WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
The other day, I had the good fortune to receive the latest issue of the India Foundation Jourl that had two White Papers on education. One was titled “India School Education Vision 2030” by Ashish Dhawan with Shrutipriya Dalmiya and Aravind Balagi Prasad as co-authors, and the other titled “2014 to 2030 India Higher Education: Journey to Leadership” by Pramath Raj Sinha. Both White Papers carried a great deal of very useful data on the education scerio and projections for the future. The India Foundation Jourl is published by India Foundation of New Delhi, and is for private circulation only. Having gone through the two important papers, I thought it was important to share some of the findings about our present state of education and the vision for 2030 with my readers.
The first White Paper—“India School Education Vision 2030”—sees India’s education system today as being in the midst of a shift from focusing on access of children to schools to delivery of quality education in schools. It identifies four key levers encompassing several action points that will lead the country to achieve an aspiratiol vision of a strong school education system being foundatiol for India’s socio-economic development and global competitiveness. These four levers are (a) accountability and governce, (b) curriculum and schools, (c) human capital and (d) technology in schools. It is significant that the school-going population that was 19 crore in the year 1990-1991 rose to 31 crore by the year 2010-2011 (a growth of nearly 60 per cent). Likewise, the student enrolment, which was 15 crore in 1990-1991, rose to 25 crore in 2010-2011 (a growth of 66.66 per cent). It is perhaps even more significant that the paltry expenditure on school education that was a mere Rs 12,000 crore in 1990-1991 rose to Rs 1.86 lakh crore 2010-2011. However, the greatest problem facing school education in India is the high dropout rate due to very little investment in quality education. This should be abundantly clear from the fact that about half of our schoolchildren are uble to read a simple text and nearly two-thirds fail to do basic arithmetic at the end of primary school. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that rural parents are unwilling to continue sending their children to school when they discover how little they have learnt at school. In many cases, parents to jump to the conclusion that their children would be better off at home and in the fields than attending school where they learn nothing useful. Much of the failure to learn what they are expected to in primary schools can be attributed to the poor quality of teaching. At present, India has 16,000 teacher education institutes (TEIs) with 13 lakh seats. According to the authors of the White Paper, the majority of this capacity is extremely poor. They are of the view that “there are no centres of excellence in teacher education, and with a fragmented system, it is difficult to build capacity for improving quality.” According to the White Paper, less than six per cent of the seven lakh teacher education program graduates, who appeared for the September 2014 Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) conducted by the CBSE passed the examition. One very visible outcome of the poor quality of teaching in primary schools is a sharp rise in enrolment in private schools. This is a revealed by a comparison of percentages of children attending private primary schools in other countries and in India. In Japan, only one per cent of children attend private primary schools. In Chi and the UK, the figure is five per cent. In the USA, nine per cent of children attend private primary schools. In India, this figure has risen to 32 per cent, clearly indicating total lack of faith in primary schools run by the government. The projected scerio for 2030-2031 is a sharp increase in the enrolment in private schools. This enrolment, which stood at 37 per cent in the year 2010-2011, is expected to rise to 67 per cent by 2030-2031. As it is, the increases in the numbers of schools, school teachers and the school-going population in the 20 years between 1990-1991 and 2010-2011 are very impressive. During this period, the number of schools increased from eight lakh to 16 lakh. The number of teachers increased from 40 lakh to 90 lakh and the number of school-going children went up from 19 crore 31 crore. The pupil-teacher ratio, however, dropped from 38 to 27 during this period.
What is indeed interesting is the projection for the year 2030-2031. The number of schools is projected to fall from the present 16 lakh to about 11 lakh assuming that there would be some school consolidation with 300 students per school on an average instead of having a larger number of schools with poor enrolment that are not viable propositions. It is obviously for this reason that the number of school teachers in 2030-2031 has been projected at 110 lakh against the present figure of about 90 lakh. The expenditure on school education that was Rs 12,000 lakh crore in 1990-1991 and Rs 1.86 lakh crore in 2010-2011 is expected to rise to about Rs 20.4 lakh crore in 2030-2031. With the competition from private schools increasing every year, the emphasis will have to be on quality education with better teachers. And as we all know, any move towards better quality gets that much costlier. The objective, of course, is the kind of school education that would prepare our students much better for the global competitiveness that they must prepare for to survive in global villages.
According to the second White Paper, India’s higher education system is the third largest in the world, with around 30 million enrolments across 45,000 institutions. Over the last four decades, the number of institutions for higher education and enrolment in them, has registered a seven-fold and a twelve-fold growth respectively. To meet the increasing demands of the young population, the government has doubled the number of Central institutions over the last six years and increased the budgetary allocation for higher education by 37 per cent from Rs 195 billion in 2011-12 to Rs 265 billion in 2013-14. However, the fact remains that progress cannot be measured solely by the amount of money spent. But despite this, we have serious shortcomings with our higher education system that we cannot afford to ignore. India ranked second last in the U21 rankings of tiol higher education systems. Not a single Indian institution of higher education is in the world’s top 200. The problem of low quality extends to skill development and employability, both of which are crucial pillars of growth. Industry has consistently pointed out the huge skills shortages: only 10 per cent of the general graduates and 25 per cent of engineers in the country are perceived as employable by the industry. The major drawbacks are (a) shortage of faculty and poor quality of faculty; (b) outdated curricula and pedagogy; and (c) limited research, apart from other drawbacks like idequate infrastructure and poor governce and leadership as well as idequate funding. The White Paper summarizes the shortage of faculty and poor quality of faculty by commenting that there is not enough good faculty, and the existing faculty is not good enough. Around 35% of faculty positions in state universities and 40% incentive universities are lying vacant. While enrolment in higher education has grown six times in the last 30 years, the faculty strength has grown only four times and with rapidly declining quality of academic capability. The quality and quantity issues both stem from the fact that teaching in most institutions of higher education remains a low paying job. Speaking of the outdated curricula and pedagogy, the White Paper states that Indian student is a passive learner on a predefined education pathway and has little to say in what to learn and the learning style involved. The domint mode of instruction is information loaded—one-way lecturers from the teacher to student. The instruction designed does not eble students to become lifelong learners with a passion for knowledge. The curriculum does not give the student the freedom to explore, which in turn restricts his ability to question, relate and connect theory to practice. Opportunities for research in India are extremely limited and hidebound. Likewise, idequate funding, land shortage and ineffective use of resources are the three major problems that impede the successful expansion of the higher education system. Even so, the White Paper projects a vision for 2030 that will raise enrolment in higher education from 30 million to 70 million; improve social indicators (health, sanitation, law and order) due to greater awareness among the youth; make 90 per cent of graduates readily employable and put 20 Indian universities among the top 200 of the world.
I can hear a lot of people dismissing the vision for 2030 as being far too ambitious and falling in the category of pipe dreams. Unfortutely, over the last several decades, our problem has been that we stopped dreaming as far as educatiol excellence was concerned. It is far better to be dealing with people who have not given up hope and who continue to dream of better days, better standards and a far better quality of life than we have had so far under the leadership of people who have not learnt to dream for the greatest good of the greatest number.