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Mainstream, VOL LV No 1 New Delhi December 24, 2016 - ANNUAL 2016

State of Affairs of Higher Education in India

Monday 26 December 2016, by Sandeep Pandey

In a country which neglects its school education can we expect a good quality higher education programme? All the governments, since the Kothari Commission’s recommendation of the Common School System was made in 1968, have successfully evaded implementation of the idea. With the adoption of the policies of privatisation, globalisation and liberalisation as part of the new economic policies since the early 1990s, two types of education system can clearly be discerned. The rich are sending their children to private schools whereas the poor don’t have any choice but to send their children to sub-standard government schools which forecloses any respectable option for the child’s future. The child attending the government school would consider herself lucky if she were to complete the 12 years of schooling. As there is no teaching, a system is in place which enables students to pass their Board examinations by mass copying in exchange for a compulsory payment of Rs 5000, with an option of somebody else writing the examination in place of the real candidate for double the amount. In Bihar it is possible to even be the topper in this system. In the last academic year, Ruby Rai Saurabh Shrestha, Rahul Kumar and Shalini Rai had the honour of being the fake toppers and the people who made it possible, Lalkeshwar Prasad, Chairman of Bihar State Education Board and his MLA wife Usha Sinha, are behind bars.

The same parents who are averse to sending their children to government schools want their children to be admitted to government institu-tions when it comes to higher education as the best of them, like the Indian Institutes of Technology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Indian Institutes of Management and National Law Schools, are run by the government. India is one of the rare countries which allocates more budget to higher education than basic school education. The Indian elite, whose children do not attend the government schools, is not bothered about the quality of basic education in these schools but ensures good quality in higher educational institutions because their children attend them.

The private schools run like private corpo-rations. In addition to charging high fees their sole focus is on performance. The City Montessori School, which claims to be the biggest school in the world, with 20 branches in Lucknow, transfers low performing students from its school to other schools in the city at the class IX stage so that the performance of the school in Board Examinations is not marred. Where the emphasis is on securing marks, and unfortunately the coaching institutions have made the entrance examinations to medicine, engineering and law institutions extremely cut-throat competitive, the whole purpose of education is lost. A child in a private school with an aim to make it to one of the elite engineering, medicine or law institutes doesn’t have time to think about anything else. In fact, he is taught not to get digressed from his single-minded pursuit.

Because of the foundation laid during school education, when the student enters higher educational institutions the same old approach of securing marks is the priority for students. Teachers do not help improve the environment. Independent thinking, inquisitive mind is discouraged rather than being encouraged. Understanding the subject is not important, securing marks is. Hence our higher educational institutions don’t produce enlightened citizens and sensitive human beings which a humane society would need. They are more like products of some mechanised operation themselves ready to become a cog in the wheel in some suitable set-up which pays them well. Neither do they get an opportunity to devote any time to meta level thinking so that they may contribute for the benefit of humankind at a higher level and contribute towards advancement of the human society. Indulging in philosophical thinking is considered a waste of time.

Some students from modest background, for example, from Navodaya schools do make it to the elite higher educational institutions. But it becomes another struggle for them to cope with the largely English medium of instruction. Some SC/ST and OBC students make it to these institutions taking advantage of the reservation of seats for them. The chances of an SC/ST student from a vernacular medium school are lower because of her weak socio-economic background, which poses a dual disadvantage for her. A recent research on a survey conducted of students from the Indian Institute of Technology at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi has shown that the performance of students from the SC/ST category is lower than those from the general category by about a grade point on an average.

In a World Economic Forum ranking India’s higher education is placed at the 81st position out of 138 countries. According to another ranking, India’s Human Capital Index, which includes physical capacities, cognitive function and mental health/abilities, India is at the 105th position out of 140 countries, last among all BRICS nations. Considering that India was at one time a pioneer in the field of higher education with Nalanda and Taxila established at least 500 years earlier than the first University which came into existence in Europe and which used to attract students from faraway countries, it is really a pathetic state of affairs today. Except for a few good quality institutions which can be counted on one’s fingers-tips, most of the higher education in today’s India is a farce. A country which boasts of one of the largest scientific and technological humanpower depends on the outside world for most of its sophisticated technological needs. Indian students, who are known to be involved in stupendous research overseas, fail to function in domestic set-ups and as a result their contribution don’t directly benefit India most of the time. How many Indian academicians have been awarded a Nobel for her/his work in India since independence?

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey is the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He was elected to this post at the founding conference of the party at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.