We proudly claim to be one of the nations that had a ‘rich’ ancient system of education (obviously neglecting the fact that the ‘rich’ system was primarily a monopoly of high caste men), and like Jeans and Valentines day, we love to blame colonialism for pulverizing our ‘traditional’ education system.
However, after eight decades of ‘freedom’ the Indian education system still stands vulnerable to a sharp critique. The Britons did lay the foundation of the modern Indian education system beginning with Macaulay’s (in)famous ‘Minutes’ but in the years following the independence the education system has gone through many reforms.
One of the major reforms initiated in the year 1977 and adopted by the country in the 1980s include the +2 pattern which still forms the core of the Indian schooling system. According to an India Today article published in the year 1977 the goal behind it was to “weed out some students at the end of the first stage of schooling giving such students a certificate. And by adding one more year to the school education, the system hopes to improve the standard of university education.”
The +2 system allows students to choose between either of the three streams of science, commerce and humanities after they’ve completed their secondary education. It was believed that the +2 system would help students, especially those who were preparing for professional colleges like engineering or medicine.
The +2 system though is open to criticism as selection to these streams is rarely based on aptitude and more emphasis is on the marks obtained. In fact, vocational education is rarely given the anticipated importance that was aimed for, when the system was first launched. In countries like Finland, after completing the nine year comprehensive education, the students are given a choice to either opt for vocational or academic higher education. In fact its turnout in vocational education is an impressive 45% unlike India for which vocational education remains only ‘partially fulfilled’.
In my personal experience as a student whose school was affiliated to CBSE, I believe that the +2 system strengthens the base of any student who later may or may not wish to enroll in a professional college and rather go for a BA, B.Com or B.Sc degree. The students get a better grasp of the discipline they are studying with their selective focus on the subjects of a particular stream.
However, this selective choice often becomes a deterrent when a person with a science background opts for a degree in humanities at the undergraduate level. “I had opted for B.A programme and as a student with a science background, it was quite difficult for me to venture into the humanities. I think the subjects offered at the +2 level should be more flexible rather than defined and limiting,” said Priyanshi Purwar, a second year student of Miranda House.
As far as preparing for professional courses is concerned most students either get into coaching institutes in these two years or drop a year after +2 to prepare for vocational programmes. “I am of the opinion that the +2 did help me discover my interest for science and cleared my base but it is not sufficient to land in a good professional college without enrolling in coaching institutes or get extra help because of the rising competition. It is the dream of every Indian parent to see their child become an engineer or a doctor as for them, other respectable professions simply doesn’t exist. This view is harboured by a majority of middle class Indians and thus leads to immense competition among students,” says Bhaavya Malpani, a student of Life Sciences from Ramjas College. This view has also led to the industrialisation of education and this industrialisation has in turn made quality higher education an unequal area of access.
At a time when university students are opposing privatization of government-run universities as it would make education an elite domain, we first need to make sure that primary, secondary and higher secondary education too is provided for adequately by the government and that the weeding out of the economically marginalised does not happen here itself.
The much applauded Right to Education Act of 2009 did guarantee free education at the elementary level and also proposed some qualitative changes that appeared promising on paper but their execution still remains a far fetched dream. Proper education in India is still primarily a monopoly of the well off. The education system needs to improve its lax teaching faculty, its taken-for-granted marking system, and most importantly people need to learn that schools and colleges are not factories meant to produce clerks for the welfare state. These are places to nurture young minds into thinking citizens who can not only fend for themselves but also work towards the progress of their people, for the citizens are the nation.