By Meena Chintamaneni
The constitution lists education as a fundamental right for all citizens. An educated citizen is crucial to the economic and social wellbeing of the country. Yet, for a vast and diverse country as ours, making education available to all is a huge challenge.
As per the latest census (2011 census), only 8.15% of Indians are graduates against an overall literacy rate of 74%. The current education system follows a pyramidal structure with students dropping off at each ascending stage of education. This statistic, while seeming dismal, has been improving steadily over the years. However, it still remains a challenge to provide education for all. The reasons for the drop off, particularly during the transition from high school to college, pose huge challenges.
Focus on ‘Outcome – Based Education’:
While Education for all is the right for every child and every citizen in the country, we must focus on:
Overcoming challenges in ‘Education For All’ through Outcome-based-education:
One of the primary challenges is the quality of education provided. While the goal is to provide education for all, we must consider the true value of this education. The new guidelines and policies by the accrediting bodies make it clear that we need to provide an ‘Outcome-Based-Education’ where student learning goes beyond the marks obtained. Implementation of a ‘credit’ based score not only allows educators to assess the student’s understanding of the subject matter, but also allows them the flexibility required to gain maximum value of the course.
Beyond the subject matter, sociological factors, too, play a role in education. The current generation of students, mostly from nuclear families, lack a sense of empathy. Some institutes, therefore, embedded social responsibility programmes within the course. For instance, students are attached to NGOs as a part of a programme and they take up various projects and present at the end of these projects. They are able to observe and interact with various levels of privilege in the social structure. At the end of such programmes, a marked change in the mindset of the student has been observed. Such programmes are instrumental in the holistic development of a citizen and ensures that their social sensitivity is instilled.
Imparting knowledge in regional language a challenge in the minds of today’s youth
Presently, about 50% of the students in India study in government or government-aided schools. The regional language is the medium of instruction in a significant percentage of these schools. However, English is the medium of instruction in most colleges. This is a huge contributor to the drop off number. The introduction of NEP 2020 emphasizes imparting knowledge in regional languages too. While this would bolster the number of students dropping off, it would also require a huge change in the habits of educators who are used to instructing students in English. This would mean hiring instructors skilled in imparting knowledge in regional languages.
Accessibility of Education:
The other problem stems from the geographical constraint of the institute. Students from rural areas, for example, would find it difficult to reach good institutes at locations farther away from their place of residence. Emerging institutes with the urge to teach AI, Data Science, IoT, Analytics and Machine Learning, find it challenging due to the lack of infrastructure, physical and manpower resources. With COVID-19, it was learnt that education can be dispersed online. This medium can not only overcome the geographical constraint but also enable a sharing of resources and faculty, something which was previously not possible. But the method is not foolproof. The online education system is also leading to an ever-widening digital divide. Factors like internet connectivity, availability of electricity and content in vernacular are inhibiting factors. Another fallout of online education is the gender-based digital divide. Given the limited resources, the female student would be more prone to drop off.
Sustained and Integrated PPP model for Private and Govt. institutions:
Private institutions are self-financed and do not get any aid from the government. Such institutions, while charging an appropriate fee, provide state of the art infrastructure as well as the best faculty. The institute has to sustain itself solely through the tuition fees and also comply with pay scales. This is also a major impediment for students. However, facilities like education loans and scholarships provide respite to meritorious students. Still, this is a challenging route and many students are not able to avail the facilities.
Considering all these issues, we have a long way to go before we can achieve the goal of “Education for All”. It will take a firm government and a dedicated public-private partnership to reach the goal. Meanwhile, the demand for quality education continues to outstrip the supply.
The author of this article is pro-vice chancellor, SVKM’s NMIMS (Deemed-to-be University).