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On October 4th, Abhimanyu Singh, Director and Representative UNESCO Beijing, spoke at a seminar entitled Attaining Education for All: A Comparison between China & India, which was part of SAI’s Education Seminar Series and the Harvard Asia Center‘s Modern Asia Seminar Series. His focus was on Universal Primary Education and Adult Education as he took the audience through a systematic comparison between the trajectories of progress in education outcomes and reasons for difference between the two high population countries of Asia. Citing statistics with illustrative graphs, Mr. Singh showed that China had made tremendous progress over the past decade with only ‘residual adult illiteracy’ today whereas India’s progress has been relatively slow.

The analysis included a discussion of critical factors as to why such difference between India and China has ensued. In particular, he pointed towards political prioritization of education from an earlier stage in China, such as its Constitution of 1949 taking a radical break from the past with an emphasis on modernization, while India’s colonial legacy has prevented the requisite stimulus to innovative action. China’s took a pragmatic approach in providing accelerated courses for workers and farmers, simplified chinese characters and skills based education. India’s emphasis on higher

education, which did provide rapid industrialization, has resulted in an elitist and urban bias in education and no enforcement of compulsory education laws or those against child labor. Today, illiteracy rates in states within China has a difference of only 10% between the highest and lowest illiteracy whereas within India it is 50%.

Professor Akshay Mangla of Harvard Business School was the moderator for the discussion and took a series of question on the topic. The issue of India being a democracy and yet not sufficiently providing education as a basic human right was explicitly brought up. An emphasis on the need for international bench-marking for education outcomes, a willingness to learn, and the need for partnerships with the private sector were among the recommendations discussed. In attendance were several faculty, such as Richard Elmore, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Tarun Khanna, Faculty Director of Harvard South Asia Institute, along with students and affiliates from across the university.