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Right to Education

At the beginning of April, the Indian government put into effect The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, giving all children aged 6 to 14 years the right to elementary education. 
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the nation on the occasion, saying:
“We are committed to ensuring that all children, irrespective of gender and social category, have access to education. An education that enables them to acquire the skills, knowledge, values and attitudes necessary to become responsible and active citizens of India.”
Achieving universal literacy in India is an enormous challenge. According to informal estimates, close to 40 million children do not attend school. The official government estimates of children out of school is approximately 9 million children. The difference is usually attributed to children who many be enrolled in school but who do not attend school.
Indian NGOs have played an important role in the advances made in providing education over the past decades. Organizations like Pratham, RIVER and Bodh Shiksha Samiti demonstrate the role of NGOs in enrolling hard to reach populations in educational institutions and promoting innovation within the education system.


While the development world in India is brimming with hope and excitement about the implementation of the Act, NGOs face serious challenges from the policies put forth.
The most important challenge is ensuring that the insitutions run by these NGOs meet the infrastructure criteria laid out in the Act.   NGO educational institutions typically cater to the poorest children and hence are inadequately resourced. Now, they will have to comply with new infrastructure requirements, which many will lack the funding to do.
The second challenge for NGOs is to make sure that the voices of the constituencies they represent is heard in the resource allocation process. These decisions are being made in a decentralized manner at the local panchayat level. Children left out of the educational system currently are most likely to have illiterate parents who already lack a voice in the political process.   Can NGOs create awareness of the new policies and organize those who avail of their institutions to ensure that resources flow to those who need them the most?
Finally, many NGOs depend upon “para-teachers” to supplement their teaching staff. These are usually local community members who have attained a certain amount of education who are enlisted to teach. Under the new law that mandates qualification requirements for teachers, many of these para-teachers will not qualify as teachers. In a country that already faces a shortage of teachers, this could have a very adverse impact on the education system.
We will wait and see how NGOs react to the new law, and how the government accommodates their unique role in the education system. In the meantime, do find out for yourself about how your favorite education NGO feels about the new law, and what sort of support they need to thrive in the new system. 

Azad Oommen


Why Its Important?


As my son celebrates his 8th birthday today, I recognise even more that as a parent, its our responsibility to instil a good value system in them. In a world where they are growing to expect every new gadget, new innovation almost instantly - ensuring that they appreciate what they have and how fortunate they are is so important.


On his 5th birthday, three years ago we visited an NGO in Bandra, Mumbai. They worked with children who were infected with HIV/AIDS. The kids were under ten and as we walked in to donate art supplies and books for the kids as part of his birthday program it became very apparent to my son through his own observation what he had and what they did not...but more importantly also what they had in common. They loved to play and read just like he did. They loved hanging out with friends just like he did. They all had a smile on their face just like he always did. Hearing him and his cousin, reiterate their thoughts on our way back home, I realised that children were like sponges, they do take in what they are exposed to and have a phenominal capacity to determine good from bad and also the role they can play.


That and a history of working with various non profit organizations in US that raised money for India - lead me to believe in the magic that results by exposing people to social and development issues - in person. The importance of a hands-on approach, of interaction or connecting people cannot be overstated. That was the birth of SevaYatra - at least in my mind. It took some time after that to formulate and validate the model. But here were are now - ready to catalyze a large scale service and giving movement focused on India. We invite you to join us with your friends, families and colleagues to make that difference in the life of others and also let your own life be impacted in the process.


Its important quite simply because its our responsibilty.