A much-needed boost to quality education

The education in India has suffered immensely over the years due to short sighted approach, withdrawal of state funding and indiscriminate privatisation, resulting in commercialisation right from the primary to higher education. The Human resource is a national asset. The negligence of education has a direct bearing on human productivity.

Although the target of 100% enrolment in primary schools, as envisaged in the RTE Act 2009, is almost achieved, the problem of qualitative improvement in the learning process remains elusive. There is proliferation of schools near every habitation with tiny population and inadequate resources. India has 3 times number of schools (15 lakh) than China (nearly 5 lakh). However, the quality of education is poor due to structural flaws.

It faces challenges of unviable sub-standard schools and severe shortage of teachers. Nearly 4 lakh schools have less than 50 students each and just two teachers, according to a NITI Aayog report released recently. And close to 1 lakh elementary and secondary schools are running with a single teacher. About 1.5 crore children study in schools which are unviable. Around 30% children enrolled in Class I manage to reach XII Class, majority of whom do not possess the requisite skills.

The quality of education in public funded institutions is deteriorating at an alarming pace, affecting 70% of students. The primary schools face acute problem of teacher absenteeism. A World Bank report estimates this resulting in loss of around $2 billion a year in India. The absenteeism of teachers hurts most the students from disadvantaged background when the education is the only road to social upliftment for them.

The ruling classes cutting across the political dispensations are not interested in improving the quality of education because they do not have any stake in the system, most of their children studying in elite private schools and colleges. There is a huge back log of teachers’ vacancies, affecting the teaching and learning very badly. The students are more interested in getting the degrees somehow rather than the learning. Consequently, they waste their important formative years of life.

Because of the poor quality education at home, the students try to go abroad for higher studies in countries like the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France etc, hoping that a foreign degree is better than an Indian degree. The craze for foreign degrees is promoting fake Universities that attack students.

That some 130 Indian students were detained recently in the US for enrolling in the so called University of Farmington that turned out to be a fake demonstrates the point. The students knowingly enrolled in this university, as somehow they wanted to migrate to the US and settle there.

The countries like Australia have now found a novel method of attacking foreign students. More than one lakh Indian students study in Australia, constituting 12.4% of international enrollment. And recently Australia has announced an ‘Additional Temporary Graduate’ visa with an extra year of post-study work rights for international students, if they graduate from regional campuses.

At present, the students who do a bachelor’s or master’s degree get a two years post-study work visa. Now they can get an extra year post-study work visa, provided they enroll in regional centers. This is aimed at decongesting main cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Gold Coast, and providing an option of conversion to permanent residency after completing three years tenure.

The youth in India should be more concerned about the deteriorating quality of education, loss of jobs- more than 4.7 crores during the past five years- and growing unemployment-7.2%, the highest in 45 years. According to CMIE, 3.1 crore people were looking for jobs at the end of this February.

They must ask the candidates seeking their vote in the general election to address the problems concerning them, rather than engaging in pointless debates on national security and nationalism. With a median age of 28 years, India’s population is quite young. By 2020, the youth will make up 34% of population. And with 45 million young people added to the voters list since 2014, the youth is a formidable force.

The students studying in public funded institutions are unable to compete with the students from elite private institutions. Being the prime stakeholders of a deteriorating educational system, the modern youngsters should come forward and arrest the politics of identity and primordial loyalties based on caste, religion and community. A good quality education is what empowers and liberates them from societal discrimination.

The spending on education was 2.7% of GDP during the year 2017-18, down from 3.1% in 2012-13. This is woefully inadequate, considering the size of the country and the scale of students’ enrolment, particularly when we want to create a pool of skilled workforce.

The education outlay has increased marginally by 3.8 % in 2018-19 (Rs.850 billion). The allotment to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has increased by Rs 1000 crore, and Rashtriya Madhayamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) – teacher training and adult education pprogramme- by Rs 305 crore. And the mid-day meals scheme, which continues to face problems and much criticism since inception, has got just Rs 300 crore more. All this shows how education has been a low priority.

The Congress manifesto, released on April 2, seems to have understood the problems facing our education system. It promises to invest 6% GDP in education- more than double the amount spent presently- if voted to power in the general election. If this comes true, it will be a boost to quality of education.

Rahul Gandhi said, “The poor of this country need to dream big and their children will get the best education as the government will be committed to increasing the national share for education.” The party promises to make school education from Class I to XII in public schools free and compulsory.

And with the promise of filling some 22 lakh vacant posts in government, one can expect the teaching vacant posts in aided institutions filled, raising the standard of education. And hopefully this should stop mushrooming of profit making commercial unaided educational institutions, at the expense of quality and affordability. Of course, all this is in the realm of conjecture, depending on the election outcome.

The writer is a freelance journalist. Views are perssonal

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