India Today - - CONTENTS - (Aroon Purie)

Alit­tle over a decade from now, In­dia will be­come the third largest econ­omy in the world. It will have quadru­pled its GDP to around $10 tril­lion, sur­pass­ing France and Ja­pan and behind only the US and China. Set to be the world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try by 2027, the chal­lenges for In­dia in the 2030s will be even more acute than at present. We are the world’s largest young coun­try. Half the pop­u­la­tion, or over 600 mil­lion peo­ple, is under the age of 25, what is called our de­mo­graphic div­i­dend.

The ad­vent of the knowl­edge econ­omy—where the cre­ation, dis­sem­i­na­tion and util­i­sa­tion of in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge rather than land, labour and cap­i­tal be­come the most im­por­tant fac­tors of pro­duc­tion—poses new chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties for us.

Can a youth­ful In­dia de­liver the skilled work­force with the ca­pac­i­ties and an­a­lyt­i­cal skills for the In­for­ma­tion Age? The an­swer, if you look at the present state of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, is an em­phatic NO.

Our cover story in 2009, ‘How to

Clean the Mess’, had out­lined the prob­lems—is­lands of ex­cel­lence like IITs and IIMs in a sea of de­cay­ing in­sti­tu­tions. The cri­sis then was as se­vere as it is now. Only one in nine chil­dren who fin­ished school ended up in univer­sity. Huge short­ages of quality ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions were driv­ing cut-off per­cent­ages even higher, and mul­ti­ple reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties were com­pletely out of sync with the de­mands of modern ed­u­ca­tion. Pub­lic spend­ing on ed­u­ca­tion has hov­ered around 3 per cent of GDP as against the min­i­mum 6 per cent that two com­mis­sions have rec­om­mended since 1965.

A decade later, none of these ba­sic is­sues has been ad­dressed. The prob­lems have only wors­ened. The 2018 An­nual Sta­tus of Ed­u­ca­tion Re­port (ASER) sur­vey found that only 50 per cent of all stu­dents in Class V could read texts meant for Class II stu­dents. The con­se­quence is that the gross en­rol­ment ra­tio, or the num­ber of stu­dents en­rolled at a given level of ed­u­ca­tion as a per­cent­age of the of­fi­cial school­go­ing pop­u­la­tion, has dropped from 95 per cent for Grades 1-5 to 79 per cent for Grades 9-10.

The time for in­cre­men­tal change, I had writ­ten then, was over. The cri­sis is se­vere and de­mands a rad­i­cal and revolution­ary re­sponse. We do have a glim­mer of hope in a New Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy whose draft has just been pre­sented to the gov­ern­ment. The 484-page NEP outlines an elab­o­rate plan, en­com­pass­ing ed­u­ca­tion across mul­ti­ple seg­ments—pre-school, school, higher, vo­ca­tional and adult ed­u­ca­tion, as well as teacher train­ing and reg­u­la­tion. It sug­gests a fun­da­men­tal change in school cur­ricu­lums by adopt­ing a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary ap­proach, do­ing away with stress­ful one-time ex­ams and rote learn­ing, fo­cus­ing on learn­ing out­comes and adapt­abil­ity, adding vo­ca­tional cour­ses to the aca­demic cur­ricu­lum from school on­wards, mak­ing teacher train­ing

the pivot of all re­forms, boost­ing re­search fund­ing in higher ed­u­ca­tion and re­struc­tur­ing and cre­at­ing some apex reg­u­la­tory bod­ies for qual­i­ta­tive changes in higher ed­u­ca­tion. The pol­icy has set some lofty goals, such as dou­bling the ex­ist­ing gross en­rol­ment ra­tio in higher ed­u­ca­tion to 50 per cent by 2035, au­ton­omy to all higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tutes (HEIs) and one quality univer­sity in every dis­trict of In­dia.

It also em­pha­sises a key driver for knowl­edge so­ci­eties—heavy in­vest­ments in higher ed­u­ca­tion by the gov­ern­ment. The fund­ing of ed­u­ca­tion is a delicate mat­ter. As we have seen with many grand plans of any gov­ern­ment, the help­ing hand of the gov­ern­ment is of­ten the one that stran­gu­lates all no­ble in­ten­tions. The problem in In­dia is the short­age of quality ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions at every level. The gov­ern­ment should of course do its best to im­prove gov­ern­ment-funded ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions but it should also ag­gres­sively en­cour­age pri­vate in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion. It can be for-profit too as long as stan­dards are set and hon­estly regulated by the gov­ern­ment. Like in med­i­cal care, there should be a choice re­gard­ing which fa­cil­ity one wants to use. Only then will you build new ca­pac­ity in our ed­u­ca­tional in­fra­struc­ture. There is noth­ing like com­pe­ti­tion to im­prove stan­dards. In fact, the aim of gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions should be to put the pri­vate ones out of busi­ness. It must be re­mem­bered that the mirac­u­lous trans­for­ma­tion of East Asian economies, Ja­pan and South Korea in par­tic­u­lar, was only be­cause of their heavy in­vest­ments in ed­u­ca­tion.

Our cover story, ‘Wanted, a Learn­ing Revo­lu­tion’, put to­gether by Senior As­so­ciate Ed­i­tor Kaushik Deka, looks at the chal­lenges for a pol­icy that seeks to com­pletely over­haul the coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem by 2035 and fu­ture-proof stu­dents against eco­nomic dis­rup­tors like Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence. Our cover story pack­age also in­cludes our an­nual sur­vey of In­dia’s best univer­si­ties.

The NEP is proof of our abil­ity to bring out the best poli­cies. The challenge, as with every other gov­ern­ment pol­icy, lies in the im­ple­men­ta­tion. To trans­late it on the ground, the blue­print will re­quire an hon­est, rig­or­ous mon­i­tor­ing mech­a­nism. In­deed, with­out rad­i­cally trans­form­ing our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, we will only be adding to our ranks of the un­em­ploy­able and the un­em­ployed with all the at­ten­dant so­cial reper­cus­sions. This new pol­icy will take 15 years to be fully im­ple­mented. The de­mo­graphic div­i­dend we keep boast­ing about will soon be­come a de­mo­graphic dis­as­ter if we don’t act now in earnest.

Our July 13, 2009 cover

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