Securing liberation from illiteracy and ill-health

TV Jayan | Updated on August 14, 2020

Active government intervention has enhanced enrolment and retention levels; the country’s health profile presents a mixed picture

A series of measures initiated by successive governments in nearly a quarter of a century have had a positive outcome on the education front, particularly in elementary education. From the mid-day meal scheme launched (as a Centrally sponsored scheme) in 1995, following an order from the Supreme Court; to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan introduced in 2000; and the Right to Education (RTE) Act passed in 2009… these have helped improve enrolment of children in schools and retain them there for long.

The RTE Act is particularly a landmark achievement. With it, education has become a fundamental right. “When our Constitution was drafted, right to education was still considered beyond our reach. After decades, Parliament legislated it as a fundamental right," says Krishna Kumar, former director of the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT).

Today, every single girl child is getting enrolled in school. “This is a very important social landmark that nobody could have imagined in the 1960s and the 1970s. It is not that gender gap has been overcome in its entirety. But a girl child born in any part of India is likely to be enrolled in Grade 1 and is likely to leave home every morning to get to a nearby school. That is a landscape change," he says.

The government’s own figures indicate that since the mid-1990s, the retention rate of girl children has significantly increased year after year. Many States have got a retention rate of close to 95 per cent up to Grade 5. The task of retaining girls between Grades 6 and 8 is still a challenge, and so it is with children from the Scheduled Castes. Their retention rate in primary and upper primary classes is considerably high, indicating a positive social change.

As a consequence of these initiatives, and focussed adult literacy programmes over decades, literacy in India has vaulted from 18.33 per cent in 1951 to 74 per cent in 2011.

Simultaneously, there has been tremendous improvement in public health interventions, particularly aimed at tackling infections diseases. Polio has been virtually eradicated, but tuberculosis continues to be a challenge. According to the World Health Organization’s TB statistics in 2018, India is home to 2.69 million TB patients, the highest for any country. Another infectious disease of concern is leprosy: it was considered eradicated about 15 years ago, but has re-emerged even though India has one of the world’s largest leprosy eradication programmes. According to a 2018 study, India reports 1.2-1.3 lakh new cases of leprosy a year, which accounts for 59 per cent of the new cases worldwide.

“India has improved its child and maternal mortality outcomes tremendously with focussed attention,” says Oommen C Kurian, Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. Besides, India is now acknowledging the real scale of

diseases like TB and leprosy. “But despite all this, funding remains acutely limited to make any real difference; there has been a tendency to keep disease data under wraps, which isn’t helping,” says Kurian.

However, he believes that the Ayushman Bharat insurance scheme could be a potential game changer. “It has consolidated gains from the UPA era and built on them considerably, in terms of the width and depth of coverage, focus on non-communicable diseases at the primary health level and getting healthcare programmea within reach of the very poor,” Kurian says.

Published on August 15, 2020

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