03 Jan 2015


It is a truism, oft repeated though, that the foundations of a nation rest on the education of its populace, more importantly the youth.The ability of quality education in nurturing nascent minds, to become enlightened, talented and useful to oneself in life and to an emerging nation like India, is well established. That the formative impact of education on individuals has a cascading effect on the socio-economic unfolding of India in its many dimensions is more than proven in the iconic sectors of Indian economy-IT and such others. It cannot be gainsaid that redemption of India to a developed country status, is almost singly possible, if only the human capital and the consequent demographic dividend is optimally realized, by the education of its youth and the masses at large.

The new government at the centre, ushered in by a massive mandate, has truly set high expectations on all fronts by its vow on good governance. Such good governance implemented in Indian education will have far reaching multiplier effect on the economy and prosperity as a whole, must be of great significance to the new dispensation. Although understated in all that developmental talk of the day, in the years to come, education and its related agenda, for this government will be a crucial and central theme to all its development rhetoric and endeavors. The enormity and immediacy of setting this agenda is concomitant to the enormity of the tasks and problems faced by the Indian education system as a whole. These problems galore have to be overcome quickest to arrive at the cusp of development and consequently to derive the benefits of an avowedly huge demographic dividend.

Indian Education–The Mixed Scenario

Indian education is literally at crossroads with its seeming paradoxes and real problems waiting for long to be tackled and resolved.

  • Inspite of a creditable six-fold growth in literacy levels, India still hosts a staggering 30% of the world illiterates.
  • More than 90% of children are getting enrolled into the schools but 29% of them drop out before class 5th and 46% before class 8th.
  • Our present spending on education is around 3.2% of the national GDP which in absolute terms looks substantial, is way below the spending percentages of countries like China, now around 4.3%-this incidentally is at a ranking of 106 in the world rankings and India being lower at 145.
  • Enrolments in higher education have increased to 12.2 percent of the population, but needs to be increased to 30 percent by 2025 if 65% of the population then-being of the working age group-is to be gainfully employed.
  • There are nearly 8 lakh-odd teachers in the country, but shortage of them in numbers-not to speak of shortage in quality-is a staggering 3.5 lakh.
  • An impressive 6.5 lakh+ primary schools and 2 lakh+post-primary schools are now established but the quality of education in them is of a low grade (In a PISA world-ranking for quality of education, even progressive states like TamilNadu ranked a low 72nd).
  • Education in India is estimated to be a 90 billion dollar opportunity but yet private enterprise/participation and FDIs in Indian education is at a low ebb as there is hardly any motivation and  incentives to the right kind of investments to get attracted.
  • Nearly 13 million need to get added to the work force annually but nearly 75% of graduates who pass out of colleges are either unemployed or underemployed up to an year after their graduation. On the top of it, there is a mismatch between what is needed by the industry or employers and what is available to them for recruitment.

This list of paradoxes and problems can be endless, but what really needs to be on the agenda of the new government to tackle them, has to be definitive and necessarily time bound. Presented here is a definitive agenda shortlist of Ten Must-do’s for the new Government:

  1. Education Policy and Regulation
  2. School Education-Primary and Secondary
  3. Higher Education and Academic R&D.
  4. Vocational and Skills Education
  5. Educational Infrastructure (hardware and content included) Institution Building and Technology.
  6. Teaching and Pedagogy
  7. ICT and Distance Education
  8. Financing, Resources, FDI and Enterprise in Education
  9. Education and Job/industry-linkages
  10. Education and Nation/Economy Building.

Here are some of the major directions and goal posts for each of the cited agenda points which are much debated up to the near past and now need to get implemented at national and regional/ state levels, listed and briefly elaborated.

1. Education Policy and Regulation

  • There is an immediate need to revamp the 1986 National Education Policy to subsume many Abhiyans or mission modes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shikhsa Abhiyan, Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan and others into one integrated document and revisit many other areas like Vocational Education, Digital Education, Open Learning Resources and many others. Simultaneously there is a need to replace the multiple regulatory bodies like AICTE, UGC, DEC and many other professional education bodies, which often have over-lapping and many a times contradictory roles, into well defined organisations with autonomous roles in their respective spheres.
  • The new policy document(s) must clearly define for each of the major education streams

-Vision and Purpose

-Method of Governance and Management

-Stakeholders:Centre, State, Public, Private–their roles and responsibilities.

