UNESCO honours India's historic leader Mahatma Gandhi among other great Indians as a reference in the development of peace with the launching of a new Institute - the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP), to be opened later this year.
For UNESCO, it is important that Gandhi's legacy endures, part of India's century-long legacy reflected in Rabindranath Tagore, Mohandas Gandhi and Amartya Sen, three "great Indian minds" referred to by UNESCO as it publicises the new Institute, quoting India's Father (Bapu): "If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children".
UNESCO's programmes will include educational initiatives aimed at children, to lift millions out of poverty, described by Gandhi as "the worst kind of violence". The Indian Government Programme Saakshar Bharat is intended to deliver a literacy programme to seventy million people over five years.
Other initiatives in partnership with UNESCO have launched pioneering projects such as The Barefoot College, in Tilonia, a school open to people without any formal education, founded explicitly on Gandhi's philosophy of service and sustainability. The school is the only one of its kind in the world.
Nirantar is a woman's organization in Uttar Pradesh: a fortnightly newspaper is produced by women from low castes and is distributed to over 20,000 newly literate readers.
These initiatives are part of the EFA - Education for All - goals in India, which are formed by four groups:
Access: Universal enrolment of all children, including girls and persons belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; Provision of primary school for all children within one kilometer of walking distance and of facility of non-formal education; and Improvement of ratio of primary to upper primary school to at least 1:2;
Retention: Reduction of dropout rates between Classes I to V and I to VIII to 20 and 40 per cent respectively; and Improvement of school facilities by revamped Operation Blackboard, to be extended to upper primary level also;
Achievement: Achievement of minimum levels of learning by approximately all children at the primary level, and introduction of this concept at the middle stage on a large scale;
Monitoring: Local level committee, with due representation to women and teachers, to assist in the working of primary education to oversee its functioning; and Improvement of the monitoring system for universalisation of elementary education.
Other initiatives include the successful Peace across Borders, which in 2011 brought together young people from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, to paint a mural together based on the poems of Rabindranath Tagore and Faiz Ahmad Faiz, in the framework of the UNESCO "Rabindranath Tagore, Pablo Neruda, Aimé Césaire: for a reconciled universal" programme.
India is set to achieve gender parity in primary education and Universal Primary Education by 2015, part of the Millennium Development Goals.
UNESCO concludes: "It is fitting that an institution placed under the aegis of Mahatma Gandhi should embody the core values he taught and lived by: respect for human rights; equality; tolerance; peaceful exchange and understanding; autonomy; self-empowerment; a more balanced relationship with the environment. With powerful backing and an extensive mandate, the Institute will carry Gandhi's legacy forward, leading the new generations along the way".
While India continues to have human rights issues, and especially serious questions concerning women's rights, this country has taken huge strides over the last few decades to assuming its rightful place of prominence on the world stage. And it has done so through development, not deployment. What a good lesson for the rest of the world, particularly the FUKUS Three (France, UK, US).
Sources: UNESCO, Education for All in India
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