India’s Education Policy
Ours is a land which was a centre of learning for centuries. But since independence to this day, we have been facing challenges in achieving the goal of making India an educated state. On one hand nature of such challenges has been the same. For instance even today our goal of making primary education accessible to one and all, is far from being achieved. At the same time, challenges have taken more complex form today. Rewriting of history books with every new government and lack of funds for making higher education available to the rapidly growing population (whose size has gone through enormous increase) need intelligent strategies to deal with. This paper is not going to present a dismal picture India’s educational policy by giving an array of statistics, which is any way known. Nor will it mention a positive interpretation of such statistics in the way websites of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and National Literacy Mission boast of their achievement. It will rather describe the handicaps, plaguing the policy makers in the matters pertaining to education, and some plausible solutions, and some threads opened in the paper will be kept open for the readers to close them, for the author failed to obtain one feasible way for the same.
Moving in the natural order of development of a human, primary education sows the seeds of growth. The desire of providing free and compulsory education for all nurtured in our constitution and in the minds of gentlemen who drafted it. Even today, 59 million children out-of-school and another 90 million in school learning very little. We have plenty of villages where there is no school nearby. Government of course has a big role to play there. It should figure out all such villages and start a rapid movement of sort to install one primary school in each such village. In fact there should be one primary school within 1km radius. This goal of government is yet to be completed. To begin with, we can arrange for only few teachers, who should be paid more than their counterparts serving in the towns and cities where there are more number of teachers to share the burden. This won’t need much infrastructure. Of course black board education of such kind is not as effective as with some visual aids, but the whole idea is to make the kids literate, to prepare them for further education, to avoid their exploitation at the hands of the rich and slightly literate people of village, so that they don’t suffer the same plight as their parents. And we should not expect all the latest technology to reach in every village of our country overnight. But nor can we wait for that to happen. We must understand that literacy is as important as food or cloth. Only if a person knows basic mathematics, reading and writing short simple statements, needed in every day life, in one language, can he expect to secure some kind of employment in a country of 1 billion crippled with unemployment. He needs this literacy to get onto the right bus, to read before signing on a paper and virtually in every circumstance which is going to affect his life.
Apart from the government initiatives, we need more people like Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey, who gave up his job of teaching at IIT Kanpur and came to a dalit village of Lalpur in district Ballia of UP, where despite all odds , he opened a school and took concrete steps to alleviate poverty. This happened in a village where even candidates of State Assembly elections made no commitments. Government has to later on make reservations for these dalit children. Why does it not educate them at primary level itself as to make them natural competitors with students belonging to general category. Here when situation is so grim that whole village is not able access a school, then will the government make reservation for the entire village? Why should it rather not open a school or two there? Government can’t always be relied upon for two reasons. Firstly, sometimes (though it happens very rarely) to focus all all areas at one time or it suffers from lack of funds. Secondly, government servants don’t want to serve the areas where they won’t benefit much in terms of votes or money through corruption (and this one happens more frequently).
Primary education suffers not just because of their lack of availability in rural India, but also on other grounds as well. Quality of that primary education in one such issue. It can be measured by learning levels of those attending primary schools. It is found that 40.2% of class 5 kids could not read class 2 level paragraphs and 56.6% of them could not perform subtraction sums . If something could be done here, then it is the change in teaching methodology. Kids should be taught in a natural way of learning. For example, the most natural method of learning basic arithmetic is counting. A mother can ask her child to count the number of potatoes left in a basket after she put some of them aside. There can be more effective methods. We need to constitute a committee of experts in pedagogy, urgently to make suggestions in this direction with in a time frame, so as to implement new methods of teaching by the next academic session. Idea is to start looking for a solution as soon as a problem is identified. We need our government to give up its lethargy at least in the education sector and start working towards quick and effective solution.
Another area where work needs to be done is decreasing the dropout rates and increasing the number of enrolments per se. Firstly, we should understand that at times we have parents themselves wanting their kids to work and at other times kids themselves find going to school a boring task and would rather prefer working. Many factors contribute to this, frequent absenteeism of teachers (who are in fact better paid as compared to their counterparts in private school), inferior methods of teaching, making learning a tedious task and lack of infrastructure. For this constant monitoring of working of schools is essential. For instance, 25% of teachers were absent from school, and only half were teaching, during unannounced visits to a nationally representative sample of government primary schools in India.  It is worth mentioning that midday meal program of government of India is doing really good job by pulling the kids to school, and parents also find a reason to feel convinced to send their ward to school. But in the cases of working children, first solution is banning any form of child labor. Non Formal Education is a good but still a temporal solution for imparting education to working children. But here bottom line is that all good measures should be continued with more zeal.
