Poor quality of education, not gross enrolment, is currently the key issue with the Indian education system
A new education policy is in the process of being finalized by the ministry of human resource development (MHRD). The new policy is aimed at making education both emancipator and enabler while encouraging innovation over rote learning. District- and block-level consultation and public suggestions are also sought to make the new education policy more effective and relevant. The MHRD’s inclusive and participatory approach in formulating this policy is worth appreciating. Hopefully, it will lead to positive outcomes, important for every citizen of this knowledge economy.
Gross enrolment was the focus area in earlier schemes, i.e. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Right to Education, National Literacy Mission and so on. However, poor quality of education is a burning issue at present—as reflected in several national-level surveys, third-party assessments, and at the employment stage. To address this challenge, we need to study various aspects of the Indian education system at the grass-roots level, i.e. quality of trainers, curricula upgradation, use of e-learning, assessment pedagogies, institutional accreditation, focus on extracurricular activities, common syllabi, foreign universities Bill, not-for profit model and so on.
Here are four important facets of our education system which should be incorporated in the new education policy to enhance overall credibility of the system.
Regulatory: In February, the Telangana government announced its education policy and brought most of the educational institutions under a single department of education rather than different regulatory divisions. Such reforms are essential at the central level where the list of regulatory bodies is even longer—the University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education, National Council of Educational Research and Training and various course-specific councils and boards. The introduction of a single industry regulator along the lines of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority would be helpful in improving the overall productivity of the institutions. This would allow educational institutions to focus more on education delivery to students rather than spending more time in the paperwork of different regulatory bodies. In fact, too much control enables rent-seeking and corruption. Let market forces decide which player is better, as happens in other sectors.
Accountability: We often hear criticism of parallel education or the emergence of coaching institutions in the Indian education system. But the existence of this parallel education system is due to the failure of our main education system comprising schools, colleges and universities. Why can’t we have accountability for the desired output from our core education system? In the US’ new Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in December 2015, the federal role in establishing educational standards has been reduced while schools have been made more accountable and performance-oriented. Similarly in India, schools or colleges should not be allowed to consider themselves merely custodians of licences to grant degrees or certificates. They ought to be responsible for the final learning outcome. In this process, teachers should also be accountable. The government needs to address this issue, from reviewing the eligibility criteria for teachers to assessing their motivation.
Reservation: The idea of social equilibrium is excellent. Reservation is one of the efficient ways to achieve this. However, it need not necessarily be just caste-based reservation. When the practice was started just after gaining independence, caste was perhaps the only practical way to differentiate the privileged and underprivileged. But now we have huge databases and multiple ways to separate both categories. The social benefits of reservation for a poor family or deprived student from the general category (as defined currently) is far greater than reservation for an affluent reserved category individual (based on the current caste system). We know that no government would dare to change the reservation system to solve this issue. Therefore, we are unlikely to see any update on this in the new education policy. However, if education is listed among the “9 pillars" to transform India, then eventually, the issue will have to be addressed in order to foster excellence in education governance.
Financing: The Central government spends less than 4% of the gross domestic product (GDP) on education. The allotment in the last budget, with just 4.9% year-on-year increase, is actually lower as a percentage of GDP if inflation is factored in. If the government says that education is a national agenda, then it should get its proportionate allocation. In this context, I would even oppose the hefty fees at our premier institutions (Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management). The fee may not look expensive in light of the salary packages of their graduates, but it should also not deter anyone from being an entrepreneur due to the burden of educational loans for studies at these institutions. It is our responsibility to provide the best education to deserving candidates. Even if education is made free at these powerhouse institutions, there would be an additional expense of only about Rs1,400 crore. It is less than 0.1% of our yearly budget or just 0.01% of national GDP, but could potentially have a multiplier effect on the development of an economy which has 54% of its total population below 25 years of age.
Mahesh Bhangriya is vice-president and head of corporate strategy at Career Point Ltd.