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Reflections On The Indian Education Sector

Posted on the 05 September 2012 by Pratnala @PratNala

Reflections On The Indian Education Sector

September 5. Teachers’ Day. Well, at least in this part of the world, it is a day where we honour our teachers or gurus (गुरवः), bestow lavish praise on them for making us who we are, show them our love through cards, emails (snail mail anyone?) or gifts and then (sadly) promptly forget about them the next day and return to the daily rut. Moreover, we hear the screaming voices of Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami (and a tiny, hardly heard Vikram Chandra) shouting their lungs out on how pitiable the education sector is and how teachers in the not-so-fortunate societies are laughable (and unfairly blaming the teachers). And what is the story a day after? Yes, you guessed it. 2G, 3G, Coalgate (not the toothpaste) etc.

So, what did I just say? Education sector and the quality of teachers. Last Teacher’s Day, ReflectionsPN paid a tribute to the teacher. This Teachers’ Day, we are taking it one step further and going to reflect (that’s what we do, isn’t it?) on this fundamental cog of any economy i.e. the education sector, how the rats are eating away at the very foundation of the Indian success story and how (I think) it should be solved.

Are you ready?

Let’s start reflecting! And get to the heart of the matter – the Indian education system.

If you ask me, I would say that the Indian education system (save for a handful of private schools in the cities) is a systemic failure. Maybe, my choice of words is too harsh, but I say, first we must accept ground reality and then attempt to solve the problem instead of building castles in the clouds and expecting India to achieve 9% GDP growth. A good example is the recent drama of the Joint Entrance Examination (which ReflectionsPN has covered twice – here and here). While I wouldn’t say that the existing system is perfect, the proposed changes just add to the mess. It shows that almost all our policy changes are always done with the next election in mind and not the future of the country in mind. This is the very reason why our country is always on the cusp of greatness from the past 2 decades but never achieves it.

Coming back to the issue of education, I said that the Indian education system is a systemic failure. Mind you, I have already said that some good, private schools like Don Bosco, PSBB, La Martiniere and others don’t come under this bracket. A small fraction of the population – the rich and the elite – go to these schools. And it is mostly people from this fraction who bring laurels to the country (I said mostly – yes, we do have people from rural backgrounds who beat the odds and achieve phenomenal success but those are isolated cases -I hope you get my point) and show us in a positive light abroad. However, I’m talking about a completely different set of people here. I’m talking about that fraction which constitutes the majority of the population – the not-so-privileged section of society – who go to government schools and small-time private sector schools where the quality of education imparted is in stark contrast to those in the higher strata of society.

To further prove my point, I saw a video previously (which has been deleted now) about a guy from Andhra Pradesh who cleared the JEE and joined IIT Hyderabad. In an interview, he gave all sorts of wacky answers to various questions posed to him which showed the abject lack of awareness in many students. If you would have seen, you could have inferred how a play of several factors has ruined the Indian student. Mind you, I have nothing against this boy. His answers to the various questions do provide some comic relief but on a more serious note, we can see how the culture of cramming, mugging and a tunnel vision of JEE being the most important exam in ones life robs an individual of essential qualities like communication skills, wisdom, pragmatism and a basic common sense. Now, I don’t claim to have these qualities in abundance but I can safely say I’m better than this guy.

Now, try to understand the deeper implications of a country producing many more such students every year. Now, it is not even his fault that he is that way. His education system has failed him. Still, he is going to study in IIT Hyderabad, one of the finest institutions, so for him, the deal is not so bad. 4 years in IIT will make you ready for life and I’m sure that at the end of 4 years, he will be a much better individual. But, think of those who don’t get into IITs/NITs/BITS/any top college. Where do they join? A local government or private college. And, how is the quality of education there? Pathetic, to say the least. And, now think, when such students who have no idea of the outside world apply for jobs, what happens? Well, they don’t get hired. No wonder, we have a worrying number of people who are educated and unemployed. So, what does this mean? We have a large pool of graduates who are educated but not skilled. There is a fine difference between education and skills. Now, moving on, when these educated individuals don’t get a job in the industry, what do they do? Well, these days, in what I have seen, they apply to be a teacher. And where do they apply? Again in those lower rung of colleges where they studied. Obviously, the good, reputed colleges won’t take them. So, now what is the end result? You have successfully created a system which churns out generations and generations of educated and unskilled people. Which means? Systemic Failure.

