I have often said that the future of India depends largely upon the future of education in our country. The demographic dividend that so many of us so proudly talk about, will actually be a mirage and also be counterproductive, if we continue with the kind of education system that we currently have in India. Along with eradication of needless delays in the judicial system and a the required massive investment in health, I would rate reforms in education as the most important vision that we need to implement in order to reap dividends out of this young demographic. And we really don’t have much time left.

After six long decades, India finally realised the importance of declaring education as our fundamental right, which was waiting its materialisation since Independence. This, I believe is not only very critical in revamping the entire education system of the nation, but also acts as the stepping stone towards education reforms. Starting with the Sarva Skhisha Abhiyaan program launched in 2001, this process has culminated in a policy that mandates free and compulsory education for all Indian children under the age of 14.

Fundamental right to education also ensures that all schools (be it private or public) have some seats reserved for the underprivileged class of society. This will ensure that all children born in India are more or less assured of at least basic education. However, we need to make sure that school under SSA should have basic infrastructure along with dedicated service providers (read: teachers). Even today there is a shortage of around 3 lakh classrooms at elementary level and 1.70 lakh classroom at secondary school level with more than half of all schools lacking basic sanitary and water facilities.

However, the above steps would reap partial results and would only benefit a single class of society if we fail to bridge gender discrimination in education. Thus, the second critical step that we need to consciously take is to invest massively in education of girls and women. Worldwide, study after study has proven that when the women are educated, the social and economic benefits that accrue to a country are enormous-including the minimization of social evils. One of the key reasons behind the state of Kerala having such envious indicators of Human Development is the high literacy rates for females.

Many state governments have already taken huge steps to encourage the education of girls, the efforts just need to be intensified.

Shortage of teachers is something that ails the entire system. Not only technical colleges like engineering and medical but even secondary education system is facing a dearth of academic staff. The third major reform step that we need to take is to educate or create educators. It has been proven time and again that the quality of pedagogy and teaching in India is abysmally poor. That is because of the ivory tower approach we have taken towards education. Teachers in our system are expected merely to mouth whatever has been prescribed in the syllabus - which itself is often completely obsolete and outdated. It is important for teachers, particularly in colleges, to keep abreast of the latest developments and trends and include them in their teaching modules. That is the only way we will produce graduates who are employable.

The fourth step is that the government needs to implement a more transparent and fair system to evaluate the performance of teachers and educators. Currently, even the worst and laziest of teachers know that they have a lifetime job guarantee with annual increments and much more. A professor at a university in India knows that he will never lose his job. This perverse system actually makes victims out of genuine hardworking teachers who suffer at the hands of absentee teachers who waste time keeping education administrators happy.

Going by official estimates, there is a shortage of 6.89 lakhs teachers for SSA programme and 6000 for Kendriya Vidhyalayas and more than 3,000 teachers for IITs and NITs. Why not have a system where students and parents rank the performance of a teacher?

Next in line is a step that I would recommend as a noble one, and it is the fifth in line. We already spend tens of thousands of crores every year on schemes like the MNREGA. I would be really happy if the funds allocated for such schemes actually go towards the construction of durable school and college buildings in rural areas and small towns. Currently the work done under these schemes provide no long-term social infrastructure. The people working for schemes like the MRNEGA would have an incentive when they realise that it is their children who will eventually study in these schools and colleges.     Read More....

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