Education In India: Bridging The Gaps

In India, in the last few decades, significant progress has been made towards universalization of primary education, access to school and infrastructure, teacher-pupil ratio, improvement in girls’ enrolment, etc. However, our poor educational outcomes and inefficient education systems are eliciting deep concern from all stakeholders.

Education is the most powerful instrument for reducing poverty and inequality. Education is a force multiplier that enables self-reliance, boosts economic growth by enhancing skills, and improves people’s lives by opening up opportunities for better livelihoods. It is the key to enhance India’s competitiveness in the global economy. Ensuring access to quality education for all, in particular for the poor and rural population, is central to our economic and social development. Education is, understandably, one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and its future.

In India, in the last few decades, significant progress has been made towards universalization of primary education, access to school and infrastructure, teacher-pupil ratio, improvement in girls’ enrolment, etc. However, our poor educational outcomes and inefficient education systems are eliciting deep concern from all stakeholders. Our primary schools fail to provide students with appropriate cognitive skills like numeracy, literacy, problem-solving ability and general scientific knowledge. Our secondary and tertiary level institutions, including technical and vocational education and training, remain inadequate and poorly structured, and cannot cater to the emerging job market. We are struggling with a mismatch between the skills that employers seek and those that our job seekers have. 

The nation is set to become one of the youngest nations in the world by 2030, with around 140 million people expected to be in the college-age group. Sadly, the country does not have an educational landscape to harness the true potential of their youth to meet the challenges of a global economy.

For a population of 1.3 billion people facing the challenge of fast dwindling natural resources, their world is constantly changing. In order to survive the demands of the 21st century, it is imperative to impart Education for Sustainable Development which can empower people to think and work towards a sustainable future. Educational reforms are required at all levels of education from school to higher education. Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the UN said, “Education has the power to shape a sustainable future and a better world. It must fully assume its central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful and tolerant societies.”

With almost 45 percent of our population under the age of 25 years, India confronts a massive challenge of increasing access to quality educational institutions to facilitate economic growth in the country. We need to urgently transform our education system to meet the aspirational needs of the new generation, which will ensure that India's demographic dividend continues to remain its asset.

The equitable and inclusive education system is one of the foremost requirement to address disparities of caste, class, religion, region, gender, etc, which affect the educational status of the nation. Concerted initiatives should be taken to ensure that no child loses any opportunity to learn and excel because of the circumstances of birth or background. 

We need to ensure that a proper learning ecosystem is available across the length and breadth of the country for desired learning outcomes to be achieved. For this, our education system must be attuned to the new global environment. Curriculum and pedagogy need complete transformation to minimize rote learning and to prepare youth for 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, multilingualism, problem-solving, ethics, social responsibility, and digital literacy. A significant change is required in the curricula, which must include sustainability content, delivered in terms of local, social, economic and environmental contexts. 

Technology can play an important role in addressing the need of an enabling ecosystem with features and facilities like digital content and E-learning, broadcasting classes conducted by experienced teachers, interactive classes through video conferencing, etc. Smart technologies can make learning more inviting and motivate teachers to improve their teaching methods. E-learning has several advantages in a country like India as it allows for the delivery of education or training at an accelerated rate despite geographical distances.

Another important step to improve the quality of education would be to improve basic infrastructure in schools and educational institutions. We must enact legislation which lays down basic regulations that have to be followed by all educational institutions across the country. This legislation must aim at bringing uniformity in education provided by various institutions. This will further advance the global standing of Indian institutions and bring them at par with the leading institutions of the world.

Greater impetus on skill development and vocational institutes to push growth of the economy should be facilitated through a suitable policy framework. There should be focused efforts to integrate core training with industry need and demand. Partnerships and collaborations with industry should be created as statutory requirements for training to get accountability from the employers. Also in view of the changing job market, more upmarket trainings should be provided to youth so that they can get absorbed in a variety of job roles.  

Despite hue and cry about the low learning levels and overall low quality of education in India, the public funds in education have remained inadequate and deficit. India should spend at least 6% of its GDP on education in order to improve the education system in the country. There is also a need to induce greater participation and investment from the private sector to supplement public investment. Encouraging the private sector to set up affordable higher education institutes as well as institutes for skill development would also bridge the gap between demand and provision.

With the low standard of educational institutions and delivery systems, India still has a far way to go. There are multiple issues and challenges to be addressed in a short span of time if India wants to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend in the near future. A number of factors have to be employed simultaneously to improve the system. The unified system should be developed to allow equal growth of all learners. 

The Government has brought out Draft National Educational Policy 2019 which proposes revision and revamping of all aspects of the education structure, its regulation and governance, to create a new system that is aligned with the aspirational goals of 21st-century education, while remaining consistent with India’s traditions and value systems. The policy seeks to transform India's higher education system to one of the global best education systems. It is expected to meet the people's requirement regarding quality education, innovation and research to make this country a knowledge superpower. 

However, it would be a daunting challenge to implement the Policy in the spirit in which it has been articulated. The success will depend on careful planning and a well-thought-out implementation strategy, consistent with pragmatism and ground realities. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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