By Bala Sai:
It is increasing. It is increasing at an alarming rate. I am not referring to inflation, or to farmer suicides, or corruption. Those are all frequently hollered about. I am referring to the number of engineers it takes to change the metaphorical light bulb.
The flawed Indian education system has received phenomenal attention in the past few years, among talk show hosts, balding middle class dads and every single person preparing for competitive exams, ranging from Bank clerk to Civil Services. Everybody clamors for change and writes passionate articles and applaud ‘3 idiots’. All, except our policy-makers. In reality though, all our non-plans are coming to fruition.
On paper, India is teeming with doctors and engineers and lawyers – the well oiled education machinery rolling out our country’s intelligentsia by the lakhs each year. Our streets are filled with smug faced aunties whose sons and daughters are doing MS in the States. We produce more engineers than any other country in the world. Our medical facilities are top-notch. India is one of the youngest countries, with 33% of the population just out of school/college and immediately using their education to help the country onto a steep growth trajectory. Right?
Now, sample this. According to the India employability report by Aspiring Minds for the year 2013 conducted among 18 states and involving more than 520 engineering colleges, a paltry 5.97% graduates out of college are equipped with the skills required to work in the IT and IT services industry alone. The figure drops further to 4.22 when IT product companies are considered. In states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which boast of a plethora of institutions and more materializing each year, the employability totters around just 1%. Considering that IT companies make up a gargantuan bulk of the recruiters irrespective of discipline, the low figures are even more depressing.
Our system of education that depends so much on theory and exam-oriented learning, has long been held accountable for such a drastic decline in the quality of education. Under-qualified and straight-up incompetent teachers have plagued the system right from the grassroots to the UG and PG levels. A ridiculous student to teacher ratio further raises concerns.
Prolonged inaction by our policy-makers has given rise to a new class of unskilled, unemployable graduates that throng our job market like swarms of locusts we aren’t prepared to handle. A strictly quantitative outlook adopted by many state governments on education is to blame. It spells a sorry tale when you consider that so many families look at higher education as a means of elevating their social status. Higher education is a costly affair, and with return on investment slowly diminishing, it becomes tougher and tougher to pay back educational loans.
India prides itself on its so called ‘creative capital’, as it looks up to our aforementioned intelligentsia to bring in the revenue and boost our economy. However, whether our system has equipped us to utilize our vast potential is open for debate, or rather, an equivocal shake of heads. Our institutions are better at producing hard working robots for MNCs than vibrant entrepreneurs who can create jobs and lend strength to our economy.
Our young minds are not encouraged to think out of the box and are given zero opportunities to exercise their problem solving capabilities – perhaps the single most important quality desired for in a graduate. Minimal importance is given to practical training and therefore you get hefty scorecards and graduates having no idea how their knowledge is relevant.
Fact-based learning should make way for idea-based learning, and students should be tested for their presence of mind and not their memory. The government should take steps to introduce new, exciting, and diverse courses that find relevance in our demographic, cultural, economic and geographical context. Entrepreneurship should be aggressively entertained, and a proper framework should be put in place to identify and groom budding entrepreneurs.
It is, perhaps, time for a massive overhaul and resuscitation in the way our teachers are trained and evaluated. From being considered as a profession reserved for the slowest in the rat-race, teaching must be regarded with the respect it deserves. With more incentive and encouragement, there will be a renewed interest in the profession, and the resulting competition will iron out the incompetent. A passionate teaching community can uplift and empower our youth.
All this calls for a government that is sensitive to the needs of the young population, receptive to the influx of new ideas and innovations in the education sector and bold enough to implement sweeping systemic changes that will drastically alter and modernize the state of education in our country. Before any of this, they must realize that there is no worthier a cause to spend our taxpayers’ money for than this. Let us hope that the new government that will be elected to office come May the 16th will make a difference.