New Delhi: Despite the strides made to close the education gaps in India, almost a fifth of the country’s population—266 million adults—are still unable to read and some 12 million children are yet to get enrolled in schools, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s representative Shigeru Aoyagi said on Monday.

Describing it as a “huge challenge," Aoyagi said, adding that “if India can improve and change the education scenario, the total global education scenario will change."

Aoyagi’s comments come after the global launch of UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring report 2017-18 in Brazil in October.

“If you look at India, this is a huge country, like a continent. The number of education receivers is quite, quite huge. We have achieved a lot but the challenge ahead is quite, quite big," Aoyagi said. “But if we look at the literacy levels and numbers in India, 35% of (the world’s) illiterate population is here (in India). The number is around 266 million people who can’t read and write," he said.

There were some 12 million children who do not go to school, Aoyagi said. “So the challenge is big," the UNESCO official said, adding the world had 13 years to fulfil the sustainable development goals it had set for itself at the United Nations in 2015.

India’s role therefore was “critical" he said, adding all that stakeholders—teachers, parents, students and the government—had to join hands to ensure that Asia’s third largest economy reached the targets set by the UN for the year 2030.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the 150 world leaders present at the United Nations in New York in September 2015 when the world body set itself a target of 17 new goals to improve the standards of living of people worldwide.

Making education accessible to all as well as improving the quality of education available is one of the 17 sustainable development goals.

Among the major recommendations of the UNESCO report is the need to improve accountability.

The report also warns that “disproportionate blame on any one actor—in most cases teachers—for systemic educational problems can have serious negative side effects, widening inequality and damaging learning." It also calls for “better regulation of private tutoring" globally as well as in India which was widening the education gap between the rich and the poor.

The report also recommends allocation of 4% of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for education or 15% of the total government expenditure.

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