of 'convent' schools dot our urban and even rural landscape.
Even poor families feel obliged to send their kids to these
schools of indifferent quality, spending Rs 100 - 200 per
kid per month in the hope that somehow such 'education'
will secure the children's future.
an educated population is the precondition for economic
prosperity. Even Kenya (with 83 percent literacy) and Tanzania
(95 percent) do much better than India in school education.
What is more, every literate person in those countries can
read, write and speak Swahili and English fluently. Our
literacy figures are dubious at best. Judging by the three
'R's (reading, writing and arithmetic), one suspects that
no more than 40 percent of our people are literate. True,
the last decade saw added emphasis to school education in
government programmes. But conversion of single-teacher
schools to two-teacher schools, appointment of para teachers
and redefining the school under Education Guarantee Schemes
are at best acceptable first-steps in promoting literacy.
But if these are taken as policy goals, it will be a cruel
hoax at the expense of the poor and long-suffering people.
We need quality school education accessible to every child
as a foundation to our economy and nation-building.
what about higher education? We churn out about 400,000
engineers every year from over 1100 professional colleges.
Millions more graduate from the universities annually. The
students are doing their best - they are studious and disciplined,
they cram, clear entrance tests, pass examinations and obtain
degrees. And yet, most of the university products do not
have even rudimentary knowledge, or conceptual understanding,
or problem-solving skills in their own disciplines of knowledge.
The simple truth is, our university education is in a perilous
state of disrepair. Distinguished educationists like Dr.
Aurik Singh and Prof. Yashpal have for years been lamenting
the collapse of our educational edifice.
investment and better infrastructure and equipment are necessary.
But the real issue is not money. There are many non-monetary
inputs, which can make a vital difference. Selection of
competent teachers and prohibition of educational incest
(recruiting graduates from the same university); comprehensive
review of syllabus; overhaul of the mindless examinations
in order to test real conceptual understanding, application
of knowledge and problem-solving skills; exposure to real
world as part of higher education through internships; meaningful
research relevant to our real problems; verifiable standards
for teacher-promotion or continuance - these and other reforms
cost no money.
status-quoism and the game of blame-throwing on our campuses
have cost the nation dearly. A vicious cycle is in operation,
with poor quality schooling creating a weak foundation for
higher education, and poor university education not being
able to produce quality teachers to improve schools! Even
tiny Eritrea in East Africa boasts of a better university
than most of ours! The net result is, most of our graduates
and technocrats are unsuited to creation of wealth or generation
of value-added services. Lacking basic skills in handling
tools, they certainly are not competent factory workers.
India has the potential to be a great source of technological
manpower. Our youngsters have the ambition and our tradition
worships knowledge. But as always a lot of hard work and
common sense are needed to bridge the gulf between promise
and fulfillment. Some critics say education is not necessary
for prosperity. They point to Tanzania and Kenya, and Eastern
Europe and Cuba to prove that high levels of education do
not guarantee prosperity. But that is a disingenuous argument.
Education is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for
high growth. Infrastructure, free enterprise and rule of
law are the other conditions, which guarantee prosperity.
But first, we must set our education right. The people are
ready and willing. Are governments and 'educationists' prepared
to accept the challenge?