In­dia's ed­u­ca­tion cri­sis

In­dia needs to dra­mat­i­cally in­crease the qual­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of higher ed­u­ca­tion to match eco­nomic growth and emerge as a global leader

Millennium Post - - Mp In Focus - (The au­thor, a for­mer In­dian diplo­mat, is In­au­gu­ral Di­rec­tor of the UNSW In­dia Cen­tre. The ar­ti­cle is in spe­cial ar­range­ment with South Asia Mon­i­tor. The views ex­pressed are strictly per­sonal) IANS

In­dia faces a crit­i­cal chal

lenge in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor that has, trag­i­cally, been of its own mak­ing. In each area, whether pri­mary, sec­ondary or ter­tiary, sup­ply and re­source con­straints, in­fras­truc­tural in­ad­e­qua­cies, lack of qual­i­fied per­son­nel, in­clud­ing fac­ulty, are a com­mon com­plaint. This is a re­sult of seven decades of ne­glect and a lack of for­ward-plan­ning.

Over the years, this has led to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of pri­vate ini­tia­tives, sev­eral of which are sub-stan­dard and solely aimed at tak­ing ad­van­tage of the sup­ply-de­mand mis­match. While pri­vate sec­tor par­tic­i­pa­tion in ed­u­ca­tion is to be wel­comed, without proper reg­u­la­tory mech­a­nisms in place, a mush­room­ing of dodgy in­sti­tu­tions and in­for­mal par­al­lel ser­vice­cen­tres will only churn out grad­u­ates who are not em­ploy­able. This kind of fac­tory-ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion is par­tic­u­larly wor­ry­ing, not only for pol­i­cy­mak­ers but also for the cor­po­rate sec­tor. In­deed, In­dia's de­mo­graphic div­i­dend could po­ten­tially be­come a de­mo­graphic calamity.

With al­most half its pop­u­la­tion un­der 25 years of age, In­dia needs to dra­mat­i­cally in­crease ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially to sus­tain high eco­nomic growth and emerge as a re­gional and global eco­nomic power. Un­for­tu­nately, un­even de­vel­op­ment and huge dis­par­i­ties, whether in terms of a ru­ralur­ban di­vide or gen­der, in­come

lev­els or so­cial sta­tus, make the eq­ui­table avail­abil­ity of high­qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion one of the grand chal­lenges con­fronting the gov­ern­ment.

Sadly, over the past seven decades and more, ed­u­ca­tion has re­ceived only pass­ing at­ten­tion. Even to­day, the al­lo­ca­tion in the fis­cal bud­get is only 1.2 per cent. Un­less this anoma

lous sit­u­a­tion is ad­dressed and ur­gently, In­dia faces a sig­nif­i­cant and crip­pling cri­sis that has dan­ger­ous con­se­quences for its fu­ture.

This ne­glect has im­pacted ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions across In­dia. Fu­ture-think­ing, for in­stance, is not a part of our ped­a­gogy. We use the 19th-cen­tury ped­a­gogy to cre­ate a 21stcen­tury mind­set. We ed­u­cate our chil­dren but never en­cour­age them to learn. We in­sist that they mem­o­rise, but never to un­der­stand. We shun cu­rios­ity be­cause it chal­lenges the sta­tus quo. We up­hold ju­gaad (im­pro­vi­sa­tion) and ex­tol its virtues but do not in­vest in re­search and, thus, in in­no­va­tion. We hes­i­tate to train our teach­ers to em­brace tech­nol­ogy or new think­ing be­cause we feel threat­ened. We dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion without em­pha­sis­ing how it might be pro­cessed and used to due ad­van­tage.

The gov­ern­ment has recog­nised the com­pul­sions of ur­gently ad­dress­ing this ed­u­ca­tion cri­sis. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and his party would, nat­u­rally, look for a se­cond term. For this, they would fo­cus on eco­nomic and so­cial well-be­ing as their prin­ci­pal elec­toral plank. This, in fact, is a col­lec­tive as­pi­ra­tion shared by all po­lit­i­cal par­ties. It is also a col­lec­tive as­pi­ra­tion for all In­di­ans.