Moving to middle and secondary school education, it also faces problems similar to those enlisted above for primary schools. There is an urgent need for a state-private partnership. Where there are government schools, education is very much subsidized. A monthly fee is on an average Rs.70 from class VI to VIII. In spite of that number of enrolled is far less than the expected. In such situation, we need huge awareness amongst the parents about value of education so that they can send their ward to school. But as we notice every year that it is the private schools that outperform the government schools not just in terms of results of public examinations but in the competitions pertaining to co-curricular activities also. So private schools should now realize their social responsibility and allow poor children to be part of their so called elite club. Or else rich children won’t have the experience of studying together with the kids from economically poor background, of sharing the joy of learning together. A sense of equality will then never be ensured in the growing minds.
Also in schools, student should not compulsorily taught Hindi. Two languages – their mother tongue and English should be enough. It’s important students enjoy reading and writing in their mother tongue also, that will help in the development of regional languages and literature and cinema.
Another concern about school education is changing of textbooks , particularly history textbooks, according to the whims of current political power at centre. NCERT and related organizations such as Indian Council for Historical Research should be given autonomy. Religion should also be kept strictly separate from education. In this wake, all RSS schools and madrasas should be closed, but then each community has been given constitutionally, the right to preach and propagate its religious beliefs. Some solution has to be thought to balance the two.
Higher education sector is the one that finally fuels the economic growth. America has more proportion of population going to higher education than any other country. No wonder it is the biggest economic power today. Moving focus away from higher education to work on primary education is something impractical. In Professor C.N. R. Rao’s words,” I don’t think that we should wait for all people to become literate before we improve our universities”.
The biggest problem we are facing today in the area of higher of education is the greater role of state in it. Either state should provide educate funds or otherwise let the colleges charge the fees that is some where near the actual cost of education, rather than heavily subsidizing it. In IIT’s, hostel rent per semester is Rs.500. At no place in the world can one find a room for Rs.500 for four months. Medical Fees per semester is Rs.100. This despite the fact that one time consultation fees of doctors these days itself is Rs.100. These were just a few examples to present an idea higher education is subsidized in our country. But in these colleges of higher education, children of industrialists and IAS officers also study. There are in fact plenty of students who can at least 2 times what they are paying now. So such students should be charged more. In fact, we can have a federal fee structure, like income tax rather than fix it for all (of course except students from SC, ST and OBC). The idea is to charge fees proportionately. This way, the dilemma of excellence versus access and quality versus quantity can also be solved. Because if government lacks funds, then in order to cater to the needs of growing for higher education, government will create more institutions or increase more seats in the existing institutions. In either case, it will result in decrease in over all quality and excellence, for the total funding is still the same.
We must also learn from the education system in developed countries. Private universities have been a great success in United States. Top 5 universities of the world include 3 private American universities. Of course, that success can be attributed to America’s economy being capitalist in nature, and we can’t have complete privatization of higher education, but still considering the high cost incurred in the education of a single graduate, and growing demand for higher education, government can just not hope to do it all by itself with the current total spending on education being 4% of GDP. Emergence of world class private institutes is inevitable. Indian Institute of Science and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research were also visions of industrialists and scientists. And these institutes have produced some of the nation’s finest researchers and scientists. Recent establishment and good performance of private institutes like Dhiru Bhai Ambani Institute of Information Technology and Jaypee Institute of Information Technology are also positive signs. Other business houses should also take lead in this direction.
The public sector institutes of learning like IIT’s, NIT’s , AIIMS and IIM’s should also depend lesser and lesser on government. Rather, they should generate their endowments through research and consultancies. These institutes should change their image from lethargic universities to that of profit making and fiercely competing companies. Competition always leads to good quality. For this very reason, we should allow FDI in education. If MIT opens its campus here, people would consider that also as a good option. This would reduce the pressure on several hundred thousand students, appearing each year for admission tests of various elite institutes, only a small percentage of which constitutes the finally selected students. But a constant vigil on all universities and colleges , particularly those in private sector is needed. Because we have private universities like Amity whose directors have been issued warrants against them. Even the Delhi Government’s Indraprastha university has so many small colleges affiliated to it which hardly have infrastructure for the courses they are conducting. In places like Bangalore, Noida, Ghaziabad, Hyderabad, and Gurgaon , one can find plenty of teaching shops claiming to be colleges affiliated to several private or government universities. The elite institutes like IIT’s are catering to the needs of very small percentage of students. Thousands of other students clamor for admission to these lowly colleges. All such colleges charge hefty amount of fees. Such institutes need to be checked.
While discussing higher education, mention of much talked about reservation is indispensable. The simple argument against such idiocy is that if some method failed to achieve its purpose in spite of having used it for 60 years or so, then how can the same method be strengthened further an used to achieve that purpose? On the top of everything else, no school or college in India denies admission to someone because of his/her caste.
The goal of universal education can be achieved by opening primary schools in every possible place where they find utility. No kid should be denied primary education for the reason of non availability in the neighborhood. Quality of education is also equally important and can be ensured through reforms in teaching methodology and more accountability and transparency in schools. Dream of having high standard higher education for all can be a reality with the help of private hands, and with increased funding , more emphasis on research than just conducting examination.