After laptop now it’s time for scooty. In a grand show recently organised by the State government, Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma distributed scooties to 1,000 girl students who had excelled in the State Board Class XII fil examitions in 2017. The Sonowal government dubbed the initiative a step forward to women empowerment. It was also aimed at encouraging girl students to perform better in higher studies, where many a time boys outshine the opposite sex. Successive governments at Dispur tried to tap into the vast student community by distributing freebies like laptop to those who secured 60 percent marks in class X examition. The Sonowal government had distributed over 3.32 crore free texbooks to government school students from Primary level to Class X by incurring a total expenditure of Rs 111.98 crore. It is for sure that the spending of such ture would certainly put additiol fincial burden on the State exchequer if it is scaled up in future. However, the spending on education both at tiol and State level are dismal. The sordid state of infrastructure of government-run schools is a telling story of apathy and neglect. Previous governments resorted to cosmetic changes whereas the effort should have been directed towards making structural changes to adapt to the changing needs of an advanced education system. It appears though that the present Assam government’s priorities are misplaced. Instead of making planned investment in a primary social sector that underpins the economy, the Sonowal government is heading in the opposite direction of luring students with gifts.
Awards and Education
According to the 2011 census, the literacy rate of Assam was 73.18% against the tiol average of 74%. The male literacy rate in the State stood at 78.81% and female literacy rate at 67.27%; the urban and rural literacy rates were 88.88% and 70.44% respectively. The numbers do tell the story, that Assam still lags behind the tiol literacy level. The Sonowal government would have been more prudent had it channelized resources to make Assam the Number One literate State in the country. Ever since the BJP-led NDA took the reins of power at the Centre, the focus has been on quality as criteria for getting government jobs and other government incentives. But very little has been seen on the ground in last 3 years on improving quality of education system. In fact, budgetary allocation to education sector has also not seen any major enhancement. Unfortutely in India, the education and research sector on one hand is over-regulated, while on the other hand it remains under-funded. No wonder it has been falling steadily behind the world average. Ditto is the case with its universities. Although there are still a few pockets of excellence, the average quality of education in India has been falling steadily behind the world average. Government effort should be directed towards finding the gaps in education rather than distributing freebies. Universities are the marketplace of ideas. And for ideas to grow and nurture, one needs funding at research level which is sadly missing in most higher educatiol institutions in the country. In an information society and world, the comparative advantage of the education sector lies in its identity as the custodian and mager of knowledge-based networks that give it a global mandate and reach. Owing to changes in the higher education sector and under the impact of globalisation, universities across the world are being forced to change into market-responsive institutions. Government has a big role to play in all these areas.
India lags not just on global but also on Asian benchmarks. Chi in particular has made conscious efforts to upgrade its elite institutions into world class centres of excellence. It is impressive to find as many as six Chinese varsities among the top 100 in the latest QS World University Rankings 2018, mely Tsinghua University (25th), Peking University (38th) Fudan University (40th), Shanghai Jiao Tong University (62nd), Zhejiang University (87th) and University of Science and Technology of Chi (97th). This is pretty much similar to what was shown in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2018 in September last year, with the above-mentioned six Chinese varsities as well as njing University among the top 200. Such rankings reflect the Chinese government’s thrust on innovation as a critical component of tiol power, and push the country’s economy up the global value chain. It is through innovation that new products and methods of production are developed, which drive economic progress and help tackle transtiol challenges like climate change. A well-educated workforce is instrumental to technological and scientific discovery. But the capacity for innovation and research in higher educatiol institutes is built on the bedrock of a strong domestic education system. Chi is now reaping the fruits of initiatives taken decades back, like the 1986 law on ‘nine-year compulsory education’ focusing on the ‘two basics’ of universal enrolment among school-aged children (6-15 years) and full literacy among those under the age of 20 years, along with revising the tiol curriculum and enhancing teacher training programmes. By 2011, Chi had a landmark achievement to its credit (considering that it has the world’s largest population) — illiteracy has been almost elimited among its young and middle-aged citizens. To remove disparities across regions and communities, Chinese authorities are implementing medium and long term policies in primary and secondary education, boost innovation through higher funding and cultivate a talent base. Compared to all this, where do our educatiol planners stand? They need to cast their vision wider and think higher than a freebie culture and endless ad-hocism.