Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Indian Education System: Waiting for a reboot

When it comes to education, India is a study in contrasts — on the one side, it has a huge pool of human resources, and on the other, the quality of education outcomes is questionable, affecting the competitiveness of the country as a knowledge hub. 

The demographic dividend of which the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) spoke so highly five years back is yet to be realized. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on talent (one of the five ‘T’s he has spoken about in his campaign speeches — trade, talent, tourism, technology and traditions) and portions of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) election manifesto raise some hope, officials and industry experts said.

“We need to start with a vision for India’s education system, an ambitious aspiration of where we want to be, say five to 10 years from now,” said Ashish Dhawan, Chief Executive at Central Square Foundation, a venture philanthropy fund working on school education. Once the vision is set, the country must outline short- and medium-term milestones to achieve it and a clear road map to get there. “This has to be the starting point of education transformation in our country,” Dhawan said.

India Ratings and Research Pvt. Ltd, part of the Fitch Group, has valued India’s education market at Rs. 5.9 trillion in 2014-15, up from Rs. 3.33 trillion in 2011-12. “India’s young demographic would continue to benefit the sector even as protracted infrastructure upgrades and regulatory issues delay timely benefits,” said India Ratings in its 2014-15 outlook.

India has more than 220 million students enrolled in schools and some 27 million in higher education. The country has about 1.4 million schools, over 36,000 colleges and more than 610 universities.

Of the total education market, higher education accounted for 59.7%, followed by school education (38.1%). The balance was divided among pre-school and ancillary sectors like technology adoption, Care Ratings said in another February report.

While rising incomes and rapid urbanization, coupled with increasing awareness about the importance of quality education, have caused robust growth of the Indian education industry, many studies say that the quality of education is falling in India.

The 2013 Annual Status of Education Report by non-profit Pratham found that while three out of every five students in Class V were able to read Class II textbooks in 2005, only one out of two is up to the task now. In the Programme for International Student Assessment test (published in 2011), India came second-last among 74 participating economies. A 2011 report by lobby group NASSCOM said only a fourth of all graduating engineers in India were employable.

Almost all segments of India’s education needs a “serious revamping”, said Chitta Baral, a professor at Arizona State University who tracks the Indian education sector. From schools to teachers’ training, from assessment to parts of higher education, the sector needs a serious relook, keeping in mind the changing economy, global competition and India’s aim of becoming a knowledge superpower, he said.

While school education needs to emphasize comprehension and writing, the new government needs to give priority to setting up community colleges that can give region-specific skill education, leading to jobs, Baral said. Besides, India needs to have a few world-class universities for others to look up to, he added.

Education reform without reforming teachers’ education is unthinkable, said G.L.Arora, a former head of the department of education at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the apex body on teachers’ education and school syllabus. “In last 10-12 years, the number of teacher training institutions has crossed 15,000 from less than 2,000 and most of them are run by private players and are commercial in nature. This is where the government needs to intervene and reform,” Arora said.

The Justice J.S. Verma Commission on Teacher Education had said that nearly 90% of the teacher training institutions in need of restructuring are in the private sector. Though the government started pre-entry testing for teachers through the Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) — based on the commission’s report — the results were abysmal. In the last edition of CTET, just one in 56 candidates managed to clear the test for would-be school teachers. In other words, the success rate was 1.78%. Of the 750,722 candidates who took CTET on 16 February, only 13,428 cleared it to become eligible for being appointed as teachers for elementary level (Class I-VIII). “Such poor success rate reflects two things: the quality of general education from schools to colleges and the quality of teacher training institutes,” Arora said.

In the higher education space, there needs to be less government and more governance. Liberalizing the sector from the excessive regulation is necessary, said experts. “Regulation is required, but it needs to be contemporary — different from what the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), or University Grants Commission (UGC) are doing now,” said N.R. Parasuraman, Director at SDM Institute for Management Development, Mysore.

In management education, students prefer postgraduate programmes (PGPs) to traditional master’s degrees, said Ajit Rangnekar, Dean at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. “While PGP courses can innovate as per industry requirement, MBA has an old pattern with the affiliating university deciding its learning content — that needs to change. The government should be an enabler by removing impediments.”

Harivansh Chaturvedi, Alternate President of the Education Promotion Society of India (EPSI), a lobby group, said that in the last five years, one human resource development minister (Kapil Sibal) announced too many things arbitrarily, and the other (M.M. Pallam Raju) was a good listener, but could not execute the right things. “The government needs to take private players into consideration while planning policy decisions. Looking at all private institutions with suspicion needs to change and the government needs to stop differentiating between quality private institutions and public institutes,” Chaturvedi said.

The BJP’s manifesto proposal of increasing public funding on education to 6% of gross domestic product (GDP) and restructuring UGC as a higher education commission rather than a fund granting agency, was seen by both industry and academic experts as the beginning of a much-needed structural shift.

Source: Mint, June 24, 2014
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