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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 44, October 25, 2014

Education Perspective

Friday 24 October 2014

by Sadhan Mukherjee

Have our students stopped dreaming or thinking big? Don’t they feel that in the rapidly advancing modern world they have no place near the top? Conversely, why are we not trying to educate them for the future, their own and that of the country? Will the new dispensation in the governance of the country now push the country back to the gurukul tradition or advance with modern, need-based education? These are not rhetorical issues but comprise a serious inquiry.

 In the 67 years since independence our education system seems to have blocked the mental growth and original thinking of our students. The politicians and educrats together with the mandarins of various Ministries are guilty of reducing our education system to this pathetic situation. It is not that we do not have bright students; we do, but they are like stunted trees that do not grow to their full heights in Indian soil.

About 85 per cent of graduates from our higher education institutions are not employable. A little over 22 per cent of those who are graduates and above are unemployed. The latest NSSO data for employment shows that a large chunk of our youth between 15 and 29 years are without jobs. What and how are we teaching our students if they are not fit to be employed?

Our country has not produced a single Nobel laureate in 67 years. The last one was 1933-born Prof Amartya Sen. Dr R.K. Pachauri received a Nobel Prize for Peace in 2007 (on behalf of his organisation, IPCC) jointly with former US Vice-President Albert Gore. No Indian born, educated and working in India since 1947 has been a Nobel Prize recipient.

Why only the Nobel Prize? Has any Indian from India since 1947 made really a mark in any major field of development on the world scale? No! Sure, being improvisers we have done many things better. But hardly any tangible original has been invented so far. True, we have had a number of NRIs living in various countries doing very well and making their impact in various fields by becoming corporate icons, top medical men and even Nobel laureates. But that is mostly due to the flowering of their brilliance on foreign soil and working under different conditions. India is considered to be a knowledge-based country. Is it only for production of software and writing computer programmes for others? Where are we in terms of our original research and development?

The fault begins at the very beginning. The Right To Education (RTE) Act sounds good but how is it implemented? If there are no teachers, with those who are there being mostly not good enough, no textbooks, no schools worth the name and the States not implementing the RTE Act sincerely, what can we expect? Maybe at the primary level you have a large body of students enrolled and then the students start leaving the schools by the drove. By class 10, nearly 50 per cent of enrolled students drop out, the percentage being much higher among the economically backward and tribal population. So we are practically left with students from the upper and lower middle classes and the rich at the higher secondary level.

Even where reasonably good schooling is available, what and how are the students taught? Just some course content to be learnt by rote to reproduce on answer-sheets for obtaining high marks, so necessary to get into a university. The students are never really taught to think. In fact, in most schools students are discouraged to think. They are forced only to strive for high marks. In the higher education segment the gross enrolment ratio is barely 19 per cent.

There is something basically wrong with our education perspective that prevents our students from dreaming big and compels them to remain stuck in a groove. As a survey has “discovered”, Class V students cannot read passages from textbooks meant for Class II. Our students remain functionally illiterate even when they pass out from schools.

In our federal set-up, the States and Centre do not pull together in common interest and remain unconcerned to the national good. Education is a concurrent subject but that does not mean that students of one State will be studying and working only within that State. Where is our national perspective? We must be able to teach students to fit in not only nationally but also internationally. They must be helped to develop 21st century skills.

Our national spending on education and training is just about four per cent of our GDP of which two-thirds are by the State and one-third by the Centre. Why should we not spend more money on education, at least six to eight per cent of the GDP, to have better schools, better trained teachers and provide the students with proper textbooks and other wherewithal of education?

According to a NASSCOM report, each year over three million graduates and post-graduates are added to the Indian workforce. Of these, only 25 per cent of technical graduates and 10-15 per cent of regular graduates are considered employable by the industry. Is it not a national tragedy and a huge wastage?

What about the rest of the pass-outs? What makes them unemployable? One reason clearly is the remnants of colonial thinking and traditional education patterns that continue to make most parents think that their wards must become somehow a “graduate” and get a job to bring some money to the family quickly. Therefore, economic consideration acts as a de-motivating factor. Dreams get shattered on the stone of hard reality of life.

Today skills have become a deciding factor for employment in view of growing industriali-sation. The traditional age-old khata is replaced mostly by computers. You don’t get a clerk’s job unless you are computer-literate. With a simple graduation that provides no skill sets, one can hardly find a job.

Even with an engineering degree one has less chance of landing a job than an engineering diploma holder. The reason is simple: in diploma course the practical skills imparted are greater than in engineering degree. An engineering degree may have greater value in the marriage market but not in the job market. The point is that vocational training has to be combined with theoretical knowledge to meet the needs of the job market.

But what about those for whom the economic factor is not so dominant? Where do the prodigals of rich families go for their schooling? They go to high-fee schools in the name of better education though most of them turn out to be average students or worse as they tend to concentrate on flaunting their resources more than academics. And the super-rich go to the mountain schools in Kodaikanal or Dehradun! And some shift to foreign schools and their number seems to be growing. This year, there has been an increase of 32 per cent in the number of students going to the USA. France is offering scholarships to meritorious students. Sure, some of them surely “shine” in later life. But how many return to work in India and prove their mettle? Not even a handful!

This is the real tragedy of our education system. We have developed a philosophy of poverty but not how to remove it. Another backward country that became independent almost simultaneously as India is outstripping us in almost every field of development. It is China.

Some years ago, a book was in circulation, titled What ivan Knows that Johnny Doesn’t, written by Arther S. Trace and published by Random House in 1961. It compared the knowledge base of American and Russian students and concluded that the Russian students’ knowledge dimension was greater.

If a similar test is conducted today between the Chinese and Indian students, the former will be ahead of the latter, starting with the fact that the literacy rate of the Chinese is around 96 per cent while India’s is at about 74 per cent. In PISA tests or in national IQ tests sadly it seems China also scored higher than India. China has two Nobel Laureates born in the post-revolution period and working in China as against none in India. Maybe there should be a new study, titled What Chiang Knows that Rahul Doesn’t, to show our place in Asia, not to talk about the world!

The author, a former journalist, is currently engaged in education management through distance education.