UNICEF’s annual flagship publication, The State of the World’s Children Report, was formally launched by Dr. Shashi Panja, Hon’ble Minister of State, Department of Child Development &Women Development & Social Welfare(Independent Charge) & MoS- Department of Health & Family Welfare ,GoWB. The State of the World’s Children (SOWC) Report 2016 focuses on the need of giving a “Fair Start” to each and every child across the world.
“ It’s time all of us talked about how we can contribute in making sure every child has the opportunity and means to receive quality education in India, ensuring they have the right start in life. I would urge everyone to not only include “quality education” in your development agenda but also focus on “equity in education”. If we do not reach out to the child who needs us the most, then our work will always remain incomplete. It is not only about reaching the development goals but it is also our promise to our children to ensure that each one of them get a fair start,” stated Dr. Panja.
The report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. Global under-five mortality rates have been more than halved since 1990, boys and girls attend primary school in equal numbers in 129 countries, and the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide is almost half of what it was in the 1990s.
But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report says. The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest. Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with a secondary education. And girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.
Although education plays a unique role in levelling the playing field for children, the number of children who do not attend school has increased since 2011, and a significant proportion of those who do go to school are not learning. Acknowledging education to be one of the key instruments in promoting equity, the focus of the Report launch in India was on “Equity in Education”.
Releasing the report, Mr. Asadur Rahman, Chief, UNICEF India said, “The early years are foundational and children who start behind, stay behind. There are long-term consequences, particularly for the most marginalised and disadvantaged children, when they enter school without a quality preschool education. And gaps between disadvantaged children and other children become harder to bridge at later points in their education.”
West Bengalhas much to celebrate in the area of education, particularly in ensuring children’s access to school, through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and implementation of the Right to Education Act. The Early Childhood Care and Education in West Bengal has been considered to be the best in the country. This is reflected in the near-universal enrolment in primary education and the steady decrease in numbers of out-of-school children.
The report points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits. Globally, cash transfers, for example, have been shown to help children stay in school longer and advance to higher levels of education. In West Bengal, Kanyashree has not only ensured that many more girls stay in school and complete their education but also have saved many children from early marriages.
Inequity is neither inevitable, nor insurmountable, the report argues. Better data on the most vulnerable children, integrated solutions to the challenges children face, innovative ways to address old problems, more equitable investment and increased involvement by communities – all these measures can help level the playing field for children.
The launch event was followed by a panel discussion on how West Bengal, as a state, is addressing the issues of inequities in education. The panel included Mr. Rabbi, President, Madrasah Board of West Bengal, Ms. Subhra Chatterjee, Director, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, representatives from Pratichi India Trust, our NGO partner, Sanchar and our very dear children representatives from Meena Manch and Kanyashree clubs from Howrah and North 24 Parganas.