Saturday, August 15, 2020

National Education Policy 2020: 2 - Key Problems In Indian Educational Sector Part I

1. Can education be free when private capital is involved?

We hear statements from policymakers – education should be free and available to all. Is this possible? First, the government does not have enough capacity to build institutions and infrastructure for India’s huge population. Private sector fills the void to an extent. Major players are - religious institutions, charity foundations, private trusts, and a plethora of for-profit (especially in higher education) organizations. Some are for social improvement; others have their own goals and to make money.

In this scenario, could education be free? I do not think so. The next question is, should that be affordable? Yes, all should get the opportunity. If capital is the problem, then the government should fill the gap.

I am a true believer in capitalism. However, in education, I believe the government should play a critical role. We as a country need to spend a higher percentage of GDP on education, build institutions, focus on girl’s education. 1 rupee here will save 10 rupees in other places. At least double educational expenditure as a percentage of GDP.

Another key factor in the educational sector is the regulatory mechanism and funding agencies – UGC, AICTE, State boards, CBSE, NCERT etc. There are talks about creating a single, all-powerful regulatory mechanism that governs everything from Delhi. Is that good? There are pros and cons.

One, a single body enough for education at all levels? Two, the concept of a centralized institution a good idea? For both, my answer is no.

Answering the first question, the needs of pre-primary and post-graduate education is totally different. There is a reason why kids even on 6th and 7th are not able to do additions and subtractions. We neglect preprimary and primary education. Building these institutions are not as glamorous as setting up IITs. This is exactly what is going to happen if we push everything to the same bracket. Let there be multiple regulators focusing on specific areas of child development.

Answering the second question, education is a state subject and there is a reason for that. The needs of each state and the level in which they are currently in are totally different. A lot of educational initiatives were in fact introduced and driven by states.

Consider the case of mid-day meal system which drove kids to school. British, introduced it in Madras presidency and French in Pondicherry. Later in independent India, Kamaraj started a whole scale program in Madras (now Chennai) and later extended to other districts.

Travancore started a noon-meal program in the 1940s; this was extended after independence with assistance from ‘Co-operative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE)’. In 1984, a feeding program with Kanji (rice gruel) was introduced across LP schools. State also started offering travel concessions to students way back in the 1950s. Even now students in Kerala can use public transport systems by paying 25% of the actual fee.              

By 1990-91 number of states implemented mid-day meal program swelled to 12.

People who run the state administration and educationalists from there are in the ground and understand the realities better. Let them have the flexibility for customization. At the same time, we need to make sure, all states are doing the minimum expected out of them.


2. A mess nick-named as ‘self-governing’ and ‘autonomous’

The second problem is regulation.

Numbers do matter, but hundreds of colleges coming up like mushrooms in the rainy season is not a good thing. For e.g. Plethora of engineering colleges in southern India are run by private entities where the quality does not even peep through the gate.

It was only last month Haryana state vigilance bureau arrested 14 senior ranking officers of state for obtaining MSc Zoology degrees illegally from Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan based deemed universities. (TOI). As a matter of fact, in India, MSc Zoology is not part of distance education. What more, many of these officers were not even on leave in exam days!!!

In 2005, the Supreme Court of India declared ‘Chhattisgarh Private Sector Universities Act’ as unconstitutional. Under this act, 112 private universities came up in one year!!! As per some reports, approximately 30,000 students were studying in these universities.

In Karnataka, it was IT department which exposed MBBS admission scam.

Education is an industry now. People are here to make money; it is the regulator's job to make sure that none of the colleges operating India are fake or giving fake degrees. They also need to make sure; colleges are not giving degrees without students attending classes or writing exams.

When someone asks me whether a college is good for their son’s/daughter’s admission, I have no clue. There are no specific numbers that I can look in to. All have the highest qualifications on paper. So mainly I investigate their placement records. Not a very good parameter to look in to, but something which one can rely on. In a way, this also has its flaws. Colleges in big cities often have better placement records than far better colleges in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Just being close to the industry is an advantage for them.


3. Apathy towards non-STEM subjects

Everyone wants to be in the science stream; if that is not available then in commerce/business stream. No one wants to be in humanities.

Parents often find arts and humanities as a risky field for jobs. Also, not good for their social status. Most often top rankers are not interested in taking majors in history, arts, geography, and subjects like that.

If you look around, many great people of all time were experts in multiple areas. Great universities like Harvard encourage students to have an understanding of multiple subjects. But in India people focus on STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, Mathematics) which is good; but the lack of appreciation of other subjects is the problem. This often leads to a place where students lack an understanding of history and humanity.

In society, all problems are not engineering problems, and all cannot be solved in that way. It's not that there are no opportunities in other fields. Just look at the DataScience area, there is a lot of demand for people who understand sociology, human behavior, statistics etc.  

Lack of understanding in history is leading people to believe in things which divide society based on caste and religion. I often heard many educated people talk about avenging for things that happened centuries back; people who bar fellow human beings in their gated communities, just because of their religion.

4. Utter disregard for physical work

I do not know how people get the idea that physical work is beneath them. Many of those who talk hours on the plight of farmers hardly have any idea how to use gardening and farming tools.

Parents prohibit their kids from playing in the dirt; in the same dirt where humans flourished for millions of years.


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