence.

Take food. Some 43% of Indian children younger than five are underweight - far above the global average of 25% or sub-Saharan Africa's 28%. India is a lowly 65th among 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index. Half of the world's hungry people live in India.

So the proposed right to food, entitling a poor family to 25kg of rice or wheat at three rupees (seven cents) a kilogram is good news. The bad news is that identifying the deserving poor is a challenge - there are four different government estimates of the very poor or below poverty line (BPL) people floating around. States may inflate numbers of beneficiaries to corner more federal benefits. Then there is the notoriously leaky public distribution system, from where food is often siphoned off by a triad of low-level bureaucrats, shop owners and middlemen.

Nobody can deny that the right to education - every child aged 6-14 can demand free schooling - is critical: an estimated eight million children in that age group do not attend school in India. India's 61% literacy rate lags behind Kenya's 85%. But critics point to a lack of teachers - India would need more than a million teachers just to implement the right - and say there are simply not enough schools to cope with the increased demand.

Rights don't work miracles. But activists say they are an urgent social intervention to empower the poor in a highly iniquitous society, where it is difficult for the poor to access officials to air their grievances and secure their entitlements. "In a hierarchical society, rights-based movements are a way of moving towards equality," says leading political scientist Mahesh Rangarajan. Also, they put pressure on the state to deliver - the right to information, despite glitches, is making government more accountable.

Studies show that sensitive political and bureaucratic leadership combined with grassroots awareness and an engaged local media can translate rights into reality and improve the lives of the poor. Activists point out that money is not a problem - the economy is doing well, revenues are buoyant, federal health and education outlays have been increased. The government has pledged more than $5bn to send 10 million poor children to school.

The cynicism over rights mainly comes from India's burgeoning educated upper middle class. It is mostly not engaged with public institutions at all - its members rarely serve in the lower ranks of the armed forces, teach in state schools or work for the government. Yes, there are valid concerns about whether the state has the capacity to deliver on rights. Yes, the Indian state continues to focus on maintaining law and order and collecting revenue. Delivering services is not its strength. Rights could actually help it move towards a functioning welfare state. I would like to hear stories from you - and people you may know - who are reaping the benefits of the rights revolution.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a piece by Lan Pritchett of Harvard University on India's poor performance on PISA:

Compared to the economic superstars India is almost unfathomably far behind. The TN/HP average 15 year old is over 200 points behind. If a typical grade gain is 40 points a year Indian eighth graders are at the level of Korea third graders in their mathematics mastery. In fact the average TN/HP child is 40 to 50 points behind the worst students in the economic superstars. Equally worrisome is that the best performers in TN/HP - the top 5 percent who India will need in science and technology to complete globally - were almost 100 points behind the average child in Singapore and 83 points behind the average Korean - and a staggering 250 points behind the best in the best.

As the current superpowers are behind the East Asian economic superstars in learning performance the distance to India is not quite as far, but still the average TN/HP child is right at the level of the worst OECD or American students (only 1.5 or 7.5 points ahead). Indians often deride America's schools but the average child placed in an American school would be among the weakest students. Indians might have believed, with President Obama, that American schools were under threat from India but the best TN/HP students are 24 points behind the average American 15 year old.

Even among other "developing" nations that make up the BRICs India lags - from Russia by almost as much as the USA and only for Brazil, which like the rest of Latin America is infamous for lagging education performance does India even come close - and then not even that close.

To put these results in perspective, in the USA there has been huge and continuous concern that has caused seismic shifts in the discourse about education driven, in part, by the fact that the USA is lagging the economic superstars like Korea. But the average US 15 year old is 59 points behind Koreans. TN/HP students are 41.5 points behind Brazil, and twice as far behind Russia (123.5 points) as the US is Korea, and almost four times further behind Singapore (217.5 vs 59) that the US is behind Korea. Yet so far this disastrous performance has yet to occasion a ripple in the education establishment.
These PISA 2009+ results are the end of the beginning. The debate is over. No one can still deny there is a deep crisis in the ability of the existing education system to produce child learning. India's education system is undermining India's legitimate aspirations to be at the global forefront as a prosperous economy, as a global great power, as an emulated polity, and as a fair and just society. As the beginning ends, the question now is: what is to be done?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a NY Times story about child slavery in India:

The girl’s screams were brittle and desperate. Neighbors in the suburban housing complex looked up and saw a child crying for help from an upstairs balcony. She was 13 and worked as a maid for a couple who had gone on vacation to Thailand. They had left her locked inside their apartment.

After a firefighter rescued her, the girl described a life akin to slavery, child welfare officials said. Her uncle had sold her to a job placement agency, which sold her to the couple, both doctors. The girl was paid nothing. She said the couple barely fed her and beat her if her work did not meet expectations. She said they used closed-circuit cameras to make certain she did not take extra food.

