THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Activists welcomed the south Indian state of Kerala being named the first in the country to give a primary education to its entire population, but stressed the need to improve the quality of education.
Vice President Hamid Ansari last week declared the coastal state of 34 million - popular among tourists for its backwater canals and lagoons - had achieved its goal to educate its population to the primary standard of grade 4.
Officials attribute the success to a scheme called Athulyam, which targeted over a period of five years more than 200,000 people between the ages of 15 and 50, including school dropouts, prison inmates and physically disabled people.
Athulyam, which means unequalled, used limited resources, officials said, and relied on the participation of volunteers and civil society groups to identify and enrol individuals in more than 4,000 education centres across the state.
But activists in Kerala said they were not impressed by the declaration, adding that programmes like Athulyam would only make a difference if more investment went toward improving the overall quality of education.
"Programmes like Athulyam may bring accolades to Kerala, but it will not help the people. A total revamp of the education system is needed if Kerala has to build on the achievements the state has made in the education sector," activist and writer M.N. Karassery said on Wednesday.
Other activists agreed.
"Several universities in the country are denying admission to students from Kerala as they feel that they got inflated marks," said M.G. Sasibhooshan, an activist and historian.
"The Delhi University, for example, reduces 10 percent marks from the total marks obtained by a student in Kerala for admitting them to their course," he added.
Education and literacy have long been established as key to improving human development and social indicators, helping to break the cycle of poverty and prevent problems such as child marriage, teen pregnancy and violence against women.
According to India's 2011 census, Kerala had a literacy rate of 93.9 percent, the highest in the country. But in 2013, northeastern Tripura claimed it had surpassed Kerala as the most literate state in India, with a literacy rate of 94.7 percent.
(Reporting by D. Jose in Thiruvananthapuram. Writing by Nita Bhalla. Editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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