The Curious Case of Failing Education Reforms in India

Imagine this - thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of aspirants write a critically important test. Almost no one secures the pass mark. Now imagine that these are not students, but teachers and would be teachers of thousands of sought after schools across India. Wish it were just a nightmare. It is not. Team INCLUSION peeks into the state of education reforms.

   
 

“Nearly 92 per cent of teacher training institutes belong to private enterprises and the government hardly has any hold over them. It is strange that the government has abdicated its power over teacher training but has control over schools”

 

“India has today the largest higher education system in the world at 25 million enrollments. I joined the ministry way back in 2007, the main focus was on how to increase the numbers from 12 per cent GER – gross enrollment ratio. In six years, that has gone up to 20 per cent”

 

“More than half of India’s population is below 25, which needs to be trained. There is no standardised education in rural areas, minimal facilities and there aren’t trained teachers available, even if the will exists”

 

— Ameeta M Wattal, Principal, 
Springdales School

 

— Ashok Thakur, Secretary, 
Department of Higher Education, 
Ministry of Human Resource development

 

— Monica Malhotra Kandhari,
MBD Group

 
 
   
 

“If we fail to harness this demographic dividend not only we will be squandering an opportunity which comes into a nation’s life only once, but we would also be facing a significant risk of this so-called demographic dividend turning into a demographic nightmare”

 

“India needs to invest more than one-third of its GDP to achieve a one per cent growth in employment. But as its labour force grows only at 2.8 per cent every year, India will need all its GDP to create the requisite number of jobs”

 

“We seem to be creating policies that I call rearview-mirror-based policies. IITians were the Arjunas of modern times, the future will be with Eklavyas. Every individual, whether poor or underprivileged, will learn himself or herself, at his or her own pace, with the mobile or tablet in hand, and for me, that is where the future is”

 

— Narendra Jadhav, Member, Planning Commission

 

— Dilip Chenoy, CEO, National Skill Development Corporation

 

—Ashishkumar Chauhan, MD & CEO, Bombay Stock Exchange

 

In early March, chairman of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Vineet Joshi, told a shocked gathering of policy-makers, educationists and technocrats exactly this. He was making his speech at a conference on education after declaring the results of the central teachers eligibility test (CTET). CBSE holds this test to select teachers for Kendriya Vidyalayas (Central Schools), Navodaya Vidyalayas, other central and Delhi government schools and schools affiliated to CBSE.

There are nearly 9,000 schools under CBSE. Of these, more than 1090 are Kendriya Vidyalayas alone, and they serve more than a million students nationwide and abroad. The board also has almost 6,000 independent schools and 480 Jawahar Novodaya schools.

The all-important CBSE prescribes courses for these schools, conducts the crucial board exams of classes X and XII and grants certificates to schools that want to teach its curriculum. A disappointed Joshi said none of the March test’s aspirants made the mark “even though the question paper was basic and easy.” What’s worse, the pass mark was just 60 per cent and yet, a little more than three per cent cleared the test for primary teachers and just about one per cent passed for those who would teach classes VI to VIII.

What to speak of the students they would churn out. It is easy to blame the would-be teachers for their poor standards. We forget that they, too, were students not long ago, and their teachers would have equally failed these tests.

Teachers train at teacher training institutions with medieval ideas of pedagogy, no understanding of how the world of learning has changed in such a huge way. Renowned educationist and principal of New Delhi’s Springdales School, Ameeta M Wattal, says nearly 92 per cent of teacher training institutes belong to private enterprises and the government hardly has any hold over them. It is strange that the government has abdicated its power over teacher training but has control over schools - of the total number of schools in India, only 20 per cent are privately funded and run, catering to eight crore children. That means, the bulk of the education burden is still on government owned schools.

Most teachers training happen after you pass out of a teacher-training institute. It happens in progressive government schools and in good private schools. But that is not enough. Wattal says that the National council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) itself has admitted that it has hardly been able to train a little more than a third of its teachers. If we are going to look at the lowest rung to become our teachers and give us the best, how is it possible? “Here, 49 per cent is the aggregate needed to enter a teacher training institution, because the generally understood formula is: if you can’t do anything, teach,” Wattal adds.

Entrepreneur-author-educationist Monica Malhotra Kandhari of the MBD Group says more than half of India’s population is below 25, which needs to be trained. There is no standardised education in rural areas, minimal facilities and there aren’t trained teachers available, even if the will exists.

At school, we don’t have proper infrastructure, enough seats, good teachers, engaging curriculum and a focussed approach. College is equally bad. How, then, do we hope to make our people employable, viable?

Member Planning Commission, Narendra Jadhav says: “The Twelfth Five Year Plan document released last year lists education as the most important lever for social, economic and political transformation.”

Right now, India has the world’s youngest labour force, 70 per cent of the population is below 35 years, and people between 10 and 19 numbered almost a quarter of a billion seven years ago. This is the single largest group of young people ever making the transition to adulthood in the history of mankind.

But we need to leverage this demographic dividend. “If we fail to harness this demographic dividend not only we will be squandering an opportunity which comes into a nation’s life only once, but we would also be facing a significant risk of this so-called demographic dividend turning into a demographic nightmare,” cautions Jadhav.