In India, reported to have more child laborers than any other country in the world, child labor and trafficking are often considered symptoms of poverty: desperately poor families sell their children for work, and some end up as prostitutes or manual laborers.

But the case last week of the 13-year-old maid is a reminder that the exploitation of children is also a symptom of India’s rising wealth, as the country’s growing middle class has created a surging demand for domestic workers, jobs often filled by children.

The Indian news media, usually a bullhorn for middle-class interests, ran outraged front-page articles. But the case was hardly unique. Last week, an 11-year-old Nepalese girl, working as a servant, said that her employer had beaten her with a rolling pin, according to the police.

Indian law offers limited safeguards and limited enforcement to protect such children, and public attitudes are usually permissive in a society where even in the lowest rungs of the middle class, families often have at least one live-in servant.

“There is a huge, huge demand,” said Ravi Kant, a lawyer with Shakti Vahini, a nonprofit group that combats child trafficking. “The demand is so huge that the government is tending toward regulation rather than saying our children should not work but should be in school.”

The International Labor Organization has found that India has 12.6 million laborers between the ages of 5 and 14, with roughly 20 percent working as domestic help. Other groups place the figure at 45 million or higher. Unicef has said India has more child laborers than any other country in the world.

Many of these children come from India’s poorest states, either through shadowy job placement agencies or by kidnapping. In 2011, more than 32,000 children were reported missing in India, according to government crime statistics.
The girl’s employers, identified by the police as Dr. Sanjay Verma and Dr. Sumita Verma, were arrested Wednesday after their return to India and remanded to police custody. The police have filed preliminary charges of violations of the Juvenile Justice Act, the Child Labor Prohibition and Regulation Act and other violations of the criminal code.

Their lawyer denied the charges at a bail hearing.

But Mr. Kant, the lawyer with Shakti Vahini, said the courts rarely issued harsh judgments in cases involving the rights of domestic help.

“There is a general feeling that we need these people,” Mr. Kant said. “Cases aren’t taken so seriously. There is no fear of the law.”

Riaz Haq said...

The butterfly effect: Helping Pakistan’s children emerge from their cocoon

The human brain is one of nature’s most fascinating and mysterious creations, with its full potential still unknown. And Prof Tony Buzan is on a quest to understand how it works.

Buzan and his team have picked Pakistan as the starting point for their Butterfly Universe Initiative, a global movement for mental literacy that focuses upon ‘learning how to learn’. The project aims to unleash the potential of five million children in the country by 2020 through mind mapping.

“Our goal is to have a mentally literate world, and for that, everyone must think,” explains Buzan, the inventor of the mind mapping method and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2014. History, according to him, has witnessed every developed country being led by critical thinking — and the creativity and energy he sees in Pakistan’s people makes him think it is the perfect place to begin his mission.

“In this digital age, there are manuals for everything but our brains,” says Buzan. “Our vision is simple: learn how to understand your brain.”

There are three things he looks for in the teachers selected for his project: the ability to imagine, the vision to daydream and the passion to educate. “We as a team gave a formula to our master trainers to train teachers, who will further teach students to broaden their mental horizons and see the flip side of the picture.”

Over the course of the project, the teachers will be shown how to open up their minds, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. “The beautiful, vibrant butterfly we see was not always that way — it was a caterpillar that went through the stages of transformation,” Tariq Qureishy, the CEO of Vantage Holding and founder of 100% MAD (Make A Difference), draws a butterfly on a piece of paper to illustrate his point. “Unfortunately, our system never lets our teachers and students evolve beyond the cocoon.”

He hastens to add that the children are not at fault — it is the system and the teachers that share equal responsibility. “Our project is unique because we try to make learning for fun for children and teaching interesting for teachers.”

One thousand trained teachers from four different schooling systems, including The Citizens Foundation and The City School, have already started promoting mind mapping within their schools. “We are targeting 100 schools for a year, where teachers get two hours of training every evening and the students learn through a full-day training programme on Saturdays,” Qureishy shares the plan for the project’s initial phase.

“It is believed that if a butterfly flaps its wings in one place, it can cause a hurricane weeks later in a distant location,” says Qureishy. “The 1,000 butterflies that we have trained have started flapping their wings. It is only a matter of time before the rest of the world joins in.”

Riaz Haq said...

Capgemini #India chief says 65% of #Indian #IT employees not trainable. #software #computers via @economictimes

"I am not very pessimistic, but it is a challenging task and I tend to believe that 60-65 per cent of them are just not trainable," Capgemini India's chief executive Srinivas Kandula said here over the weekend.

The domestic arm of the French IT major employs nearly one lakh engineers in the country.

"A large number of them cannot be trained. Probably, India will witness the largest unemployment in the middle level to senior level," he said at the annual Nasscom le ..

Read more at: