the medieval era, all our production was based on traditional
agriculture, and a few related occupations to service agriculture.
Human labour, and not application of mind, was the source
of most production. Literacy levels did not matter then.
But in the age of machines, much of the arduous physical
work is done mechanically. Productivity increase depends
on a worker's capacity to acquire skills, and his state
of fitness. Most of our unemployed workers have no real
skills, and are unemployable. We cannot have productivity
gains if most workers have the capacity to only dig the
earth or fill the pits. Education is the key.
now our levels of literacy are only slightly above 50%.
And most of these literates would be classified as illiterates
if we judge them by minimal standards of reading, writing
and arithmetic. Our functional literacy levels are probably
closer to 20%. At least four years of good quality schooling
is the critical requirement to make a youngster a productive
member of modern economy. And that is what we failed to
education needs hard work, planning and commitment. When
we don't deploy our energies and resources, we make laws.
There is no dearth of laws to banish poverty, promote equality
and guarantee justice. We are now adding one more law -
in fact a constitutional provision, through the 93rd amendment
- making school education between 6 and 14 years of age
a fundamental right. Chances are, once the amendment is
enacted our politicians and bureaucrats will indulge in
self-congratulation and move on to other great goals.
But education cannot be improved by legislation alone. Most
schools have only one or two teachers. Many teachers themselves
are semi-literate. A classic vicious cycle has set in. Decades
of poor schooling undermined higher education. Poor quality
higher education is now leading to school education failure.
There are millions of university graduates who want to be
teachers. But most of them are hopelessly ill-equipped.
need to focus on five areas - resources, physical infrastructure,
teachers, accountability and standards. Adequate resources
are critical, and adhoc and token measures to provide make-shift
schools with make-believe teachers will not do. We must
summon the will to deploy the required additional resources
- about a week's public expenditure every year, or 0.5%
of GDP. With resources; buildings and furnishings are easy
to provide. But teachers are another matter. A massive programme
of training teachers should be designed and implemented.
The present teacher training institutes have largely failed.
Any objective study of private schools funded by tuition
fee will prove how poor the quality of teaching is. When
economic incentive also fails to produce quality, then there
is a deeper crisis which cannot be addressed by market forces
alone. In the medium term we need to comprehensively restructure
our higher educational edifice. But in the short term crash
courses for teachers are vital.
of teachers does not guarantee education in government schools.
We need to empower parents and improve inspections and quality
controls. At present inspections have lost relevance, and
have become a source of corruption. We have to design and
operate instruments of accountability. And there should
be clear standards based on minimum levels of learning,
and effective evaluation to measure the output.
are not fools. They care for their children. They do not
bother to send their children to school because they know
that the present schooling doesn't make their children productive.
Many poor families pay hefty tuition and send their children
to private schools, but to no avail. Compulsion has a limited
role. But universal school education will become a reality
only when the school serves its purpose. And only when the
school produces productive citizens can the economy begin
to show real vitality and enduring growth.
this requires political will and administrative skill. Where
and when in India did the quality of school education become
the election issue at any level? George Bush was elected
largely on the strength of his efforts to improve standards
in Texas schools. If we realize that school education is
vital enough to at least affect the outcome of local elections,
then universal literacy and productive workforce will become