(The following article was originally written for The Forthright )
A lot has been written about the system of education in this country. A number of questions have been raised like- are we doing the right things for progress, is our research output anywhere near comparable to other nations and why in the world does a country of more than a billion people fail to produce enough Nobel laureates.So, before I proceed any further let me tell you that this is in no way intended to provide magical answers to the questions posed.
A couple of weeks back the results of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey were out and there was much hullabaloo all over. The reason – out of the 74 economies that had participated in the survey (which compares the quality of education in these participating economies) India was placed second from last, only ahead of Kyrgyzstan. The results were appalling to many- probably from the fact that the system of education in the country has been considered to be one of the most rigorous and we have even seen people like Mr.Obama mentioning that he fears that the Indian and Chinese students may capture all the jobs- but for those who have been continuously lamenting about how pathetic the system is, it came as no surprise, only that the results made their point more evident, along with the right facts and statistics.
It is impossible to disbelieve all that was out especially considering the fact that this is a country where education just means passing examinations and earning degree certificates which in turn has shown a steady tolerance to the problem of rote learning. You could easily get away by-hearting those formulas, math exams can be cracked remembering the right steps and for all that we just need memory. There is nothing for us to point fingers at the student here, they just can’t be blamed for, that’s the way it is and we have been trained to do it left, right and centre.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise when a survey which was done in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu shows the students, in the primary, in very poor light. Only 17% of students, in Tamil Nadu, were estimated to possess proficiency in reading that is at or above the baseline. And in Himachal Pradesh, this was 11%. The PISA study also found that only 12% of students in Himachal Pradesh and 15% in Tamil Nadu were proficient in mathematics. Put it without any statistics and according to the survey, not even half of the children, 15 years of age, could perform basic arithmetic or basic reading – something which brings in a lot of concern especially driven from the fact that the two states being talked about here, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, have always been on the right side of development and have been considered among those progressive states in the country.
Although one could easily shy away from the facts saying that most countries considered, as a part of the survey, are either developed economies or small countries with a history of quality education, it is a reality that the system has failed to provide what it is supposed to – the quality. In fact, we are still in a state where only a meager percentage of the population, usually the urban middle class and upper castes, have access to good schools and teachers and it would be no exaggeration to say that majority of our children, especially on the rural side, are either employed as laborers or found in those schools which lack teachers and are devoid of those basic resources and facilities, including access to books. It’s sad that this is the case but this is quite the reality and the need of the hour is to really reduce the disparity for, we can’t really be serious about economic development with just including the fortunate sections. It has to be with the inclusion of the all the people and for that education is the real key.
Increasing enrollment is a major task. It is indeed wonderful that the mid day meal scheme and the Right to Education Act have actually achieved that to an extent, but the real dilemma really lies on what constitutes education. Is it a mere ability to write one’s name or is it something more than that- to actually go out into the real-world?
The RTE and the mid day meal scheme maybe buzzwords, but the real truth is that we can’t just stop with these laws alone, we just cannot afford to have children in schools just because they have been provided a meal or the law, through the RTE, makes it mandatory for them to be there. Not that these aren’t important. Yes, the mid day meal scheme is important, the RIGHT TO EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT, but equally important is THE RIGHT EDUCATION and we just have to find ways and means to ensure this quality for I certainly don't think we would want the world to see us as 'Bharat Drowning'.