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Are you Equal in Education?

As we have evolved over the years, society has understood the importance of education and it has become a moral obligation to make sure that all children receive good education & opportunities that help them to develop into contributing adults in society. The development and moulding of their skills are taught keeping the best interest of the society in mind so that future generations can prosper and carry forward their legacy. It is only through formal learning that young children inculcate knowledge and talents that will help the country to progress forward.

All children have talents and skills that grow and develop through education. Unfortunately, not many children have access to education which ultimately leads to society losing out on opportunities for enrichment and progress. Inadequate education could lead to an increase in illiteracy or unskilled workers that further contribute towards poor economic growth and reduced tax revenues which leads to higher costs of health care, social security, and an increase in crimes, especially juvenile.

In the past few years, educational equality has become a central focus of many schools and colleges that have understood how important education is and strive to provide equal opportunities to most, if not all. It has reached a point where this discussion on how to achieve both equality as well as equity has become full-fledged courses devoted to finding a solution for this recurring problem.

Educational equality can be defined as the idea that all students should have an equal opportunity to education regardless of factors such as race, gender, disability, sexuality, class, or caste. Throughout history, these characteristics have been used to suppress the minorities from receiving proper education and it is only now that this notion has begun to change. Academic equality aims to create a world in which every single student has an equal level playing field within the education system and does not have to experience setbacks based on and caused by these factors.

Educational inequality can be traced throughout history where in the past, being born a woman, part of an ethnic minority, or with a disability often meant being excluded from receiving education. Some famous academic legal cases such as Brown vs. Board of Education have helped shed light on the realities of life and have resulted in bringing academic equality closer to becoming a reality.

It has taken a combination of shifting social attitudes, and the continued canvassing of these groups in society, in order to open up academic spaces to all. Sometimes these moves towards equality have been natural social shifts, whereas other times, they have been precipitated by government legislation.

In many countries, especially developing countries like India - educational equality continues to be a point of contention among people. Many organizations like UNESCO wants to change this with its Education for All project. About 164 participating countries have agreed to the set number of goals for UNESCO's project which aim to make basic education free and available to all children. This would result in reducing the rate of adult illiteracy in half which would eventually lead to equal treatment of men and women.

India’s economy is grossly uneven and it suffers from substantial inequalities in education, employment, and income-based on caste and ethnicity. One of the most controversial schemes - the reservation system has brought about positive discrimination policies. These policies reserve 15% of the seats in institutions of higher education, state, and central government jobs for people of the lowest caste who are the Scheduled Caste, and 7.5% of the seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribe. With the increase in funding and more stringent measures of enforcement, they have brought about change while facing popular backlash at the same time.

One of the major objectives of the successive Five-Year Plans has been to promote equalization of educational opportunities and resources in the country. The Constitution of India even stresses the importance of equality in education through these provisions:

1. Article 26 (1): It states that education is a fundamental right. No person should be denied admission to educational institutions on the grounds of caste, colour, creed, religion, or any one of them.

2. Article 21 (A): The 93rd Amendment of the Directive Principles of State Policy declares, “the State shall endeavor to provide ... free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years.” Thus, it provides equal opportunity to all primary education for all children.

3. Article 46: The State shall promote with special care the education and economic interests of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the weaker sections of society.

The Government of India has undertaken a number of steps to strengthen its educational system and provide more resources and opportunities especially for minorities like the SCs and STs and other weaker sections of the society under the following educational schemes:

1. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) 2. Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas 3. Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVS) 4. National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) 5. Community Polity

As a country, we have a long way to go in terms of progress in our education system especially focusing on achieving equality in all sections of our society. The first step towards this would be to educate oneself and use our resources to help those who are more in need. As citizens, it is our responsibility that our fellowmen, irrespective of caste, class, creed, sex, etc. all deserve the right to education and we need to fight for them and hold the government responsible.

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