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Updated: August 10, 1993 05:00 PM GMT
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Christian groups are among the more than 30 voluntary agencies helping a government project that hopes to make Bihar, India´s least literate state, fully literate by the year 2000.

The Bihar Education Project (BEP), which aims at compulsory education for children up to 14 years and reduced illiteracy in the 15-35 age group, uses cultural shows, street plays, and other methods to spread literacy.

For five years now, villages in seven districts in this eastern state have been exposed to BEP, often described as "an ambitious education mission."

"What is significant in BEP is that voluntary agencies and persons are being recognized as part of BEP management," says BEP director Vijay Raghavan.

"Our collaboration is part of our justice mission -- an option for the less privileged people," says Jesuit Father Tony Pendanath, who is supervising the project in Rohtas district.

Seven priests and three nuns are working as district resource persons or supervisors. Christians form only 1.19 percent of the state´s 84 million people, but the Church manages nearly 1,000 schools and colleges.

In fact, 35 Catholic priests and nuns belonging to eight social action groups co-ordinate, supervise, give consultancy service or run several non-formal and adult education centers in villages of the selected districts.

Notre Dame Sister Mary Sujita, director of the state program for women, justifies the Church personnel´s involvement in the government project.

"The Religious and clergy have been traditional educators, but how far has this mission been fulfilled?" she asks.

With a 26 percent literacy rate, Bihar has the lowest student enrollment rate and the highest drop-out rate in India.

"If we use only formal methods of education, it will take decades to make the rest of the people literate," Sister Sujita told UCA News July 23.

The nun, a social activist for 12 years and a specialist in media communications, blames "degraded education infrastructure, teacher absenteeism and corruption at all levels" for Bihar´s educational backwardness.

"The BEP goal is to bring about a driving force in the state through education reconstruction," Sister Sujita asserted.

The project has six divisions: primary education, non-formal education, adult education, early child care and education, "Mahila Samakhya" (women´s education) and teacher training.

Non-formal education projects have been key to the overall literacy plan.

The federal government funds 35 voluntary agencies that manage 3,500 adult education centers and an estimated 16 million adult student illiterates (15-35 age group) at a cost of 15.39 billion rupees (US$495 million).

Among them is Father Pendanath´s Rohtas Educational and Associated Programs in central Bihar, which manages 135 non-formal educational centers, two cultural troupes, two primary schools, four remedial teaching centers and a health center which caters to 250 patients daily.

"Non-formal and adult education is the only way to bring education to the villages, where school is a luxury," says Jesuit Father Chacko Pullolil, Rohtas district supervisor for non-formal education.

He said that Bihar has a school enrollment rate of 53.79 percent. That means 10 million children are not in school, the highest drop-out rate in India.

The 14-year-old, Jesuit Rural Education and Development center at Bettiah, West Champaran district bordering south Nepal, manages 1,000 adult education centers with 50 percent success until 1992 and has trained 135 instructors.

Another Jesuit center, Ravi Bharati communication center in Patna, is the project´s nominated media consultant. The center has produced educational videos, street plays, awareness songs and puppet shows besides training instructors in media education.


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