-Contours of policy with regard to quality standards, equity and access as applied to curriculum, content, teaching and learning methods, assessment, testing and examination systems.

-Implementation road map with a mission mode to realise defined outcomes in a time bound manner

-Independent bodies and their methods of review and control for effective implementation towards the set objectives and purpose in the policy.

No doubt, this requires elaborate discussions/brainstorming sessions across and among all stake holders keeping in view the balance between common academic standards and autonomy desired to suit local needs, strengths and aspiration across federal states.

As such, a policy is the fountainhead of future actions and initiatives and there is an immediate need to initiate its quick formulation and legislations, whenever needed to.

2. School Education-Primary and Secondary Education

Education, per se, is a purposeful continuum starting from primary education through secondary education leading up to higher education including vocational/skills education. From that standpoint, quality primary and secondary education is basic to further academic learning and career choice. Thus purposeful primary and secondary education deserves a far higher priority and attention than it presently commands. In contrast, primary and secondary education in India, to be succinct, is abysmal; teaching and learning outcomes in them are barely minimal. A near 12 lakh-plus state-run schools across the country are plagued by a gross paucity of facilities and infrastructure, teacher insufficiency and rampant  absenteeism, lacking of resources, poor quality standards, wrong emphasis on marking/grading/passing in place of true evaluation of learning and knowledge assimilation, theoretical pedagogy  in contrast to the much required real world knowledge and linkage, just to mention a few among the too many to count.  It is then no great surprise that out of a near 2.3 crore children who get enrolled annually in primary education, only about 40 lakh students (less than even 20 percent), on an average, take up higher education. This really is a reflection of the sordid state of our primary and secondary education.

Major Agenda points for implementation here must be;

  • Open  up  primary and secondary education, as a true right, by removal of all bureaucratic shackles  of mindless approvals and inspector raj
  • Limit the role of the state to that of objective regulation preceded by encouragement to all–the socially conscious, entrepreneurial including state institutions and bodies to being a part of a mission, that of making the last child literate and still learning, with a clear focus on quality coupled with equity and access.
  • The Agenda must be to create an enabling and motivating ecology bereft of mindless bureaucracy.
  • The Agenda must stipulate and budget higher spending levels for school education and indeed, ensure such a spending leads to better facilities and infrastructure
  • It must ensure foolproof across-the-nation systems to ensure minimum acceptable quality standards of teacher selection, pedagogy , curriculum and testing
  • Curriculum and learning must be related to life skills and world around and made more engrossing and meaningful.
  • To reach maximum numbers with standard quality and interesting content, open learning resources coupled with digital reach must be devolved to all schools to make the new government’s ‘Digital India’ dream come really true. Technology and its extension must play a key role in doing this within the quickest possible time frame.
  • A mission spirit needs to be imbued in to this all-important agenda to make it succeed, whatever be the costs and odds.

3. Higher Education and Research

The Agenda for higher education and research must address the issues of quantity and quality across the complete spectrum of higher learning up to research. Excellence in higher education and research must be the watchword and the objective. Minimum points of focus, apart from the related regulatory reforms are:

Employable, real world-focused quality education benchmarks to be implemented through purposeful design of need-based curriculum, teaching, learning, assessment and examination systems across uniformly all the 37,000-plus colleges and 720-plus Universities existing and in to-be-established future institutions as well.

As a precursor to achieve this main agenda, prominent action points are

– Consensus creation among all stakeholders including states on the need and methods

– Differentiate higher education into targeted outcome expectations, such as separate academic, technical, professional, vocational and skill-based streams.

– Create funding and networking avenues for quality upgradation, infrastructure development and growth by opening up higher education as well, besides the government concentrating on building centers of excellence like the IITs, NITs, IIMs and others.

– Facilitate industry and sectorwise backward integration with educational institutions to make higher learning more useful and appropriate to industry and sector needs by adopting a systems-oriented approach in devising curriculum and learning methods.

– Implement related actions on uniform regulations on admissions, accreditation, tuition and fees, rating and examinations.

