Indian education sector needs a booster shot

December 10, 2020 3:31 PM

We need to start working now and use more information and communication technology and increase access to private capital for building a just and equitable education system that can deliver our new generation future citizens.

The building blocks are slowing down the pace of progress of our nation as education serves as a big driver of change. (Image: IE)

By Dr Tapan Panda

The countdown has already begun. We are left with only a decade to accomplish the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal-4 (SDG-4): Quality Education. When we look back on how far we have moved on this road, there is a lot that is desired to be done in the next decade. Failing from achieving the SDG-4 set for the education sector will stymie the growth of the nation as a whole.

Too Many Institutional Bodies

Indian education has too many masters. While the central government does the policy planning, implementation largely depends on the states. Differences in political ideologies along with bureaucratic inertia have not driven the way the sector should have grown. There are too many institutions involved in managing Indian education, such as University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and Medical Council of India (MCI), among others. There is no coordinating body across these institutions in terms of goals, strategies and policy directions. We always hear complaints of policy making without involving multiple stakeholders both at Centre and state level for which any policy so formed has internal resistance.

Too Less Funds

The budgetary allocation for the education sector is not significantly increasing over the years. Hence the paucity of funds has led to poor school and public education infrastructure in India. Stagnant outlays over the years have brought down the public education infrastructure to an alarming low level. The numbers speak volume: only 60% schools have electricity; 15% schools with information and communication technology (ICT) solutions, 61% of them have a ramp for disabled children; 87% have drinking water facilities and 95% of them have a functional toilet for girl students. Imagining a tech-savvy education system with enhanced access to modern education tools and technologies is far from reality. The key driver for such a pathetic situation is the budgetary outlays and government’s apathy towards private partnership in education funding.

Inequity Issues

Though we have run very successful campaigns like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana’, the girl-child enrolment into elementary school education is not healthier as compared to male children. As we move ahead to higher education space, the gender parity index is 0.97, which indicates a substantial loss of girl students not entering into the higher education space.

Quality of Education

The quality of education in a large number of public schools in India is abysmally poor. Only 70% of schools have a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:30. Many pre-primary teachers are not professionally-qualified. It is observed that 54.7% of Class-V students can give correct responses on learning outcomes in language, mathematics and social science. Only 44.6 % students between Class-VIII-XII can give correct responses on learning outcomes in language, math, science and social science. The rote learning system has not yielded any productive result in higher classes. Students coming out of the higher education system also lack the desired technical and managerial competency and skills and are often found unemployable.

Too Much Crowd

The higher education space. including technical, managerial and medical education, is now overcrowded with private players. The government’s enactment of state private university bills and mindless permission by authorities like AICTE, MCI and other licensing authorities, have created institutions with substandard infrastructure, poor faculty quality and allied malpractices. The structure of the higher education institutions like deemed to be university, state private universities have invited further complexities with students being at the receiving end.

Is there a way out?

The answer to this question is an emphatic, yes. We need to build a robust and futuristic system for creating future citizens of India.

Setting up of HEC

There is an urgent need to build a unified Higher Education Authority (HEC) with a structure that can take care of both the Central and state policies in education. Unified ownership of the entire education value chain will build greater accountability and higher transparency.

Resource Generation

Paucity of funds and lower budgetary allocation shouldn’t deter the growth of educational infrastructure. There is a greater and urgent need for public-private partnership (PPP) in the education sector. The change in Companies Act, 2013 should allow corporates to channelise their corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds for building educational infrastructure in the country. Inviting private capital by changing the structure of ownership will make investments in education more transparent. The central government can float social impact bonds or education impact bonds inviting public money into the education sector. Since the bonds are meant for social causes, the returns can be set lower than the market borrowing rates and given a higher rating like other sovereign bonds. This will solve the problem of equity and access across the social strata and help in achieving 100% enrolment.

Revamped Teacher Education

Teacher training is very crucial for enhancing the quality of education. There should be both private and public institution participation in bringing top quality teacher training content and providing a platform for lifelong learning. The current teacher education system should undergo a paradigm shift and include emerging subjects like child-psychology and development, information and communication technology, issues related to health, safety and nutrition of children. Teaching learning and child development should go hand in hand.

Use of ICT in Education

The use of ICT for both student and teacher learning is quite important. The current pandemic has taught us how to manage the teaching learning process on remote. Higher educational institutions and both governments should invest in building interactive content, digital platforms capable of performing on low bandwidth environment and make them available for every learner in the country.

Emerging Technologies

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics can be used for building adaptive learning systems for each learner by analysing the huge amount of big data generated and captured through technology-enabled learning process.

Centres of Excellence in Public-Private Domain

Excellence should be the call of the day. The government should provide more scholarships for the economically disadvantaged class for higher education like in China. These scholarships should be made available to students at centres of excellence – be in private or public education space.

Think-Tank and Actionable Agenda Items

A think-tank with a focus on building future citizens should work not only in developing a culture of inclusive policy planning by associating all stakeholders, but also ensuring how to bring in new discoveries in knowledge creation and dissemination process from global best practices into Indian classrooms.

The building blocks are slowing down the pace of progress of our nation as education serves as a big driver of change. We need to start working now and use more information and communication technology and increase access to private capital for building a just and equitable education system that can deliver our new generation future citizens.

(The author is a management professor and public policy expert in the education domain. Views expressed are personal.)

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