True Bharat Nirman requires skill-development, not handouts

True Bharat Nirman requires skill-development, not handouts

By Lisa Jani & Ankita Singh on July 20, 2013

True Bharat Nirman requires skill-development, not handouts

“I believe our Government has given education its due. We have expanded access to education as never before,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while addressing the conference of Vice Chancellors of Central Universities at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi in February.

His former Cabinet Minister and the current President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, it seems, begs to differ.

Just a few months later, in June, the President expressed his disappointment at the state of higher education in the country when he spoke at the eighth convocation of the Rajiv Gandhi Technological University in Bhopal, clearly indicating that enough had not been done or achieved in the field of higher education.

The biggest ‘due’ PM Singh would refer to is probably the Right to Education Act (RTE) which being the first of its kind in the world puts the onus of enrolling and schooling children on the Government. The RTE Act which on paper ensures that every child is ensured an education till the elementary level has plenty of drawbacks.

The Act calls upon private schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for underprivileged students. In reality, most of the seats reserved are not filled as is pointed by a report in The Hindu by Asha Sridhar. According to the report, official figures indicate that of the 4,152 seats reserved under the RTE Act in the city (CBSE schools excluded), only 1,067 have been filled. This constitutes a mere 25.6 per cent of seats. Another problem that the report highlights is that the papers submitted for admission reach the schools via a chief education officer after verification. It’s a lost in transit situation here with many schools claiming that they have not received the papers.

The Act also focusses on bulk education and not the quality of education imparted. In the long run, this could prove detrimental not only to the individual at the receiving end of such an education but also to the country as a whole. A Mid Day report published in 2011, a year after the Act came into effect, states that “Secure in the knowledge that they will not have to repeat the year, students are leaving assignments alone, skipping oral exams and even filling up examination answer sheets with gibberish.” The Act, in order to reduce pressure on school children, discontinues the practice of detaining a student till Std VIII, a step that seems to have been a grave mistake in retrospect.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2012) for rural India, by PRATHAM, an NGO, exposes the crater sized holes in our education system in spite of the Right to Education Act. The study observes that in 2008, only about 50 per cent of Standard 3 students could read a Standard 1 text and by 2012, that figure had plummeted to 30 per cent. Approximately, 50 per cent of the Class 3 students cannot even correctly identify digits up to 100, at an age where they are supposed to learn two digit subtractions. In 2008, that figure stood at 70 per cent. If this situation prevails then it means that in 15 years time India might have an educated but useless work force that cannot deliver. It is not very difficult to draw out the trajectory of the economy thereon!

In its annual report 2012-13, in which the UPA accorded itself full marks, the Government proudly states that it has allocated Rs. 23,836 crore under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. But is the money being utilised to develop good infrastructure and procure a good crop of academic staff? It would seem not.

A Times of India report cites, “At most of the Government primary schools, a single teacher or shiksha mitra is the only staff owing the responsibility of teaching in all the classes (I to V). Similar is the scene at junior high schools (up to class VIII) as well where a single teacher takes the responsibility of teaching all the subjects in all the classes.”

Higher education is perhaps the worst sufferer. Dr Ramakrishnan Committee Report some 50 years ago had recommended that 6 per cent of the FDP be spent on education. The four per cent spending mark has yet to be breached. And one should keep in mind that the Congress has been in power for a majority of those years. The fact that none of India’s premier higher education institutes rank amongst the top 200 institutes of the world is a telling sign of the times.

A speech given by the President Pranab Mukherjee earlier this year on the occasion of the 90th convocation of the University of Delhi echoes this disappointment. The President said, “If we are to redefine the way education is imparted by our educational institutions, the time is now. According to an international ranking of universities, no Indian university finds a place amongst the global top 200 universities. This you would agree is simply unacceptable. We must develop our universities into global leaders, and for that, the best practices in other countries should be carefully studied and adopted with necessary changes to suit our conditions.”

The Rs 15,458 crore allocation that the higher education sector received, which also coincided with the start of the 12th Five Year Plan has no funding provision for building new universities or for innovation in higher education.

Funding for research is abysmal as a result the country sees its finest and brightest moving abroad where there are better opportunities. And the Congress wants to do ‘Bharat Nirmaan’

Indian education system has been blamed for being one for bread alone and so to change the mess that it is in now the following measures can be adopted. India faces the problem of low educational and unskilled labour. The best way to resolve the issue will be to train under-skilled population so that it can make contribution towards India’s development. Although India has appropriate policies and programmes in place but imparting skills will be a national challenge as each year 15 millions join the job market. Narendra Modi’s three-point mantra of Skills, Scale & Speed ought to be looked into more closely.

Education system in India relies on memorising and not on learning. It is high time India starts rewarding creativity, original thinking, research and innovations.

The tests set and the marks awarded should consider original contribution, creativity, problem solving and original research and innovations. Some may feel that teaching is a safe and low pressure job that pays well too. This thinking allows terrible teachers to waste valuable time of young children each day in India. It is high time that India gets quality teachers in the form of leaders and entrepreneurs. It is striking that Narendra Modi has set the bar even higher by calling for India to become a global exporter of teachers.

To achieve massive reforms in education system, the priority should be to use technology to reach remote villages. Gujarat’s use of Video Conferencing and Satellite TV is remarkable. India has turned into low-quality service provider country after promising to be a knowledge-based economy. The aim of education should be to create entrepreneurs, artists, writers, scientists, innovators and thinkers and not just people who work in the call centres.

India must deregulate the setting up of institutes of higher education so that exceptional educational institutions can get rewarded for providing extraordinary products or services. Why should a Stanford or a Cambridge be prevented from setting up a campus in India. Why should the setting up of a new University by an Azim Premji or a NR Narayana Murthy require an act of Parliament? India needs innovative methods of instruction and new and variety of courses that would serve various niches of learners. Students should be allowed more choices so that innovation is not stifled. One size cannot fit all.

Educational institutions can only be run by the Government or non-profit organisations in India. This discourages good investments in the education sector from honest investors which can give rise to education institutions that encourage innovation which is the need of the hour.

Our education system has gotten into bigger mess in last 10 years and we see that the lack of education is blamed as the cause of all kind of evils in the society since hundreds of years. Rabindranath Tagore used to write long articles about the need to change the Indian education system. Unfortunately, we see a very few see changes in the system since the British era and the proof is a letter written to the PM in April 2011 by the head of Scientific Advisory Council, CN Rao where he states that have an examination system but not an education system. When will young people stop taking exams and do something worthwhile? That only time can tell.

Ironically, Minister of Education under Jawaharlal Nehru, MC Chagla, apparently disappointed with the state of education in our country had exclaimed:

“Our Constitution fathers did not intend that we just set up hovels, put students there, give untrained teachers, give them bad textbooks, no playgrounds, and say, we have complied with Article 45 and primary education is expanding… they meant that real education should be given to our children between the ages of 6 and 14″.

Nehru’s inheritors it seems have paid no heed, for under the UPA’s decade of decay has come to mean excessive focus on outlays and little on outcomes while education remains blighted.


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