The phenomenal expansion of the higher education sector in India had prompted many to boast India having the world’s third largest trained person power. Not anymore, as experts are questioning the adequacy and relevance of the education system. “When you analyse the access, equity and quality of higher education and then weigh it on the employability scale, the picture changes rapidly,” adds Jadhav.

Improving the quality of education is critical to the quality of teachers, their motivation and accountability.

Policy emphasises providing quality secondary school education and access, “but the dropout rates between elementary and secondary schools are exceptionally high; between the secondary and post secondary stages, the dropout rate is unacceptably high,” says Jadhav. This is a particularly serious problem for girls who travel long distances to study in secondary schools.

Secretary, Department of Higher Education, Ashok Thakur says: “India has today the largest higher education system in the world at 25 million enrollments.” He says that when he had joined the ministry way back in 2007, the main focus was on how to increase the numbers from 12 per cent GER – gross enrollment ratio. In six years, that has gone up to 20 per cent. Only last year, the government completed the higher education survey, a very authentic institution-by-institution count, he said. How did that happen? The economy was booming, the budget for higher education increased nine times, unprecedented till now, “and because the economy was pulling up a whole lot of our boys and girls into the system.” He quoted NASSCOM and ASSOCHAM surveys on the employability of these 25 million newcomers as painting “a pretty pathetic figure.” The surveys say that our engineers are not employable. “So in the 12th plan the focus has shifted from opening new institutions to improving the quality of higher education,” adds Thakur.

While we lay stress on central universities and the IITs and things like that, actually 90 per cent of our higher education is in the state universities. And that is 20 years behind the central universities, if not more. Too many of our universities are producing graduates in the wrong kind of subjects – things not required for the changing job market. The quality is dismal in a large number of cases. Jadhav says: “Our higher education policy has to be driven by expansion, equity and excellence. Of these, excellences is the most difficult to achieve. India cannot hope to compete in an increasingly knowledge driven world if our higher education institutions do not come deliver excellence.” Not even one Indian University figures in the latest list of the world’s top 200 universities.

Also, we don’t have a credible accreditation system in higher education and are suffering because of it. But the system is huge- we have more than 700 universities, 35,000 colleges, about 4,000 odd engineering colleges, probably more than that the management schools. The University Grants Commission (UGC) now demands accreditation as necessary and essential. From June onwards, universities that have not applied for accreditation will get no funding. That will prod them into action. On its part, the government is now creating something called the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for this task.

CEO, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), Dilip Chenoy says India needs to invest more than one-third of its GDP to achieve a one per cent growth in employment. But as its labour force grows only at 2.8 per cent every year, India will need all its GDP to create the requisite number of jobs. True, we have the numbers – the demographic advantage. But a new Kotak report says India is increasingly shifting away from labour based output to more capital-intensive output. Four years ago, we learned that by 2022, we would be a nation of 1.2 billion people – nearly three quarters of a billion people in the working age group and 200 million graduates.

Two issues stand out: the vocational education effort has low enrollment and the gap between the world of education and the world of work is widening. But how? Agriculture is the largest employer and more than 80 per cent of India works in the unorganised sector. We urgently need to move from agriculture and organise our workforce.

When the skills policy was announced in 2009, NSDC commissioned studies in 20 high growth sectors to see what potential job opportunities would arise if we grew at the projected rate. That number was 244 million new jobs. In the infrastructure sector, as laid down in the Twelfth Plan, if we need to make a trillion-dollar investment, we need 103 million alone for that sector.

Almost 95 per cent of the skill delivery in the country is coming from the private sector. So, NSDC is urging the private sector to train 150 million people by 2022. The idea is to build the missing links between mainstream vocational education and the private and government sectors; between enterprises and the academic system; and among the youth, its aspirations and the training system. India trained 5.13 million people last year, up from a little more than three million in 2008. The target this year is close to eight million.

Senior Advisor (HRD) to the Planning Commission, C Chandramohan says that although our school going population is 414 million, only half as many are actually going to school. Of those, three-fourths are in primary schools. But a substantial chunk of these school-goers drops out and is injected directly in the labour force. He says nearly 60 per cent of the workforce is in agricultural activity, with very little skill absorption capacity and it depends on 16 per cent of the GDP. That is what explains the rural poverty, he adds. Schools with computers hardly add up to nine per cent of the nearly 850,000 schools. Almost 65 per cent of these are privately owned.

Chairman, Micosoft Corporation (India), Bhaskar Pramanik says the evolution of the user interface, the developing role of the mobile and computing devices, cloud computing and universal access are the four key advances of the last decade. He says his company has invested US$15 billion on cloud computing connected to dark fibre for reduced latency. It has also made substantial investments in teacher training and professional development in India. Under Project Shaksham, it is working with 30 universities, having already trained more than 1,200 professors. Project Shiksha, he says, has trained more than three quarters of a million teachers in K-12, impacting more than 32 million students.