4. Vocational and Skills Education

India is undergoing a demographic shift with twin effects occurring concurrently–firstly, the younger age group between 20 and 30 years will comprise more than 30% of the overall population in the immediate next 10 years and they have to become employment-cum-job ready and secondly, they have to enroll into higher education colleges and institutes or alternatively have to learn job-specific skills and get trained in vocational streams that are essential for jobs and vocations in demand by the industries and economy in general. It is in the latter that there is a big gap, as a very small percentage of the future workforce has had any formal job or vocational education and training. The universal curriculum that is taught in general prepare the youth for a general ‘3-R’ education in theoretical subjects which do not prepare them for the demands and rigours of the industry and economy-oriented jobs.

The onerous agenda must be to focus on large scale skill development but yet focused vocational training to bridge this huge futuristic gap. In fact, the operational part of this agenda must facilitate integration of vocational training into both secondary schooling and higher education. Part of this agenda must also be to create useful linkages with and participation of various industries and sectors of the economy. Finally, a skills qualification framework for, say thirty or forty skill development oriented predominant streams, must be developed on a national scale.

Such an action-oriented agenda only will help India reap this huge but yet temporary demographic dividend.

5. Educational Infrastructure–Hardware, Software & Learnware

Education in India, specifically in primary and secondary education, is a big muddle. Even the most touted education initiative of the previous government of ‘Education Next’, ‘India as the education super power of the future declared in early 2013 and many others, previously declared have not even addressed properly the core issues of our education system, not to talk of fixing them. Debates in such initiatives over the pitching of higher education vis–a–vis, the still-developing primary and secondary school education already in the pits, seem quite hollow and meaningless looking to the mess created by literally impoverishing our basic education system. Even after sixty three years of our Constitution, in 1951 declaring “The state shall endeavour within ten years from the commencement of the constitution free and compulsory education to all children until the age of fourteen”, the dreams of achieving this goal looks far from over. Reasons are not far to seek. Country’s more than 12 lakh primary schools, managed mainly by the government, are still ridden with dilapidated infrastructure, majority of the buildings are devoid of even basic facilities of drinking water, toilets, electricity, not to speak of computers internet and others. Rampant absenteeism of teachers, multigrade schools, shoddy teaching, low attendance, more than 60 percent dropouts after six years of such schooling-all point to the depressing state of affairs. If only we could invest, spend more and also spend more productively and efficiently too to get better outcomes, it would have been more motivating and engrossing situation for our children to continue studying and perform better. The short point is that our investment in infrastructure, facilities & services, technology-hardware & software, content of teaching & teaching standards per se have all been low. Attracting investments into these impoverished conditions through private enterprise, PPPs, philanthropy, FDI and whatever means, is no doubt a gargantuan task but a task that badly needs immediate and alacritic attention.

The Agenda must be to provide higher resource allocations to primary schooling, to upgrade infrastructure with better basic facilities, teaching and technology resources and the endeavor to get better outcomes with low or nil dropouts.

In a national education sector touted as a 100 billion dollar industry, investments in primary and secondary schooling cannot be this paltry. Spending on an average of Rs. 250–300 per student per month at the school level should be made more productive and accountable in terms of better outcomes. Revamping the existing ramshackle infrastructure, establishing an ICT–enabled digital infrastructure from school level to university level, upgrading select universities and Institutes to global standards and instituting a supernumery teaching and pedagogy services at the apex level, improving the planning and evaluation services through proper regulatory and evaluation/accreditation bodies–all these require massive investments and budgeting of resources. The agenda focus on this must be to fund in the short as well as the long term and manage the resources and related projects unrolled on a time bound basis focused on achieving these goals.

6. Teaching and Pedagogy

Recent debates on equity and spread of education and well meaning Acts and Regulations on ‘Right to Education’ and others have also brought to focus the all important issue of quality of education. Anecdotal research studies and evidence have confirmed low levels of participation and learning outcomes in our education system. Such low levels of performance in education also clearly point to the low quality of teaching and pedagogy. The role of teachers and the quality of class room teaching has a lot to be desired in elevating the prevailing quality levels of learning outcomes from their present utmost nadir. Teachers–as individuals poorly paid, devoid of incentives for better performance and bereft of opportunities for developing critical perspectives and knowledge-base for effective teaching–continue to adopt time–worn methods of teaching by transmission. Thus constructively they are not made responsible for enabling high levels of learning outcomes uniformly across all levels of students possessing, as they normally are, variable aptitudes and abilities to effectively learn. No wonder this is reflected in high rates of strength attrition, low attendance and high failure rates of students affecting adversely their academic performance.