So, what are the core things affecting our education system and the quality of teachers along with it? The first thing is rote learning and the next is a mad craze for marks and ranks in an entrance-examination driven education system. The craze for marks and the craze for a rank to get a seat in a coveted institution at the end of twelve years has by and large engulfed the whole of society. So, how did this begin? I feel it is a recent phenomenon aided by the population explosion and the fierce competition which has accompanied it. If you turn the wheel of time let’s say forty years back, you will find that none of the things I have mentioned just now existed. Ours was a laid-back society then (which is also bad as we didn’t have much drive then) in a pre-liberalisation era when opportunities were scarce too.

Liberalisation did many good things to our country. It gave a thrust to the Indian dream and the hunger for success. It boosted our education sector but that’s where things started going wrong. In the craze for the goal, we forgot our path. We became a marks-obsessed, rank-obsessed nation. The JEE has become a contest of which coaching centre is better rather than which student is better (well not completely but still).

Reflections On The Indian Education Sector

The craze for marks is spoiling the country

Now, this marks and ranks angle comes into play roughly in middle school when your boards and the all-pervasive entrances are nearing. Why did this start in the first place? Hunger of success is one which led to a wrong route as I have just said but there is a deeper reason too. It shows the failure of the primary education system in the country. You see, when you have a flawed primary education system which doesn’t teach you what you are supposed to know, doesn’t let you question the status quo, that hunger for success becomes a hunger for marks indirectly because you want to prove yourself. Also, at the other end of the spectrum, you have these schools in rural areas which are laughable with hardly any teachers or infrastructure. Enter middle school when I said this craze of marks engulfes the student. And why is that? Because, parents send their kids to these coaching centres where infrastructure is vastly better and you also get some scholarships if you’re intelligent. Plus, the marketing which these guys do to the parents – “Your kid will be the next Einstein/Newton/”. I hope you see the connection here.

A flawed primary school system, a flawed secondary school system + a hungry private coaching centre business and colleges which just spoonfeed you rather than make you think and you can see where this has taken India today. We are the backroom of the global IT sector doing all the clerical jobs while the world moves on with innovation. We say India will be a superpower soon, but when? Heck, China has more Fortune 500 companies than us with their outdated and anti-human communist mindset. All you get out of India is BPO employees and call centre workers who are happy to help you why your PC crashed. Where are the innovators? Where are the entreprenuers? Where is the Indian Steve Jobs? The Indian Bill Gates? The next CV Raman? Where? When? How?

Alas, if we continue with this education system, it will never happen. We will continue to churn out call centre employees and educated unemployed youth who are suddenly dazed by the outside world. Please don’t show me the IITs and the NITs. Those are in a different league altogether. I’m talking about the average college next street and your average neighbour next door. Think about him. Aren’t we indirectly spoiling his future?

We always say that our teachers aren’t upto the mark. Nevertheless, I feel it is extremely unfair to put all the blame on them. Tell me how will you get better teachers if you don’t teach them properly in the first place? It has become a vicious cycle in our country now.

Ok, now enough of the whining. Let’s see how to remedy this. It is not an easy task. It will take several generations to come out of the present rut. And, we need to take the students and teachers simultaneously into confidence. We need to work together. Train the teachers, make them train the students. By train, I mean that we should make them awesome. Teachers should think differently, be more qualified, have a scientific temper, have a sense of adventure and be practical. Nobody gets them with birth. It can be inculcated. Once you train the teachers, they will automagically make the students awesome as well. Get the drift?

We need to rethink our whole education system, the marking system, the syllabus completely from ground up. And this is not a silver bullet. Any process will take time. Moreover, political parties should support each other and work together instead of opposing just for the heck of it. We should invest in this process and not just dole out a couple of useless tweaks like Kapil Sibal does these days.

And there is yet another aspect of all this. Which is the rural primary school. The main problem is that even if you have awesome teachers, most of them shudder at the thought of going to a rural remote corner of the country and teaching them. So, what do you do? Make it an attractive option. Throw in some freebies, broadband access, mobile network coverage etc. And again for that, you need development to happen which is for another article.

So, at the end of a long whining article, I confess I haven’t provided a concrete solution. Most of it has just been complaining. But, the complaining had a purpose. In fact, I wanted you to know how severe the situation is and how we are treading the wrong path. Sitting in air-conditioned rooms, many of us fail to recognise ground reality. Solutions are not easy to think of and we need a large scale discussion. What do you feel? How can we change the Indian education sector for the better and make it really awesome? Only when we have completely shaken up the education system of this country will it be a tribute to the teacher. Take a Teachers’ Day pledge to reform the Indian Education System. Sound off your thoughts in the comments, write a guest post, email us, discuss with us on our Facebook group or page or if you prefer 140 characters, just tweet us.

Until next time!

Happy Teachers’ Day!!

श्री गुरुभ्यो नमः!!

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