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In the past few years a slew of far reaching changes in India's massive education system have been conceived by the UPA government, usually accompanied by controversies. Some of these changes have a long pedigree and have largely been welcomed, like making the right to education, A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT. Others, like allowing foreign universities to open shop in India, are products of the globalised economy and have been severely criticised.
That there is need to change the behemoth of India's education system is accepted all round. There are about 255 million students and over 6 million teachers at various levels. The combined budget for education of the central and state governments was Rs. 3. 3 lakh crore in 2012-13, which is some 12 per cent of all public expenditure, though only 3. 1 per cent of the GDP. And this behemoth has been moving rather slowly for over six decades since Independence, leaving out large sections from its ambit.
The government has started a process of reforms which appears to be pulled in different directions. There are some positive changes that are geared towards a more inclusive system of education - expanding the school enrolment base through the RTE Act, introducing the continuing and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) system, and so on.
But there is another direction of the reforms push that is generating huge polarization among academics, education experts, students and parents. This is mainly affecting higher education. The government wants to prepare and streamline the postschool system for private (including foreign ) investment, thus not only escaping from spending its own resources, but also conforming to the "globalised architecture" that it is so fond of.
This involves allowing foreign universities to open branches in India and offer degrees, setting up education tribunals to deal with disputes so that the normal tedious legal process is bypassed, bringing all higher education institutions under a single regulatory body (which will be committed to the aforesaid direction), ending corruption, giving opt-out opportunities to students, appraisals for teachers, a scheme of credit based qualification for various vocational skills starting from school, etc.
Pronouncements by policy makers and the approach papers for the 12th Five-Year Plan lay down rather ambitious targets for the future: 500 million skill-trained people by 2020, 30 percent gross enrolment ratio in higher education by 2020, and so on.
However, critics have pointed out substantial flaws in these strategic initiatives. Social equity in access and opportunities is one. Will pell-mell expansion propelled by private interests ensure access to disadvantaged sections like dalits and adivasis, or poorer sections like agricultural laborers? It seems doubtful. Similarly, without substantial linkages with industry and without policies that foster expansion of industry, it is unclear how imparting low-grade skills - mostly in the services sector as envisaged by the National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF) - will prepare youth for real life jobs.
So, what should be done? Increasing public spending on education to at least 6 per cent of GDP - a recommendation made as far back as 1966 by the Kothari Commission - is the primary need. Then, some of the key areas that need to be addressed urgently are:
Although enrolment has reached near saturation point in primary levels, 40 per cent students are out by class 8, and 80 per cent are out by class 10. No amount of rearrangement of higher education is going to succeed if students are not reaching till that point. Incentives, scholarships, subsidized educational material, making syllabi more relevant and teachers training could be some measures to tackle this crisis.
TEACHERS' TRAINING |
With RTE in force, an estimated one million teachers are needed. If enrolment grows in senior secondary classes, this will double. The present policy of opening teachers' training college shops is severely compromising the future of a whole generation of children by plugging for quantity rather than quality. Rigorous and modern training to the required number of teachers is a must.
Between 1995 and 2007, family expenditure on education increased by a staggering 172 per cent according to an NSSO report. The richest 10 per cent households spend 10 to 15 times more than the poorest 10 per cent according to another report. Clearly high costs are preventing large numbers from getting quality education. This requires huge public investment.
TECHNICAL EDUCATION |
Barely 2 per cent of India's youth up to the age of 29 years has received formal technical education. This has created a crisis of both employment and employability. Rapid expansion of technical education opportunities coupled with economic policies that encourage industrial expansion are needed.
HIGHER EDUCATION |
A revamp of curricula to make it modern, appointment of faculty for 40 per cent positions that are vacant today, opening of more colleges, rationalisation of fees and introduction of technology including ICT could be the first steps towards rejuvenating the higher education system.
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