As many things in India, the country’s education scene is full of contradictions. On the one side, India has some of the finest universities and colleges( though none had been ranked world class yet!)which produces hundreds and hundreds of brilliant scholars who have gone overseas and excelled in many fields.Truth be told that some of the best known and successful technology companies in the US has been founded or co-founded by those Indian scholars who came to the US to study and research; they also made the US their home.That is only one side of the story.
The other side of the story is the pathetic conditions of hundreds and hundreds of Indian schools, many exist only on paper and if they do exist, often, teachers and students meet under trees where shade can be found and many of them, barely exist in primitive conditions. Also true, that in many cases, the teachers assigned rural schools do not show up and many just collect salaries with or without the knowledge of the authorities. That is why, one has to say that the Indian educational picture is one of contradictions.
A country with 1.2 billion people and numerous urgent and pressing problems to deal with, education has been rather neglected or often treated not as a priority.It was the vision of India’s first Prime Minister Mr.Jawahar Lal Nehru who wanted India to be an industrialized and scientifically advanced country, which prompted him to give high priority to promote a few colleges and universities modeled after MIT and Harvard Business School.That is what led to founding of the famous Indian Institutes of Technologies and Indian Management Schools.The intention was to select the brightest and most talented students and give the best education, with the hope that they will lead the Indian industrial revolution. At tat time,there were a few exceptional institutions of Higher Education such as the Indian Institute of Science, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Sciences and the like. All those institutions were given top billing and funding while the bulk of the education sector was given step motherly care. This was totally contrary to what Mahatma Gandhi visualized for the independent India. His dream was to promote primary education through what he called Basic Education, for the all the young children in the country as the highest priority.Unfortunately, the education sector was left primarily to the care of the Indian states where the support for schools were uneven and the village school system was largely neglected.
When coming to primary and secondary school education, there were more pious talk and little action. As usual in many democracies, a number commissions and committees were set up from time to time and asked to submit plans and reports, but the reports were hardly ever implemented with vigor or determination.Not surprisingly even after 65 years of India’s independence,education is yet to become a thrust area. Hence, it came as a real surprise that the Indian Parliament finally passed a law- the Right to Education Act, mandating that all Indian citizens were entitled to receive school level education till the age 14,a law which should be implemented by March 2013. With in the law, there was a special provision which was attacked by many private sector schools immediately.The law mandates that all private schools are required to admit 25% of their students from among the poor and socially disadvantaged and economically deprived communities. The Private schools went to the Supreme Court of India,challenging this mandate, but it ruled the law was constitutional and they should adhere to the law. This gave big jolt to the Indian education establishment which were still dragging the feet about implementing the law.
But now,the immediate question is how it s going to be implemented and how soon? Where are the resources to undertake this massive task?
To start with, the numbers are staggering. Out of the 1.2 billion Indians, 50% of them are under 25 years of age. Currently, it is said 225 million or more children are enrolled in schools.While nearly 50% of school age children go to high school and beyond in many advanced countries, that number is less than 25% in India. The drop our rate after elementary school is astronomical, especially for girls.It is said that nearly 12% of the high school graduates go on for college level education, which again is so dismal when compared to other modern countries or even countries like China, in India’s neighborhood. It is estimated that India will need 1.5 to 2 million new admissions each year, even to cope with the current level of college level admissions. If the planned expansion in education ever happens, an additional 1.1 -1.5 million new enrollment can be expected.
Even though there are 400 or more universities and over 20,000 colleges said to exist in the country, many are just in name only and India will not be able to cope with the new admission pressures. With nearly 300 or million middle class parents now wanting their children to get the best schooling possible( not available), the schools and collages are not able to meet the growing demand and the resources in the country are inadequate or not properly employed to meet the challenges. The majority of the people in India now recognize that education is the main gateway to progress and prosperity.They realize that the economy is improving and the job opportunities for their children will be better if they can get good education. It has to be right education too, and that is the main problem.Even with educational qualification, one has to have the right connections and good luck, to find jobs in the competitive market palace.That is the reality everyone understand and recognize.
Now the question is how to meet these growing challenges? It is not only the financial resources which are in short supply, it is also a question of trained teachers and making them available through out the country. Not many teachers are thrilled to serve in remote country sides, where housing and social amenities are lacking.
On top that, under the Indian constitution, education is a concurrent subject, meaning that the states and the Centre governments are responsible to implement the law.Many states are struggling with Naxalite insurgency,regional conflicts, farmer revolts and so many other problems and do not have the financial as well as the administrative capabilities to handle all these problems at one time. Altogether, the country is trying hard to deal with all these numerous issues with varying level of success.
On top of all these, India has a peculiar problem. It has an illness called “socialist ideology infused confusion” (SIIC). A large number of people are afraid of the private sector involvement in education.They want everything done by the state and under the state. They are afraid of the ‘creeping’ neo-liberal sentiments growing in India. Hence, the private sector involvement is rather looked down and with suspicion.Though the rich and affluent Indians send more than 100,000 of children to the US alone for higher education and many thousands to UK, Europe and Australia,with a total annual expenditure of over 4 billion US dollars, the same people will fight tooth and nail against any higher taxation to fund the expansion of education or additional investment in educational infrastructure. In India, they want their children to be educated free or with very small fees( hey, it is the state’s responsibility!!).This contradiction in thinking is not helping to solve the problem.
At the same time, in the last two decades a lot of private investors have established many private colleges, especially in the fields of engineering and medical as well as nursing and health related fields. Several of them got sanctions to run the colleges and universities through political connections and through their financial clouts.A number of them are trying to make quick “bucks” as there is growing demand for admissions to such schools since the graduates can find jobs overseas or even with in the country, especially in the IT sector. The parents are willing to pay a lot of “under the table” money for admissions. Very often, it has become another money making racket. Many of the new institutions lack qualified faculty or infrastructure resources. Yet, they are better than nothing and perhaps, with increasing demand for accreditation and higher standards,they will invest more resources and will improve the performances. That is at least the hope. Again, this is another contradiction in the education scene in India today.
In recent years, both several state governments and the Central government have moved towards establishing new and higher educational standards and are trying to create new accreditation and standard keeping bodies and agencies.There is growing awareness that the faculty have to be paid better than present to attract and retain better teachers and scientists in the education field. Otherwise, they will leave for industry or will migrate abroad where their talents will be appreciated and adequately compensated.Perhaps, if the new measures proposed are taken in right earnest and properly implemented, perhaps the conditions will improve. There is no question that this is not going to be easy with so much political and social pressures and self-interest as well as the profit maotivation involved in the education sector.
There is always hope that the country which is famous for “muddling through chaos” will some how will find a way out and succeed. Let us hope and pray that it will be the case of education. One has to be optimistic as the future of millions and millions of young people in India depends upon such an outcome. As they say in Arabic,”en shalla” or God Willing!!