“How is it possible that not a single Indian university features in the list of top 200 universities in the world?” This question, recently asked by President of India Pranab Mukherjee, seems to voice a concern that everyone has regarding the education system in India. India has no dearth of intelligence or manpower, yet it lags behind in quality education. There have been numerous debates and deliberations on this subject.
Today, let us explore the evolution of the education policy in India, its shortcomings and few possible answers.
National Policy on Education
An education policy is drafted with an intent of providing and promoting education among the people. The first National Policy of Education (NPE) came into force in 1968 under the Indira Gandhi government. The policy called for radical restructuring and equalising of educational opportunities, with a view to achieving national integration and greater economic and cultural development. The policy laid emphasis on compulsory education for all the children till the age of 14 and better training and qualification of teachers.
Later, it was modified in 1986 by the Rajiv Gandhi government. The modifications called for special emphasis on removing disparities and equalising educational opportunities, especially among women and the backward communities. ‘Operation Blackboard’ was launched with a view to improving human and physical resources available in primary schools. The teachers’ knowledge and competence were continually upgraded through Restructuring and Reorganization of Teacher programmes.
The NPE further underwent modifications in 1992 under the P V Narasimha Rao government. Among other initiatives undertaken at that point of time, a Programme of Action was introduced. This initiative focused on an all-India-based common entrance exam for admission to professional and technical programmes. Minimum Levels of Learning was introduced through which textbooks were revised and levels of achievement at every stage were laid down. The National Programme for Nutritional Support to Primary Education (1995) aimed at providing cooked meals in government and government-aided schools, while the District Primary Education Programme laid stress on the overall effectiveness in schools through decentralized planning and management, and improved teaching and learning methods.
In 2010, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act was enforced. The Act laid down norms and rules like the teacher-student ratio in a class, school working hours, teachers’ working hours, buildings and infrastructure. This Act aimed to secure the right of children to free and compulsory education till they complete elementary education.
Quality of education: With the enforcement of RTE, the number of children attending schools has been on the rise, but the quality of education being imparted has yet a long way to go. Studies have shown that the standard of primary education is so low in rural areas that a child of Class V may not be in a position to read and understand books of Class II. This has been one of the factors that has led to high drop-out rates, especially after Class X.
Low levels of learning, lack of proper infrastructure, inadequate learning materials and poor quality of teachers have been cited as reasons behind the drop-out. Another huge concern is the lack of uniformity of the quality of education imparted. At the top of the rung are the privately-run English medium schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education or the Council for the Indian Schools Certificates or the International Baccalaureate.
Those who are unable to afford private schooling send children to government-aided English schools, affiliated with state boards. Besides this, there are poorly managed government or municipal schools, where children from rural areas attend. All these three types of schools offer varying quality of education. So even when a child gets education, he may not be at par with others if he has been to a poorly managed municipal school.
Funding: The responsibility of the education is shared by the Centre and the State. The Central government is responsible for formulating policies and coming up with a framework for education for the states, while it is the state’s responsibility to run the schools and impart education. However, there is often a discrepancy between aspirations and the funding. The states have always felt the resources to be a constraint. When resources are limited, the priority of a state moves away from education. In such a scenario, richer states seem to perform better.
Demand-supply gap: With an expanding middle class, India’s expenditure on education is bound to increase. While there have been investments in setting up educational institutions, the stark mismatch between demand and supply cannot be ignored. Among the lakhs of aspiring students, only few thousands manage to make it to the prestigious institutes in India like Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) or Indian Institute of Management (IIM). This aspect is leading to bright students moving to other countries to seek education. A study by an industry chamber had cited that over 4 lakh students spend about USD 13 billion each year on study overseas.
Modifications long overdue: The last modification to the NPE was done in 1992. After that, there has been a wide range of changes in the education segment, especially with the advancement of the computer and the Internet. The policy is yet to incorporate guidelines and frame works to accommodate and make use the synergy emerging from such an environment.
As per the census, over 32 percent of India’s 1.21 billion population is between 1 and 14 years. This signifies that people in need of primary education alone exceeds the population of the US. And these children will be seeking higher education in the next decade or so.
The demand for education in India is enormous and it will only continue to rise. To match up to the situation, the education policy in India needs to go in for an overhaul and come up with ways and means to scale up the number of educational institutions. The focus has to be more on providing quality education and to have many more institutes in every state that match the standards of an IIT or an IIM.
Abysmal discrepancy in the quality of education is already leading to economic inequalities. For instance, there is a marked difference in the life style of a person graduating from a prestigious institute in India when compared to a person graduating from ordinary college or to a person who has had no formal education. With India emerging as a knowledge-based economy, human capital and the expert knowledge that people carry are very much in focus.
While human capital has become India’s biggest strength, the various inadequacies regarding the delivery of education has come to light too. The NPE should strive to address these inadequacies at the earliest. Like President Pranab Mukherjee had said, if one investment can define a definite linkage to progress, it is the investment in education.
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