The article discusses the current education scenario in India, public expenditure on education, need of the hour to reform the system and the true role of education in nation building.
“TELL ME the books you read and I will tell your character”, goes the saying. However, education is not just about reading books or garnering knowledge. Books are a means to education, and education is a means to knowledge, neither implying an end in itself. Education is the pragmatic application of knowledge for the betterment of people, society, and self.
Education sustains our present and insures our future. Unfortunately, the education scenario in India is very disturbing. The ‘EFA Global Monitoring Report 2010’ (UNESCO), ranks India 105 among 128 countries, and it continues to figure alongside a cluster of African and a couple of Asian countries, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the group of countries with a low educational development index (EDI). In 2007, India was ranked not only behind countries such as Norway, Japan, and Germany that figured at the top, but also past several Latin American, African, and Asian developing countries. The pupil-teacher ratio, too, in primary schools in India is very low (1:40) compared with countries like UK (1:21.6) and Japan (1:19), despite the fact that India allocates more expenditure as a percentage of GDP on education, i.e. ~3% (a popular research result reveals that public expenditure on education should account for at least 4.07% of GDP). The average pupil-teacher ratio in the developed countries is 13.7. The global average is 24.6 pupils per teacher (1:24.6) in primary school. The dropout rates in India, at the high school level are also on the rise (~50%) in spite of increased educational expenditures by the states. Moreover, the infrastructure facilities in schools are pathetic. According to the latest statistics available from the Flash Statistics and Analytical Reports on Elementary Education in India, published by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration in 2009-10, there are only three classrooms per primary school in India, on an average, and only three teachers per school. About 14% of the schools have only one classroom each, and single-teacher schools constitute a similar proportion. While the standard national pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools is 1:40 (one teacher for every 40 students), 30% of the schools have a ratio above this. In Bihar, while the standard ratio at the State level is 1:59, there are 92 (1:92) students on an average per classroom. All this indicates a poorly organized system of education. Need of the HourThe implication of all the above arguments is that a pupil-teacher ratio of around 20 (1:20) may be taken up as a desirable ratio. We need good quality teachers in sufficient numbers. This is a basic prerequisite for quality primary education. Innovation is another aspect of the quality of education. Innovation in education is not only necessary, it is absolutely crucial. Firstly, innovations in subjects offer a host of choices to students. Secondly, innovations in examination patterns facilitate precise evaluation of their skills in a subject. Innovations also enable a student to arrive at a better-informed choice of subjects. The choice of subjects will ‘involve’ the students and equip them with skills befitting their interest, which could be harnessed for the benefit of self and the nation. For instance, let’s say that someone is interested in journalism and wants to pursue investigative journalism rather than mere reporting. The course has to offer various choices within journalism (say, investigative journalism, reporting, business journalism, sports journalism, etc.). If the course doesn’t offer these choices, then one who is genuinely interested in something may not get the opportunity to pursue it and end up doing something that one doesn’t like, as there is Hobson’s choice. This may hamper one’s potential in giving one’s best, and may directly or indirectly scuttle the opportunity in contributing towards the country’s economic growth.The issue of innovation brings us to an important aspect of education – choice – that seems to be sufficiently lacking in our education system to enable better academic performance of students and to elevate the quality of education.
The True Role of Education: An Introspection The human being is a social animal whose needs and urges are originated and fulfilled within a given society and rarely in isolation. While the primary objective of any education is to enable us to know things we did not know earlier, so as to improve the quality of life, this principle had not been appreciated in depth by our educational policy makers for decades. Artificial barriers in the nature of knowledge were created. It was specified that knowledge could either be for its own sake or for the sake of its application. However, on reflection, it becomes clear that unless any form of knowledge is applied, it cannot be improved or suitably channeled. A large proportion of people need knowledge that is of an applied character and that helps them simplify important activities of daily living. Moreover, each person is gifted with a particular range of skills. These two facts indicate that a continued thrust on a rigid academic structure would not be desirable. One must understand that provision of choices – over academic subjects or electives – is a continuous process. The system would work better if students were given an opportunity to exercise choice earlier in their education – rather than later – when several factors, other than their inherent competencies, exert an influence over their choice of subjects.