At the same time, it is wellestab­lished that such an end ob­jec­tive would be elu­sive un­less In­dia recog­nises the power of hu­man cap­i­tal. This ex­plains the cur­rent and sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est the gov­ern­ment has shown in ed­u­ca­tion re­forms and in­vest­ment, in­clud­ing in the higher ed­u­ca­tion space and, es­pe­cially, in re­search and for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tions. What is also note­wor­thy is that In­dia's cor­po­rate sec­tor has started tak­ing a greater in­ter­est in the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion pro­vided. An­a­lysts, how­ever, sug­gest that In­dia would not be in a po­si­tion to achieve its ob­jec­tive by it­self in the short or medium term.

We are al­ready wit­ness­ing a strong push-fac­tor, where in­creas­ing num­bers of In­dian stu­dents em­i­grate for higher stud­ies. In­dian stu­dents have gen­er­ally opted for the US and the UK. There were good rea­sons for this. How­ever, the sit­u­a­tion has dra­mat­i­cally changed, thanks to poli­cies that gov­ern­ments in those coun­tries have adopted and, more crit­i­cally, the man­ner in which the In­dian ru­pee has de­val­ued vis-à-vis the US dol­lar.

This is the new sweet-spot for Aus­tralian higher ed­u­ca­tion providers and might well emerge as a win-win sit­u­a­tion that dra­mat­i­cally and pos­i­tively im­pacts bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. As we have seen in the case of the US and of the Colombo Plan and Com­mon­wealth Fel­low­ship stu­dents who had stud­ied abroad, those study­ing in Aus­tralia could be­come life­time ad­vo­cates and brand am­bas­sadors for In­dia-oz re­la­tions.

How­ever, Aus­tralian higher ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties are not yet a well-known in In­dia, essen­tially be­cause of the tra­di­tional strong pull shared by the US and the UK. Few know, for in­stance, that out of 33 uni­ver­si­ties in Aus­tralia, seven are in the top 100 QS rank­ings in 2019 of which five are in the top 50.

Sev­eral Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties have now started set­ting up of­fices in In­dia along­side ex­pand­ing staff in ex­ist­ing of­fices. All are in­vest­ing in out­reach ac­tiv­i­ties, such as the re­cently-con­cluded stel­lar In­dia Open Days that the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales held in the four cities of New Delhi, Chen­nai, Pune and Mum­bai show­cas­ing the unique man­ner in which ped­a­gogy has em­braced tech­nol­ogy. It is also worth men­tion­ing that in a num­ber of ar­eas of de­vel­op­ment in­ter­est for In­dia, lead­ing-edge Aus­tralian re­search can pro­vide com­pat­i­ble de­sign so­lu­tions. These in­clude en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, pho­to­voltaics, HIV/AIDS, op­tom­e­try, smart trans­port, sus­tain­able hous­ing, cy­ber­se­cu­rity, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, rooftop cool­ing, waste man­age­ment, water re­sources, quan­tum com­put­ing and many oth­ers.

The ro­bust man­ner in which the in­flow of high-achiev­ing In­dian stu­dents to Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties has in­creased in a short span of time bears tes­ti­mony to the in­creas­ing aware­ness of the qual­ity of learn­ing and liv­ing that Aus­tralia of­fers.

Dur­ing Pres­i­dent Ram Nath Kovind's his­toric visit to Aus­tralia, he em­pha­sised how knowl­edge part­ner­ship could con­trib­ute to­wards craft­ing a new ar­chi­tec­ture in the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries. Only time will tell if Can­berra is will­ing to see New Delhi as its new go-to desti­na­tion and emerge as a strong de­vel­op­ment part­ner for In­dia's rapidly spi­ralling as­pi­ra­tions. And, equally, whether In­dia is able to think out­side its blink­ers, in the short and medium term, to seize a knowl­edge part­ner­ship with Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties and ad­dress the as­pi­ra­tions of its young de­mog­ra­phy and cor­po­rate sec­tor.

A great op­por­tu­nity awaits if the two coun­tries can seize the mo­ment. In­deed, a new and dy­namic chap­ter in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions could be writ­ten. It is time to lift the game and see with new eyes.

We up­hold ju­gaad (im­pro­vi­sa­tion) and ex­tol its virtues but do not in­vest in re­search and, thus, in in­no­va­tion. We dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion without em­pha­sis­ing how it might be pro­cessed and used to due ad­van­tage

(Rep­re­sen­ta­tional Im­age)

If unat­tended, In­dia's de­mo­graphic div­i­dend could po­ten­tially be­come a de­mo­graphic calamity

AMIT DASGUPTA

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