I had put some thoughts on improving the country in my previous blog where I talked about what we can do to improve the pillars of our democracy. I felt that probably I went too deep in structural reforms while we can get similar impact (if not more) on the public life by choosing to work on seemingly distressed sectors. Few of those sectors which come to my mind immediately are health and education. Today, I will pen down my thoughts on improving our education system.
Current state of education
Most of our children are educated in state-run primary schools. The irony is that while we have on paper ensured Right to Education (aka RTE) for every kid in India, dropouts are very high with more than 70% kids drop out of primary school itself. On the back of some desperate attempts to arrest the alarmingly high dropouts, such as providing mid-day meals along with morning school sessions, distributing bicycle to girl students and building toilets in schools for better sanitation and privacy, Anganwadi schools - to name a few, we see insufficient improvements in the state of primary education to be really proud of. Most kids still have no alternatives other than state govt run primary schools which suffer from scanty fund allotment, a severe shortage of teachers, books, equipment, infrastructure and hence have an abysmal quality compared to their private counterparts which come costly on the wards.
Surprisingly on the higher education front, things show a very different picture of state-run colleges. While the engineering seats are usually fully occupied on the back of low-cost education opportunities and willingness among youth to pursue higher education. Challenges for higher education is completely different such as ensuring world-class quality rather than just quantity. Our expectation from graduates and post-graduates is that they bring up new ideas in the system, challenge the status quo and in that fashion spring up innovation to boost job growth and company ecosystem. On the contrary, our graduates rely on govt examinations to provide them jobs and rarely develop the tendency to try out their ideas and do something of their own. Few surveys also pointed out that majority of Indian graduates are unemployable - which I highly doubt given most people learn the relevant skills on their job and apprenticeship is how the masses have always been best educated.
If we go higher up, state of the things again seems to diverge. Having seen so much of competition in their job or careers, we seem to do decent in very high science and technology. However, our country would need more. The faster we develop new technologies, the pace would reflect in our economic growth as well.
Improving primary education
While our national debate is encircled around which language to choose as our national language, we should instead put our brain space to bring ideas on how we can educate masses. Singapore became prosperous only after having a successful run at their public education policy. I am not talking about language literacy here, a respectable fluency for one’s field can be developed later on after primary education as well. We are not all going to be English professors after all. We should heavily deploy technology to teach kids. We should admit that despite having numerous claims about complete coverage of education in some distant future, we do not have the necessary resources - be it financial or human or physical to achieve that and achieving that is a forever struggle without population growth. We should look for already available solutions such as NPTEL video, etc as a pilot - which were a massive success to spread the level of high-tech education globally. I have seen even learners from Africa commenting on NPTEL’s videos posted on the youtube channel videos which just struck me.
While we adopt e-learning as a means to educate kids, we can use the same for the training of teachers which is another big area of concern dubbed as one of the biggest factors why wards don’t trust teachers. On the policy side, we should give some legal weight and credibility to such e-learning programs and move away from having full-time government-employed teachers in favour of more contractual teachers with benefits and incentives linked to their performance. It may sound scary for teachers but our concern here is to boose education more than provide guaranteed employment irrespective to one’s performance as an educator. We can encourage CBSE and ICSE boards to start including e-learning courses and have online examinations on that. We could also bridge language barriers with such initiatives which are another challenge in education where no state be it Delhi or Tamil Nadu or Bihar has a single uniform language which is practised both in speech or in writing.
We should have more universities participate in policymaking. Great institutes are not built in a day but great institutes will never develop if the government doesn’t train their professors into policymaking. For example, I do not see primary school principals sitting with policymakers to draft education policy and even when they do they are all from elite schools. This leads our premier institutes being left out behind in the race. We should spend more, focus on retaining talent and providing them access to resources so that they can become job creators rather than job seekers. As an observation, I saw electrical engineers taking up jobs as sales managers of oil marketing companies and other conglomerates. While it’s certainly not desirable to stop someone from doing what they may, this is inefficient for our education. We should make an environment where engineers go and apply their education in their core field before taking up other things or at least try it out once before switching and giving up.
There is a pressing need for more research funding into scientific areas such as tech and medical. These things will propel us towards an industrial nation and usher in changes that would improve the lives of countrymen.
There should be no end to our thoughts, we must pause every discussion. Ending this blog with this quote:
Children don’t need to study, they do have a curiosity to learn. Stay blessed!
Ending with a message to all the kids who would be gaining social conscience and want to work towards education, may please consider the above.
academics education policy