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Common thread

Six decades later, a tryst with destiny

With the coming into force of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, a historic milestone has been achieved six decades after it was conceived of. An April 2 Asian Age editorial explained that "the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in our Constitution had visualised such a law to take effect within 10 years of the founding of the republic — that is 1960"; clearly, it has not proved to be an easy task. It contended that the main reason for this was lack of economic resources, but that is no longer the case with "India …today able to command the resources that may help it ensure that all children are able to get quality education, which will emancipate them and make them fit for higher productivity as economic agents." But even with the resources, an April 2 Mail Today editorial warned, "the very scope of the Act makes it a gigantic endeavour, one that requires a great deal of managerial skill and effort of the kind that governments at the state and Centre have not quite revealed so far." It also pointed out that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's emphasis on "the need to make the requirements of disadvantaged persons, girls, adivasis and Dalits a focus in implementing the Act" is crucial because "the persistence of illiteracy in the country has structural roots…those disadvantaged are so because they belong to a particular gender or class."

In an April 1 article in Hindustan Times, meanwhile, Vimala Ramchandran laid out exactly what the RTE mandates when it comes to the quality and standard of schools; "it is now mandatory for every single school to acquire a certificate of recognition after complying with norms and standards specified in the act…. every child has the right to a proper school." This she said, meant "a school that functions for five-six hours a day, where there is one teacher for every 30 children, where children have access to textbooks and learning material, where they get a mid-day meal and a place where children are with other children of their age." Kapil Sibal took a more macro view in an an April 1 Hindu article, talking about the various elements that had shaped "the discourse on elementary education" over the years, and which the RTE had to keep in mind. For instance, he said, "administrators focus on enrolment, availability of schools within walking distance, provisioning for infrastructure, and deployment of teachers." But educationists focus on the quality of education, looking at issues of "whether and how children learn, and the burden of the syllabi, which is passed on to tuition centres or parents." Meanwhile, "development professionals" bring in yet another angle, discussing "the impact of the number of years of schooling…on the age of marriage and family size." Economists take a pragmatic line, talking about "the economic returns on investment in education" while "parents too have expectations from the education system — that it should equip their children for gainful employment and economic wellbeing."

Russian roulette

The brutal Moscow metro bombing that left close to 40 people dead and over 100 injured has brought Russia's problems in the North Caucasus region back into the spotlight. The "brazenness" of the attacks, a March 31 New York Times editorial said, "raised fears that, after six years of relative calm, the country may be facing a renewed campaign of attacks by extremists from the Caucasus." While it acknowledged the Russian leaders' rights and responsibilities to protect their people, however, it also said that it was "concerned…that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will use Monday's horror as another excuse to further consolidate his authoritarian control of the country."

The Guardian agreed in a March 30 editorial, saying that "the logic, if that is the right word, of the bombings" is rooted in "Moscow's often ruthless and occasionally incompetent responses" to previous attacks. Further, it contended, the bombs "question Russian claims to have quelled the insurgencies in the north Caucasus. A brutal stability. . . has been achieved at the cost of massive and ongoing human rights violations." Rajan Menon rounded out the condemnation in a March 31 opinion piece in L.A. Times, saying that Russia has "inflamed tensions in the region by propping up corrupt local elites" while "security forces take bribes and practice torture." He ends by cautioning that Putin "should use his considerable popularity to denounce intolerance and scapegoating, particularly of the nation's 20 million Muslims, who make up 15% of the population."

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