Devbrat Roy Chaudhary
India Education Report reviews the progress in basic education achieved in the first decade of the new millennium. The years 2000-2010 began with education being made a fundamental right (2002) and culminated in Parliament passing the Right to Education Act in 2009. The volume highlights what a renewed thrust on education managed to achieve at the ground level and the milestones that eluded the Indian state. On the achievement front, the country has made enormous strides in enrollment of children, almost reaching the universalisation mark. There has also been a sizeable increase in the number of primary schools. Unfortunately, what the state failed to achieve in these years was just as significant, if not more. One, enrollment has not led to children completing the elementary cycle of education. Two, the quality of education being provided in government schools continued to remain poor—an annual survey by Pratham, an NGO, highlighted that less than 50% children in grade V were able to read class II texts.
Through a series of essays written by eminent educationists that are backed with data, the volume highlights the ills that plague the educational sector.
Beginning with the pre-primary stage (0-6 years), the authors illustrate the challenges in the way of Universalisation of Education (UEE) in India, as also adult literacy programmes, gender justice, and greater inclusion of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the minorities in the educational process. The need for better teacher training programmes, greater decentralisation, reform of the management of elementary education and higher state funding are dwelt on well. The book rightly stresses the need to improve teaching quality, rather than test students, if better educational outcomes are to be ensured. Its second section contains reviews of the educational systems in Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Tripura, states that have ensured better results in schooling. These make for heartening reading.
However, the lack of adequate data for the 2010-17 period leaves the reader without information on progress achieved over the ongoing decade. Two, the volume lacks ideological neutrality as far as the way forward is concerned. There is a sense of the authors opposing the policy direction that India has taken since it liberalised its economy in 1991. Regardless of how one views this choice, India’s educationists and policy planners must acknowledge that the market is here to stay and their energies would be better spent overhauling the public education system within the given framework than bemoaning ‘neoliberal’ policies and the growing numbers of private schools.
The essays suggest equity in the system is as important as the quality of schooling. It can be argued, and quite convincingly, that the laudable goal of social equity would be better served by stressing quality and that pursuing equity for its own sake has the danger of neither quality nor equity being ensured. Also, even as the essays stress the broader goals of education, there is insufficient focus on its utilitarian aspect, that is, its role in economic empowerment. This is difficult to understand given the economic realities in India.