Microsoft has created a consortium partnership with Acer as the device manufacturer. MBD is the largest publisher in the country in K-12 space, Tata DOCOMO as the telecom provider and Microsoft as the technology provider. They have joined hands to create a package deal for institutions. The consortium is bringing in a lot of free tools to the students and faculty. For example, bundling 100 hours of self-learning teacher training programme aimed at improving ICT skills.

Microsoft has also launched a programme, called Partners-in-Learning, for training teachers on ICT skills. It ties up with various state governments and has so far trained almost 750,000 teachers in the last 10 years. The teachers create projects, upload them on a Microsoft website and also participate in regional contest and national contest. Top five or six winners from India are taken to a worldwide forum where they compete with their peers across 119 countries.

MD & CEO, Bombay Stock Exchange, Ashishkumar Chauhan says India needs to create 15 million new jobs every year for meeting the challenges of unemployment - that’s roughly the total population of Australia – for the next 20 years; that is 300 million new jobs by the end of 2034, if it happens. For that, we need to understand the technology trend. “We seem to be creating policies that I call rearview-mirror-based policies. IITians were the Arjunas of modern times, the future will be with Eklavyas. Every individual, whether poor or underprivileged, will learn himself or herself, at his or her own pace, with the mobile or tablet in hand, and for me, that is where the future is.”

The relationship between education and economic development is becoming increasingly more structured at the societal level. “An entire generation of people has grown up, gone to college, started working, evolved and come of age in the last two decades. All this is established as knowledge in the minds of this new generation of youngsters, who understand the close relationship between one and the other. They are arming themselves with education, that will get them jobs and make enterprise possible,” says Jaydeep Mukherjee, Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi.

Education has been the domain of the sizeable Indian middle class, a powerful economic group with modest incomes but a balanced approach to life, says Ajay Gupta, senior consultant at the international consulting firm A T Kearney. Himself from a middle class family and graduate of the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, Gupta says: “The education of the middle class has worked a lot like the classical crystal pulling mechanism. In Chemistry, we were taught that if you immerse a rod of pure crystal in a soup of molten silicon, you could transfer the properties of the crystal into the soup and pull an ingot of pure crystal from it. In many ways, this is what the education of the middle class has achieved for those at the lower income levels. Its way of life and investment in education have inspired the layer of society directly beneath, to emulate the example. As a result, more and more bus drivers, security guards, beat constables, dock workers and even domestic helps are sending their children to school, come what may. Because they have seen the direct and irrefutable relationship between literacy and jobs and education and prosperity.”

Rajen Gupta, professor of organisational behavior, Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon near Delhi, says a lot of this has been possible of determined government effort. Planning and farsightedness were required to set up institutions of excellence like the IITs and the IIMs, and commitment to keep their standards high. An electrical engineer from IIT, Kanpur and MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad, Gupta says: “Everyone cannot study at the IITs and IIMs. It’s not even necessary—we need doctors, architects, designers, pilots, nurses and teachers just as we need engineers and managers. India’s success in the information

technology and business process outsourcing (BPO) boom of the last decade has not been driven by those institutions alone. Actually, the real fuel for this has come from the hundreds, in fact thousands, of state and regional Universities and institutes, privately held colleges and franschised training centres throughout India. In this largely demand-led boom from the western economies, the ready availability of English-speaking software engineers and developers started a nationwide revolution that took IT training and education to the remotest Indian towns. So much so, that BPOs are now shifting to villages in many states, because either they themselves have qualified manpower, or are situated close to urban centres. All this means that India has been busy educating itself, and that will power its next push onto the world economic stage.”

A report, called ‘Emerging Opportunities for Private and Foreign Participants in Higher Education,’ by global consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), says the sector in India is worth ?1.28 trillion (US$ 25 billion). According to CARE Research, an industry ratings and analysis firm, the sector will grow at a CAGR of 11 per cent for the next four years and its revenue will cross ?5.22 trillion (US$102 billion) by 2015.

Each year, nearly 100,000 students go to United States alone, for higher studies. Overall, Indians spend a whopping ?67 billion (US$ 13 billion) every year on higher education abroad, according to a report by IDFC-SSKI, a corporate finance and institutional securities services company.

But it isn’t just India. Early in May, writer, journalist, Time-CNN columnist Fareed Zakaria, echoed the frustration of the general American baby boomer when he wrote in his widely-read Global Public Square column on CNN: “The American system of secondary education and adult training is clearly inadequate in the new global environment. The single biggest force behind falling American rankings on education and skills is not that the United States is doing things much worse, but that other countries have caught up and are doing better. And things show no signs of improving.”

Zakaria was reacting to the recently released Skills Outlook survey of the powerful Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The first such survey of adult skills in the developed world, it maps adults’ proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments.

Obviously, America has fared badly in the survey. Zakaria is mad at the American system of education. Yale-and-Harvard alumnus, Zakaria is sure knows the value of good education.

Surprisingly, singer-songwriter-music legend Paul Simon said it way back in 1973 in his maddeningly popular and insanely accurate song Kodachrome:

When I think back
On all the **** I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me at all
I can read the writing on the wall…
If our policy-makers can’t see the brick from the wall, what writing will they see, where?
Then why blame the aspiring teachers for failing the test? This is our collective failure.

( )

comments powered by Disqus