Indian state stubbornly failed to address the issue of education
over the past six decades. Even in primary education,
which is now recognized as a fundamental right, we continue
to focus only on enrollment and retention of children in
schools. There is hardly any effort to provide quality education
which guarantees at least minimal levels of learning after
a few years of schooling - fluent reading, ability to write,
and simple arithmetic. Even these basic tools of literacy
are unavailable to the majority of products of primary education
in India, let alone the capacity to logically analyse issues
and apply knowledge to real life problems.
primary education suffers such neglect and the goals set
are so unambitious (mere enrollment and retention), it is
no surprise that secondary education has been all but ignored
in our scheme of things. Only now there are some very feeble,
belated signs of recognition that we cannot be a nation
of primary school graduates, if we are to compete in modern
world. An equivalent of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan is now being
considered for secondary education. Even here, the emphasis
is on building minimal school infrastructure (building class
rooms) and hiring school teachers, and not on ensuring outcomes
in terms of quality of education and preparing school graduates
for productive and skilled work in modern economy, or for
appalling state of our school education is a surprise to
many well-educated, highly skilled Indians. There was a
time when our state schools, though few in number, were
helping the youngsters who could access them realize their
potential. That is how a whole generation benefited in the
quarter century after freedom. But as the state's attention
shifted to short-term populism and a doles culture, real
nation-building and basic services suffered. Education and
healthcare along with public order, justice, basic infrastructure
and natural resource development were the inevitable casualties.
This failure of state, coupled with the attraction of English
as medium of instruction, led to the flight of middle classes
to private education. Much of this private education is
of indifferent quality, and often incompetent teachers taught
ignorant kids in a language they did not understand. Despite
this, many parents feel empowered because their patronage
sustains the school, and there is some degree of accountability.
more enlightened parents ensured better education to their
children either by spending more, or by working hard to
give their kids a head start. It is no accident that the
bright products of technology often are children of school
teachers themselves. But in most private schools, the quality
of education is as appalling as in state schools. The poor
domestic workers and rikshaw pullers who are willing to
sacrifice a great deal to pay tuition for their children
are getting a raw deal most of the time. Simultaneously,
as the middle classes avoided state schools, there is no
pressure to improve quality of education. Even teachers
rarely send their children to state schools where they teach!
Stakeholders of state schools have generally no voice or
knowledge, and those with voice and power have no stakes
in schools. A vicious cycle has thus set in.
crisis is further compounded by the failure of higher education.
The few IITS and IIMS often mask the abject failure of our
universities. In terms of numbers, our output is impressive:
330 university-level institutions, 16,000 colleges, 10 million
students, 350,000 teachers, 25 million graduates and post
graduates in liberal arts, and finally our USP - 6 million
scientists, engineers, physicians and technologists. But
the real tragedy is most graduates lack basic knowledge
and skills. There was a time when many public-spirited Indians
and intellectuals used to argue that the state should focus
on school education, and higher education is not a priority.
Increasingly, the synergies between school and university
education are evident. We now do not have university graduates
of reasonable quality to supply good school teachers. And
schooling is so inadequate that most university students
lack the basic skills and knowledge needed to benefit from
higher education. The vicious cycle is complete.
is a silver lining in this extremely distressing scenario.
Our kids are ambitious and hard-working; parents are willing
to sacrifice a great deal for education; society values
learning; we have a civilizational ethos of scholarship,
and there is at least the basic educational infrastructure.
A few simple, practical innovations can dramatically transform
this bleak scenario. But our politics and public discourse
should learn one simple mantra first: education, education,