By Riya Rana:
They say the future of a country is in the hands of the youth and it stands true as it is their skills, thinking and motivation which eventually decide a nation’s fate. But how well have we been ensuring that they get the best opportunities? Looking around us, can we say that the education system we are so comfortable with has resulted in pure growth and innovative leaders?
Let the statistics speak.
Even though India has invested a lot in the education sector, 25 per cent of the masses are still illiterate. Only 15 per cent of students reach high school, whilst only 7 per cent graduate. Such abysmal figures show a high dropout rate. One wonders why it is so. Do they realise that education is not their need? Or are the reasons financial? One needs to dive deep into the issues which plague our education sector.
Since times immemorial teaching has been considered a revered profession. One could cite the example of Dronacharya, a knowledgeable guru who was deeply respected by kings and Gods. However, shifting focus to the present, circumstances have highly deteriorated. Quality and quantity of teachers is on an all-time low. Nationwide, 36 per cent of teaching positions are vacant. Student-teacher ratios are above (1:46 in primary schools and 1:59 in upper primary schools) the ideal ratio (1:30 and 1:35 respectively). Difficulties arise in students getting proper individual attention. Out of the positions that are actually filled, 13 per cent choose to stay absent. The obvious solution is strict rules to be maintained by the institutions. But sadly, hardly any of them ever dismiss a teacher for such unprofessionalism. Also, many of our private schools have untrained, incompetent teachers and some with false certificates too. At the college level, 57 per cent of college professors lack either a master’s or a PhD. The situation is definitely getting worse as 99 per cent aspirants failed to clear TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) in 2012, compared to 90 per cent in 2010. This is even below the “chalta hai” attitude we are so dearly attached to.
The quality of education doesn’t stand far from teaching on the rating scale. 80 per cent of our schools are government funded, making the government a major provider of our education. Even so, the poorest of families prefer their children to attend (relatively) expensive public schools rather than go to government schools where education is for free.
The centre of our education has always been rote learning. We teach our students to be moral, ideal, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect in our education methods. Students hardly develop a deep understanding of what they are studying. Any attempts to clarify doubts or raise questions are met with prompt rejections. Encouraging free thinking is not focused upon and stands reflected in our culture as well. The curriculum is outdated. Students are shown two roads: engineering and doctor, none of which might be the passion for many. They end up getting frustrated with the rat race, but that’s another topic altogether.
Students cram terms and lessons, to be forgotten as soon as the exams end. What’s the point of wasting money, just to rote learn without understanding them? Doesn’t this squash the critical thinking in due course? To get a job- which is enough, some might say. And this statement just proves how much reform our schooling system is in a dire need of. Studies showed that over half of 10-year-old rural children could not read at a basic level; over 60 per cent were unable to do division, and 50 per cent dropped out by the age of 14.
On a positive note, the numbers of educational institutions are on an increasing slope, but still 95 per cent of them don’t compete with RTE standards for infrastructure. To spend 8 hours or more in a certain place, proper facilities are required such as a separate toilet for girls and boys, a playground, a library with enough reading material, electricity, ramp access for disabled children and computers.
One can only progress when one properly utilises resources available to him/her. But what do you do when they don’t exist? India however doesn’t face a lack of resources (have a look at the staggering population statistics). If only we could render them useful. Educational policies can’t be effective if the base they are building it up on is weak. RTE has been a huge relief but no substantial benefits have resulted yet.
Our two primary challenges are to revise our outdated curriculum and sync it with the industry’s needs; to train our faculty, so that they have knowledge to teach skills and are continuously motivated to innovate. Schools need to stop being so reticent and start taking initiatives. Parents (especially in rural areas) need to be motivated to send their children to school, which can be done if government schools give positive results. Guidelines should be strictly followed, ensuring stringent punishment for those who don’t. Well-read adults could work part time in NGOs providing schooling. Unqualified teachers shouldn’t be hired just to fill vacant seats.
More than anything else, the citizens need to stop acting blind to this chaos of an education and participate actively in ensuring that our young stars get a chance to truly shine.