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Amartya speaks for public education

The Nobel laureate favours the immediate enforcement of the amended Right to Education Bill, reports Srinand Jha.

india Updated: Dec 20, 2007 01:44 IST
Srinand Jha

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen favours the immediate implementation of the amended Right to Education Bill, saying public education is indispensable while private schools can only play a supplementary role.

The Bill, among other measures, allows children between 6 and 14 the fundamental right to free education and says states will ensure that within three years, every child will have a school in his or her neighbourhood.

Unequal distribution of the benefits of economic progress is related to gaps in public services and — in the sphere of education — this gap cannot be met by the expansion of public schools, Sen told a seminar, titled Right to Education-Actions Now.

He said families who could afford private education were those that were relatively favoured by economic prosperity and not the large mass of families whose educational needs were more difficult to fulfil. Nowhere in the world have private schools been able to cover the entire spectrum of society, he said.

Praising the tireless activities of civil society groups campaigning for right to education, Sen said, while there has been government over-activity in some areas, there has persisted a situation of under-activity in constructive public functions such as improving educational infrastructure.

He stressed that his argument was not against the growth-oriented economic policy. “Economic growth does generate government resources that can be used to expand neglected public services,” he said.

Pointing to the fact that government revenue has grown significantly fast, he said the catch was in using resources intelligently instead of allowing them to get absorbed only in private consumption.

“School inspection system has broken down in many parts of India and this problem cannot be tackled by administrative reforms alone. What is required is a genuine positive collaboration with social groups,” he said.