Though no one can doubt the importance of children knowing their mother tongue, a panel of secretaries from the Group on Education and Social Development has done well to emphasise the need to make English a compulsory subject in all schools beginning from class VI, and to start at least one English-medium school in each of the 6,612 blocks in the country. If this helps make students proficient in English, it will improve job-prospects for a large proportion of them and also ensure they are able to keep pace with changes in global curriculum and events—despite advances in translation software, the ability to read English directly is critical.
This, however, is just a start. Years of surveys from ASER have made it clear just how poor the quality of teaching is in Indian schools. According to ASER, only 39.7% students of Class V from government schools could read at least six English words—this too has fallen from 56.7% in 2007—as compared to 72.4% from private schools. Similarly, only 14.9% government schools students could read sentences, as compared to 46.5% in private schools—so, merely introducing English may not do the trick. That is why the panel has also recommended introduction of a School Education Quality Index and recommended that the country join Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study conducted by World Bank. Two states had joined the assessment in 2009, but had pulled out in 2012 following bad results. Since only by participating in international tests that the quality of Indian education can be properly tested, not participating in PISA makes little sense. Once India is a part of PISA, hopefully, the emphasis will change from building more schools and achieving a higher literacy rate, to outcome-based reforms conditioned to suit jobs of the future. While the panel also suggested a science lab within vicinity of schools, there is a need for computer education to be made compulsory as well.