RCB celebrates Rotary Literacy Month with an enthralling talk by Anurag Behar.

Sometimes treating people as human beings is enough”, a pithy statement to end his address summed up Anurag Behar’s illuminating talk about the education scene in India, particularly on the dedication of teachers. Vice Chancellor of Azim Premji University and CEO of Azim Premji Foundation, Mr. Behar brought all
his personal experience into the fore, holding in thrall
the audience in the well-filled hall.

Anurag Behar divided his talk into three distinct sections:
  1. The school education scenario in the country.
  2. The main issues affecting the education system
  3. The role of APF in education.

The statistics quoted by Mr. Behar were staggering. India has 1.5 million schools with 210 million students and teacher strength of 8 million. This compares with just 600,000 schools in China. But what is challenging for the Indian school system is that teaching happens in 23 languages with just one teacher across 6 grades for about 35 students. Further, 60% of the students’ parents are illiterate.

The positive situation in India is that as recently as in 1987 only around 55% of the children in India went
to primary school. Today the percentage is a very positive 95% who are enrolled in schools. Practically every village in the country now has a primary school. Another encouraging factor is that in primary schools the gender ratio has jumped up from 100:65 to 100:100. Unfortunately, the gender equality reduces in higher classes. Further, for every 100 students in primary class only 40 complete 10th standard.

But a lot of good work has been done by the government. The National Curricula Framework of 2005 has brought
in a lot of standardization in education across the country. The government too is fast-tracking the education system which generally is inter-generational. In fact, Finland took 60 years to reach its present standard of education.

Dwelling on the role of APF, Mr. Behar said that 1300 staff members are working directly with teachers across
7 states. They also have a Teaching the Teacher program. The non-profit organization set up by Premji in 2001 currently functions across Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Pondicherry, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, in close partnership with various state governments. The foundation has worked largely in rural areas, to help contribute to the improvement of quality and equity of school education.

The Azim Premji University offers post-graduate courses in Education and in Development (M.A. in Education and M.A. in Development).

But there is still a lot of work to be done in the education sector. India has the worst teacher preparation in the world. Teachers are not always qualified enough to teach.

From his vast experience, Mr Behar quoted examples of dedicated teachers across remote corners of India
who are making a difference to the lives of youngsters.
He concluded with a real eye-opener.”It doesn’t matter if a school doesn’t have a good building. It matters to have a good teacher.”

Mr. Anurag Behar. The perfect speaker to kick-off the Rotary Literacy Month.

- Rtn. SVL Narayan

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