What ails our education?

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

We are not using 90 per cent of our gene pool to generate a true knowledge-based society that can produce world-class leadership in various areas
Pushpa M. Bhargava

OUR entire education system—be it school education, higher education, vocational education or professional education, or be it education in sciences or social sciences, engineering or medicine —is in a mess, barring a small number of exceptions. Let me state five major problems with our education.

Our state-run school system for Class I to X is mostly a shambles. One just has to look at the report of the National University of Educational Planners and Administrators on the state of our government schools, to be convinced of that. In most cases, the facilities such as, teachers, buildings, required laboratory equipment, and toilets for girls are virtually non-existent or inadequate. The Central Schools are an exception but one can get one’s child admitted to a Central School unless one is a government employee (usually highly placed) in a transferable job.

This was not the situation till the 1960s, when the children of the rich and the poor all went to government schools or the schools run by bona fide trusts or societies with an altruistic motive. The rot in government schools started when we allowed setting up of private schools de facto, with a profit motive, and when the rich, the affluent and the powerful started sending their children to such schools, which on account of their high fees excluded over 90 per cent of children of school-going age. The Central Schools escaped this rot because of the nature of their clientele.

Not that private, for-profit schools imparted first-rate education. Far from it, they provided an opportunity of segregation of the rich from the poor that the rich desired. They realised that if every child in the country had equal opportunity of good school education, (a) where will they get the household servants from; (b) their children will have much tougher competition in life; and (c) the top 10 per cent will not be able to exploit the remaining 90 per cent of the population. Let us remind ourselves of the late Arjun Sen Gupta’s analysis of the last census which established that, at that time, 77 per cent of Indians lived on less than Rs 20 per day, which, in terms of dollar parity, is like living on $2 a day in the US. Today, this amount may have risen to Rs 30, but the gap between the top 10 per cent and the rest has also increased.

The Right to Education (RTE) Act is an eyewash. What it promises cannot be delivered as regards government-run schools or as regards those who cannot afford to send their children to private commercial schools, as long as such for-profit schools are encouraged. In fact, the Act is a deliberate ploy to transfer government money to private schools without commensurate benefit to society.

The only solution would be (a) de-commercialisation of school education, and (b) setting up a common school system in which the existing private schools can be assimilated. The details of such a process of assimilation have been worked out by many, including our former Foreign Secretary, Prof. Muchkund Dubey, for the state of Bihar. It has been shown over and over again that the country can afford it if it allocates 6 per cent of GDP for education, as has been committed by the present government and its previous edition.

As regards higher, non-professional university education, the greatest bane of ours is the over 20,000 affiliated colleges which offer various degrees. A vast majority of them have been set up for making money and produce unemployable graduates. If we want to raise the standards of university education, we must follow the recommendations of the Yash Pal Committee.

Recognising the fact that out of these over 20,000 affiliated colleges, a small number (around 2,000-3,000) are likely to be very good, there is no reason why they should not be converted into universities. This will also take care of India’s requirement of at least 3,000 universities with not more than 10,000 students each. Out of the remaining affiliated colleges, perhaps another couple of thousand may have the potential of becoming good enough to be converted into a university. They should be given four to five years for improving themselves. The rest should be converted into vocational institutions, which should give only a diploma after classes VIII, X or XII.

Another problem of higher education is the approval given by some governments to private universities, and also the fact that some of them are running without the required approval, with the government taking no action against them. These universities cover up their deficiencies by extensive advertisement. If our universities are good, they would no doubt be able to attract both talent and resources. Why is it that Ratan Tata can give 50 million dollars as a gift to Harvard but not to any of our universities?

Coming to professional education such as in the area of medicine, engineering and nursing, the corruption in bodies such as the Medical Council of India (MCI), All-India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), Pharmacy Council of India and Nursing Council of India , appointed by the Acts of Parliament, to accredit only those institutions that come up to the mark, is now widely known. The government has finally woken up to it, and at least, in the case of MCI, has replaced the existing structure through an Act of the Parliament, with an interim governing board which does not have any of the present members of MCI on it.

In fact, all the 13 such councils that control professional education in the country should be abrogated and the recommendation of the Yash Pal Committee to set up a National Commission for Higher Education and Research, which would then set up systems for accreditation of professional institutions, should be implemented. In this connection, it will be amusing for readers to learn as to how all these councils grant accreditation to professional colleges, including medical, engineering, pharmacy and nursing colleges. If you want to set up a medical, engineering, nursing or pharmacy college that will award degrees, and if you have connections and a little money that you want to multiply, you rent a building and appoint an event manager whose job will be to get you teachers such as professors, equipment and even students on rent. The ongoing rate for such professors in Hyderabad is between Rs 30,000 and 40,000 per day; they are generally needed only for two-three days. Event managers set up your laboratories and do everything else to ensure that minimum requirements for recognition are satisfied. You then invite, say, the AICTE to send you an inspection team which would have been carefully selected to ensure that the college gets the recognition it has sought as long as it pays the bribe which is shared by all concerned, from top to downwards. When the inspection team arrives, you take good care of its members in ways that I do not need to mention again. The inspection team then gives you recognition. After the team goes away, the show is dismantled but as you have got the recognition, you can admit students, charging them high fees. The students or their parents do not know that the graduates the college would produce would be unemployable.

Another tragedy of higher education in the country is the utter lack of understanding of the requirements of high-quality higher education at the university level, by both, the Centre and state as well as the bureaucracy. Awareness of and respect for academic excellence in this country is dismally low not only in these groups but also amongst the so-called academicians themselves. And the reason for this is not far to seek. Our scientific and technological manpower of three million comes from a take-off population of, at most, 100 million and not 1.1 billion; the rest of the over 90 per cent of our people have been excluded and continue to be excluded from the education system. This has led to a situation where, on one hand, a large number (over 80 per cent!) of those who are recipients of higher education should never have been allowed to go for it while, on the other hand, we are not using 90 per cent of our gene pool to generate a true knowledge-based society that can produce world-class leadership in various areas, of quality and quantity that is India’s right and obligation to provide.

To sum up, as regards education in our country, the diseases have been diagnosed and the cure stares us in the eye, but the political will to implement the cure is lacking. The reason is that the disease does not affect the rich, the powerful and the influential, i.e., the politicians, the bureaucrats and the leaders of business who use education entirely for personal gain and exploitation of the uneducated; the sheer excitement of knowledge that leads to pushing its frontiers is unknown to them (exceptions granted).

The situation cannot improve unless the ever-increasing chasm between the minority of the privileged 5-10 per cent and the majority of the unprivileged, remaining 90-95 per cent, is bridged. That can only happen when our primary emphasis is on equity and not on high growth rate or creating more billionaires. It is not surprising that India has received no Nobel Prize in Science or in Literature after Raman and Tagore. Our future Nobel Prize winners will come from the over 80 per cent of India that lives today in less than, say, Rs 30 per day—when this India has unfettered access to quality education at all levels.

What ails our education? P.M. Bhargava. The Tribune, 2/11/2010.

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