In India, Compulsory Education for All Children—An Identity for All People

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In the past couple of days, India has taken two major steps towards better equality for its citizens. Yesterday, a law was enacted which ensures the right to an education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Today, a census will begin that will hopefully document all of India’s citizens, rich and poor, and will begin the process of the issuing of national identity cards to every person.

The federal government pledged to provide sufficient financial means to implement the new compulsory education policy. It expects to spend about $35 billion over five years. It is estimated that around 8-10 million children in India, currently do not go to school. A large portion of this number comes from the poorest of India, who do not have access to schools, or the financial ability to let their children leave the home during the day. Too much of their income comes from child labor. The new law guarantees teacher trainer for one teacher every 30 children and a quarter of enrollment reserved for the most disadvantaged of India.

The government is also undertaking what India’s Federal Interior Minister called, “the biggest operation since humankind came into existence.” He was referring to the fact that no census has ever been conducted on this scale for over one billion people. The census hopes to identify housing conditions, access to sanitary water, use of technology, and the diversity of ethnicities and languages. Photos and fingerprints will also be taken for every person over the age of 15, even those with no home, living under bridges and on railway platforms. This will eventually result in the issuing of identity cards for every person.

These two initiatives represent tremendous effort of the Indian government to improve living conditions for its people. With such a large population to be concerned with, the government must understand their living conditions, let alone their sheer numbers. In order to provide any kind of infrastructure or public service, the government must know its starting point. Basic questions such as how many people live in each province, or each community are essential. How can the government know who needs better access to water, without knowing who does not currently have it? Identity cards will also help the poor to easily identify themselves in order to be eligible for certain benefits. As of right now, they often rely on ration cards, letters from local officials, and other non-official documentation. Many of these people do not even have a birth certificate.

This initiative can hopefully go hand-in-hand with the first, the right to education for all children in India. Once the government knows exactly how many children are in need of education and which schools are currently dysfunctional, they can provide new and better schools. At Barakat we are currently working on a new program in a community in Uttar Pradesh, which will bring education to the women and children there, who currently do not have access to schooling. There are countless communities just like this one in which its residents cannot get an education and who are not literate because there are simply no schools.

The follow-through of these initiatives must live up to the peoples’ expectations. If India can actually take on programs of such immensity, its people will benefit in innumerable ways.

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