Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 12, October 1-15, 2018

Points of view

by Prof. M.R. Dua (Former head of the Journalism Dept. at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi)

Whither education in India?

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Are the thousands of schools, colleges, and universities in India equipped to cultivate competence, abilities, and capacities to meet new and emerging opportunities and challenges? The answer is ‘No”. So what is wrong, and what is the remedy?

Yesterday’s educational system will not meet today’s, even less so, the needs of tomorrow,” said Professor Daulat Singh Kothari, Chairman of the 1964 Education Commission, presenting his report to the Union Government over half a century ago. Kothari’s words sound prophetic today.

There is no doubt that India’s present education system doesn’t compare favourably with global standards, and is much less than satisfactory even for domestic needs. The growing armies of unemployed graduates and mounting ranks of jobless postgraduates in subjects like History, Sanskrit, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Political Science or any other Social Science discipline, and the overflowing registers of employment exchanges across the country, stand witness to this fact.

It stands to reason that if these degrees don’t make students eligible for decent jobs, the system needs to be thoroughly refurbished and remodelled. Our schools, colleges, and universities are producing young men and women who are less than prepared for employment, because of both their less relevant, mediocre academic credentials and the poor standard of training. They are far from equipped to immediately join the ranks of aptly qualified and adequately trained workforces sorely needed to take over the new openings that India’s fast-growing economy is throwing up.

So, what’s wrong with our educational system, and why are these youngsters found wanting in the eyes of employers? The reason is that they have gone through outdated and obsolete syllabuses and have not been taught the skills required in today’s job openings. Also, most of the pedagogic infrastructure and supporting paraphernalia – labs and laboraries, industrial workshops, tools, techniques, and devices – are either not working or fall way short of international standards.

India’s educational system is a complex and labyrinthine venture – with more than 15 lakh schools, over 35,500 colleges and 700 degree-granting institutions dotted over the country delivering knowledge in diverse disciplines to more than 20 million students and counting. Access to education has markedly climbed, particularly after the Right to Education Act came into effect. Consequently, the literacy rate is also jumping and is nearly 66 per cent overall.

In the days of yore, instructions in essential axioms of morality, ethics and philosophy, civilisation, ancient heritage and culture were imparted in classrooms. No more. The 21st Century is the age of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. If teachers and trainers don’t fully prepare youngsters in the niché areas of STEM, the youth will only swell the ranks of the unemployable and unemployed.

Are our thousands of schools, colleges and universities equipped to cultivate competence, abilities and capacities to meet new and emerging opportunities and challenges?

No, the reality is that nearly 60 per cent of the students who pass out from government and private institutions are hardly aware of the latest research, developments and innovations. This is also true of alumni of private and deemed universities. Of course, alumni of IITs and IIMs do stand out and make a mark at global levels, but the need of the hour is for most schools, colleges and universities to rise to the occasion and turn out personnel ready to take responsibilities.

A recent survey by the Indian Express revealed the horrendously low standards at engineering colleges in Haryana, Andhra, Karnataka, etc. The academic levels are low because student with poor grades are admitted for hefty monetary considerations; nearly 300 engineering colleges have been ordered to shut shop, and some 500 others are under the HRD ministry’s scanner for inferior standards. The Subramanian Committee, the latest to study the matter, also expressed deep-seated dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning levels of students at the school, college, and university levels.

An eminent educational administrator, N. Sundararajan, feels that by 2030, the existing challenges for Indian education – access, equity, and quality – will only be greatly exacerbated unless we significantly transform our education model. “The global economy is undergoing structural transformation; there will be need for a workforce of 3.3 billion by 2020, increasingly in the services and capital-intensive manufacturing sectors… and 90 per cent of GDP and 75 per cent of employment will be in these sectors,” he feels.

Therefore, flawed, substandard academic streams which do not match current needs should be immediately discarded or reformed, borrowing ideas from the Universities of Berkeley, Stamford, London, Harvard, Ottawa, etc. Multiple national and international educational testing and assessment agencies have often pinpointed the flaws in India’s overall educational model which are crying out for instant attention.

It is necessary to urgently halt sanctioning of new colleges and universities. It is a disgrace that many deemed universities function from small premises with poorly qualified faculty, openly ‘selling’ M.Sc., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. It is imperative for the powers that be to chalk out an elaborate, vibrant and multi-faceted education model to guide India’s youth to meet the demands of the millennium. It is also imperative to boost national investments at all levels of educational reform. The Union Budget should make at least a six per cent provision for this annually. For, unless new institutions, including IITs, IIMs, and other institutions of excellence are generously funded to sponsor and conduct quality research projects, the gaping holes in higher education and research will stay put.

Meanwhile, strict financial audit is essential to check fraud in universities’ spending, such as the incidents reported from the Aligarh Muslim University, Allahabad, and universities in Puducherry, Garhwal, etc. Similarly, academic vigil should ensure that undeserving faculty are not promoted. Such steps will go a long way in encouraging and rewarding genuine and original research and innovation.

Promotions under the MPS (merit promotion scheme) should not be automatic; excellence should be the deciding criterion; merit needs to be respected and awarded, while stagnation and a niggardly attitude to scholarship should be dealt with sternly. Introducing innovative schemes should be encouraged. Moreover, as technology plays a dominant role in all branches of knowledge and education, it should be actively yoked to academic and research pursuits.

It has been widely proven that if scientists are left alone, they can be more creative, innovative, and dedicated to the pursuit of individual and joint research. It’s largely due to such freedom that professors in many western nations are able to win prestigious international awards and honours like the Nobel Prize almost every year.

The good news is that UGC may soon be “freeing top-ranking institutions from its control… and provide [them] greater autonomy” with some conditions, for starting new courses, new departments, and schools.

Another plan is to grant autonomous status to well-established colleges of repute to manage their research and academic courses, admission processes, etc.

In brief, a dynamic nation like India should be at the forefront in innovative, out-of-the-box methods of teaching and knowledge streams. Diversity, variety and polymorphism should be hallmarks of a successful educational system in the New India that we seek and strive to build. (Courtesy: Vidura)

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