With India celebrating the seventy-fifth year of its independence impressively this year, the country’s developmental works in various sectors have been highlighted leading up to the national day.
Education is one such arena that has been portrayed as one of the Centre’s primary areas of concern but educators and students in the country, while hopeful of the future, have lamented its current state.
'The quality of teaching across the board, public or private, has seen a steady decline'
“Access to higher education to all segments of society is rare even today. We can observe that the gross enrollment ratio of our country is not at par with many others,” said IIM Calcutta Dean, New Initiatives & External Relations, Dr. Manish Thakur, who added that despite several programmes there’s little to no change in the ground. “Despite several initiatives, digitalisation and technical soundness are not available within many universities. Many students, therefore, do not get access to these facilities as well,” stated Thakur.
The state of premier institutions in India is not all roses even after decades of advancements according to other prominent professors.
“ The quality of teaching across the board, public or private, has seen a steady decline. Only when you enter these institutions do you realize they aren't what they seem to be. Even today one can pity the quality and structure of many primary and secondary institutions. With little salary, contracts with bad security, and apathy towards these schools, the foundation of our students are affected,” said B.G. Fernandes, a professor at IIT Bombay.
NEP aspirational but rigidity remains
With the National Education Policy(NEP) 2020 approved by the Union Cabinet on July 29, 2020, being a framework for elementary education to higher education, while also catering to vocational education in urban and rural India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech on August 15 called the policy 'a crucial component of building a developed India,’ and urged the young people in his speech—who will be 50 in 2047—to swear an oath to make India a developed nation within a century of its independence.
But some feel despite the policy’s high aspirations, institutional challenges remain. “Though with NEP we are implementing choice-based credits, students today still face rigidity within education,” said Pro Vice Chancellor of Mumbai University, Ravindra Kulkarni, who recommended that lessons from the early days of independent India should be taken into account.
“With the last industrial revolution, we saw how many people in an independent India were incapable of coping with the changes in the market. Taking from it, we must encourage our students to be lifelong learners who can adapt efficiently,” suggested Mr. Kulkarni.
Cost, quality, sensitization, major concerns for students
Students who have been well acquainted with the system are not mincing their words either, this Independence Day, as they feel it has become a norm since decades to burn their pockets to afford education.
“I think fees should become pocket/budget friendly even for higher level programs. As we know most Indians are not affluent but getting a degree is important for us due to various reasons. Govt/private institutions should reflect and regulate fees more efficiently,” said Maitri Gala, a student who did her Masters in Communication and Journalism from Somaiya University.
While others like Pranav Jeevan say that since 2019 there has been no hike in fellowships and it has not kept up with inflation. “Most of the students are studying in state and private universities rather than in IITs, NITs, or IIITs but with even public institutions hiking fees, these places remain for the elite. Unaffordability of education is the primary threat after seventy-five years,” said Pranav Jeevan, a Ph.D. aspirant at IIT Bombay’s Electrical Engineering department. “We need good institutions and more funding in research in the coming years. The GDP for education should be increased upto 6% compared to less than 3% now,” added Jeevan who believes that minors in arts and humanities similar to the West are a great example of nurturing students as a whole and needs to be supported in India.
The requirement of having a bachelor's and masters in a similar domain inhibits the career choices of some students, which they feel should be done away with in this day and age. “The Ministry of Education should provide a chance for students wherein they can directly get into a Master's programme of his choice irrespective of his undergraduate degree given that the person completes a prerequisite course work so he can be on par with students coming from the similar domain as that of the Masters programme,” said Meet Furia, a Masters student in Software Development from IIIT - Bangalore and Masters in Computer Science from Liverpool John Moores University.
With the recent incident of a Dalit boy’s death after being beaten by a teacher for drinking pot water shocking the entire nation, individuals like Jalaj Arya feel the issue is a matter of lack of inclusivity in Indian classrooms regardless of there being primary, secondary, or higher education. “When you don’t have a concept of sensitization that has been taught and tested in classrooms, it’s expected that such incidents will happen. In the past 75 years students have read-only certain chapters on caste, which might include a few lessons from Annihilation of Caste, that give a poor understanding to them about the severity of the dynamics,” said Arya, a postgraduate in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).