It must create tolerant, socially-responsible, and environmentally conscious citizens.
Education is important for economic development as it leads to optimal utility of available labour and capital by the entrepreneurs. Therefore, all types of education is important that skills the labour, encourages entrepreneurship, enhances productive efficiency, and ensures availability of healthy labour force.
The need for education and learning is as old as mankind, but the education system has changed over the years. The tradition of gurukulas dates back to a few thousand years in India, while in the western world academic institutions trace origin to Plato, placing emphasis on curriculum and training at a fixed location. Historically, Nalanda was the first university in the world, though Taxila dates earlier but is not considered a university by many. The modern university education system in India dates back to 1857 with Bombay, Madras and Calcutta being the pioneers.
In India, the tradition of having a policy on education has been pursued since Independence. A number of commissions were set up, like the University Education Commission (1948), Kothari Commission (1964), National Knowledge Commission (2007) and Yashpal Committee (2009). In the same trend, the National Policy on Education was announced in 1968, 1986 and 1992. The All India Council for Technical Education was set up in 1945, followed by the University Grants Commission in 1956. Since then, numerous councils of various subjects have been established. The number of universities has increased from 20 in 1947 to 753 in 2016, and colleges from 500 to 41,435 over the period. There are 51 school boards operational in India—CBSE (1952), ICSE (1956), IB (1968) and 48 state Boards with nearly 15 lakh schools ranging from primary to senior secondary. Thus, the educational infrastructure in the country is extensive, though many argue inadequate. Illustratively, Yashpal (2009) and Pitroda (2007) estimated adequacy at 1,500 universities by 2016.
Education, broadly, can be divided into three categories—schooling, general college and specialised professionals. India has made tremendous progress in education through network of schools, colleges, professional institutes and universities, but, unfortunately, has not been able to globally penetrate top rankings. Even domestic literacy levels, measured liberally, are less than 80% in most states. Increasing incidences of crime, violence, social unrest, cases of financial frauds, unemployable engineers, inadequate health workers and doctorate students applying for government jobs as peons does not reflect that India has pursued a well-crafted education policy so far. India has neither distinguished itself in the number of patents, innovations or domestically-produced internationally-accepted products. The youth unemployment, at nearly 25%, can further deteriorate as many traditional jobs are expected to be replaced by machines, given rapid strides in artificial intelligence and automation. And India has teeming millions—about 330 million between the ages of 14 and 34 years, and 320 million younger than 14 years. Where are the jobs for these 650 million people in the next five decades? Hence, the central government has constituted Kasturirangan Commission (2017) to draft a new education policy for India.
What is the objective of education? It is different for different stakeholders and during different regimes. In a closed economy, the government pursues it for nation-building, and creating a knowledge society, which can generate more employment and revenue for the government. The government also encourages high literacy to generate well-informed discussions and debates. In the private sector, the objective of providing schooling and university education is mainly profit-making. The students and their parents pursue education for employability and higher income. Education can lead to an equitable society and helps individuals evade evils of social hierarchy, mainly the caste system. In a globalising economy, objectives of education have also to take into consideration global competitiveness of labour, skills and production technology. In the current scenario, with extensive penetration of internet, the pattern of education needs to change further.
The government has to decide what should be the key objectives, both primary and secondary, of education. The primary objective of education, broadly, could be preparing responsible citizens for a healthy society where individuals are able to achieve their goals. These goals, philosophically, would be to maintain a decent standard of living, while pursuing their vocation in a peaceful environment. The secondary objective could be to create a knowledge society to position India at the top amongst the galaxy of nations and attain pivotal position with highest national income levels that India enjoyed for thousands of years before 1600 AD. The identification and prioritisation of these objectives would determine the effective policy to be pursued by the government and converting available demography into a dividend, and not a disaster.
In countries like Japan, the first nine years of school education are compulsory and considered extremely important where the foundation is laid. The emphasis during these nine years is on team-building, cultural values, music, fine arts, moral education, mathematics and languages, including a foreign language. The academic burden on the student is minimum. It is only in college and specialised courses that a student is exposed to rigorous coursework.
In India, given increasing globalisation, technological innovations and internet penetration, policy-makers need to think about the objectives and outcomes of education, because education is expensive for both individuals and the government, directly and indirectly. The formulation of an effective education policy has to be granular, considering India is a diverse country with different cultures, languages and religions. In addition to the requirements of different strata of society—economic and social—an education policy has to balance the demands of domestic and international markets. But beyond all this complexity, most importantly, education has to ensure culturally-tolerant, socially-responsible, environmentally-conscious, morally-astute and ethically-upright citizens for India. That is the real challenge for the new education policy.