A concerted agenda of (i) Building an efficient and highly motivated cadre of teachers from school level upwards to University levels (ii) training existing teaching community in modern methods of pedagogy and learning and (iii) catapulting them as true leaders in imparting meaningful education must be taken up in right earnest as one of the most essential agendas.

7. ICT and Distance Education

Technologies including ICT, MOOCs, CMS, LMS and Virtual Learning Systems can play a stellar role in imparting education beyond physical barriers and boundaries. A country, as diverse and vast as India, must necessarily adopt technology as an effective tool and medium to achieve its millennium goal of education to all in the quickest possible time. It is all a win-win situation now for India to polevault with the help of technology to levels achieved by the more advanced nations, at a faster pace than they could achieve them. However for adoption and migration to such a technology mode of teaching and learning, creation of right Content and MOOCs, installation of Hardware and Software and communication system required, enabling such a learning viable, must be undertaken as an immediate purpose/agenda.

8. Resource Mobilization

Creation of infrastructure, training teachers in new methods, upgrading systems and many of the agendas enumerated in the foregoing, require a mega agenda of mobilizing finances and resources to achieve them, through modes and methods different from those adopted till date. Present concept of not-for-profit co-existing with a heavily capitation-based education meant to give a better but dubious deal in facilities, teaching quality and others, has to be replaced by a more equitable, meaningful, outcome based, efficient system of education through better means of financing, devolvement and expenditure management. To think of education purely on the thin lines of distinction of public-private, national and multinational financing and endless debate would not yield results which we have been eternally waiting for. It is time new systems and modes of financing and bankrolling education are formulated, debated among social and political stakeholders and have them adopted to ensure the much desired levels of spending on education. This indeed must be one of the top agendas of the new government.

9. Education and Job-Industry Linkages

In India, nature and substance of all endeavors in education are targeted in getting degrees and diplomas which in turn are to enable them get into jobs. However, the relevance and job-readiness of such an education has never been scrutinized and the system revamped to enable them to be job-fit. Conversely, what is desirable in education and useful for industry & organizations and eventually make them employable is never debated and understood. In fact, the design of many courses including those in liberal arts, entrepreneurship and others not so directly related, must be done based on real-world requirements so that the education and the educated are both matching to those requirements. There is a growing requirement that the policies and methods governing education, curriculum design included, must address this crucial linkage along with the utility for the educated in relation to what is taught and learnt. This Agenda necessarily has to be piloted by the Government and it is time that the new Government must set right this as one of its leading agendas.

10. Education as a Nation Building Agenda

As it is now repeatedly realized but to no avail, government and policy run in parallel paths and silos without effective integration and optimization of processes as well as outcomes. Education, in the traditional sense, has been viewed as an isolated enterprise and endeavour mostly as a responsibility of the state. Of late only the truth is dawning that education to all is a collective and collateral social and economic endeavor with direct linkages and creations of deep impacts on nation and economy building. In a country of diversity and vastness as ours, education has to be considered not just as a bunch of missions and abhiyans but as a purposeful means towards achieving revolutions in all spheres–social, economic, political and others and a revolution in its own right.

These, in short, are the major thrust areas to be concentrated upon and are critical to the education sector of this country. As a caveat, the ten major agenda points detailed here, are neither exhaustive in themselves to achieve all the major missions and goals setforth for the sector, nor are they exclusive to each other considering the essential linkages between these agenda points themselves. This apart, it is recognized that not all these are easily amenable to easy administrative solutions, given the intricate archaic systemic and structural challenges that a vast country of near-continental proportions like India, suffers from. However, it is also true that these challenges are this country’s USPs too; for instance, its diverse teeming population contributes much to its high demographic advantages . While presenting this vast canvas of an agenda, it is very assuring that the new government was ushered in with a huge popular mandate and sympathy. Rightly so it has embarked upon its avowed missions, including those in the education sector, with the right notes and purpose. As with all missions well begun, the proof of the terminal achievements is in their execution, the alacrity and sense of purpose of doing so. It is now time that the rusty state machinery is cranked up and the mission mode of action with active involvement of all stake holders, high and low, is initiated. It will indeed be a disservice to the nation, if this development narrative of education meant for the good of all, is not carried forward through goal-specific actions to tangible achievements but frittered away frequently as in the past for whatever reasons-partisan, subjective, personal or otherwise.

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