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India's education sector: A critical analysis

  A number of issues are brewing in India's education sector. Be it primary, secondary or post secondary segments, let's take a look at how the government is out to revamp the many age-old practices and revitalise the country's education sector.  

Dr Suresh Srinivasan

Recently the Human Resources Development (HRD) ministry of the Central government appointed Kasturirangan to head a panel that would go on to prepare a new education policy.Under Kasturirangan, there would be a panel of nine members who would prepare the new education policy.

In 2015, a former committee headed by TSR Subramanian had made recommendations towards a new education policy, but the same was not accepted by the HRD ministry which was then headed by the then HRD minister Smriti Irani. It is expected that the new committee will take on the work of the earlier committee and come up with recommendations by as early as March 2018.

Indian education sector - the pain points

Discrepancy in literary figures between men and women
Wide discrepancy in Indian education sector is marred with several problems, as we speak. Over the years literacy rate in the country has increased, but still low at 75% as compared to global peers. Again there is a wide discrepancy in literacy figures between men and women; women significantly lacking access to education and eventually literacy.

Low enrolment and high dropout rates in the primary sector
Low enrolment and high dropout rates in the primary sector have been major problems. With poverty still a major curse, especially in the rural areas, girl children often discontinue from the formal education system rampantly. However, over the years, the situation has slightly improved. Secondary and post secondary education sectors have also improved and along with that higher education and scientific research levels have also got a boost. This sector has got such a significant boost that now, enrolment to post secondary education stands close to 25%.

Lack of basic infrastructure facilities in classrooms
Schools lack basic infrastructure facilities including classrooms, facilities for drinking water and separate toilets for female students. In the post secondary sector, even the most prominent institutes in the country do not find a top rank when it comes to global excellence. And the reasons for our lagging behind are mostly, dearth of qualified faculty and a lack in research focus.

Redundant curriculum
At all levels of education, curriculum is predominantly redundant and has not been revised in a timely manner to keep pace with the changing external dynamics. The focus, in terms of teaching and exams, has always been centered around merely attending classes and memorising the concepts, but with very little experiential learning methods. Whereas practicalities in implementing knowledge gained in terms of concepts, it takes a higher weightage in global institutions.

Expensive education, low affordability
Education again, at all levels, has been highly expensive and its affordability is quite low. Especially with government and corporation run schools lacking quality teachers, even the lowest economic strata of the population are not comfortable in sending their wards to such schools.

From 'demographic dividend' to 'demographic liability'
For India to have the highest proportion of population in the productive age group is often considered to be 'demographic dividend', but unfortunately a poorly educated and under skilled workforce is more of a burden than an opportunity of any sorts. This is a major threat India is currently facing and in no time such a 'demographic dividend' can turn into a 'demographic liability' when this 'so called' productive workforce does not find adequate opportunities, not being 'industry ready'.

India has very high ambitions when it comes to the national skilling mission that targets a large part of the population to be skilled by 2022. However, on ground, the progress has been minimal, especially given the mammoth size of the population we are dealing with.

In the midst of fighting so many economic issues, governments have been unable to frequently revise the country's education policy in a timely manner and execute it efficiently. The country's first national policy on education was released in 1968, 21 years after independence and was revised 18 years later in 1986. The third revision is happening now, 31 years later.

Subramanian Committee directives
The Subramanian Committee seems to have provided a number of far reaching recommendations including abolition of the University Grants Commission (UGC). They also seem to have advocated teaching of English language at the primary school level and continue in force the 'no-detention' policy till the fifth standard. The committee also has possibly seen a gap between our current education system and the contemporary international standards. There seems to have been an enormous stress in terms of improving the quality and also allowing foreign universities into India to offer globally benchmarked education programmes.

Challenges ahead in this road
One of the biggest challenges in this regard, is the inability of the government to allocate funds towards the education sector. Given the fact that the government's primary role is to provide quality education and healthcare, it has managed to allocate a mere `45,000 crore towards primary education and a similar amount towards higher education, on an annual basis. It is fair that the government is scrambling for resources across various sectors that need pressing investments, including infrastructure, defence, public spending as well as education and healthcare.

What it has ignored is the public private policy (PPP) route where many developing and developed countries have skillfully managed larger allocations to education sector with minimum government investments.

How government run schools are fading out
In India although the government schools still continue to be the largest education providers, they have lost the competitiveness against the expensive private schools, mainly on account of poor management. When we analyse the international PPP models in primary education, with minimum government fund infusions and resource allocation in terms of management, private partners run the schools with majority investments and are able to innovate and create models of quality within the government systems. In these models, minimum funds flow from the government but they are able to control the process of education delivery by the private operator. Global models have shown that with the same 'cost per student' levels the quality of education can be significantly enhanced.

India has tried out some of these models, but the experiments have to be executed on much larger scale. Especially with the government owning corporation school infrastructure at prime real estate locations, it would have to evolve the PPP guidelines such that the partnership will be attractive enough for the private players to get involved.

How the existing education policy can be reformed
The government has realised that the only way to speed up the education policy reforms is to cut through the complexity in the regulatory system, consolidate the decision making bodies to simplify and thereby easing the process of setting up, running and administering institutions of higher education in the country.

Media reports have also recently indicated that the HRD minister is intending to dissolve the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) and replace them with a single body, which is expected to be called as 'Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA)'. With these in mind, education sector in India might actually get revamped in the years to come.


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