Monday, March 1, 2021

Declining standards

Since last few decades, India in general, and our State in particular, have made tremendous progress in increasing child literacy rates, thanks to many policy initiatives like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, etc. However, this rapid growth in mass literacy has led to the general decline in educational standards as a second order consequence. What we witness today is a three tier educational system: first private schools that cater to the children of the economic and political elite, second private schools for the middle class, and third, public schools for the rest. Therefore, in essence we are in the process of creating a society highly segmented in their attitude toward education and towards their social responsibilities. For the elite, education symbolizes wealth and power; for the rest education is a means of obtaining stable employment, primarily in the public sector. In the whole process, the very idea of education as a civilizing force has receded to the background. Instead two major developments have taken place. First, the focus of education has shifted from developing knowledge absorptive capacity to obtaining qualifications necessary for obtaining stable employment. Second, instead of developing hard skills to enhance competitive capabilities, the tendency is to acquire job specific soft skills which are not portable. These developments, together with tremendous developments in new technologies, make past irrelevant. However, policy making continues to reside with educationists who are, if not three, two generations behind. Fact remains that the budgetary allocations to primary and secondary education has not kept up with the increase in enrolments. As a consequence, the public school system, particularly in the rural sector, has become a major victim of underfunding. The overall degradation of education as a means of civilization building is not something new as the modern education in India has from the very beginning remained subservient to vested and self serving ideologies rather than being allowed to encourage innovation and creativity. More than a century ago India was thrusted Lord Macaulay’s dictum and produced officers and clerks to serve the British global interests. During the past century we experimented with Marxist/socialist, nationalistic and in recent past fanatic/extremist ideas. In the knowledge economy all the systems are anachronistic. Privatization of education has compounded the problem, the intent of school education as civilizational force has lost ground to private profits. There is growing concern that rapid growth of educational institutions and privatization has put tremendous pressure on human resource development. New technologies can aid the learning process but in wrong hands they can damage the educational process. How can one increase teacher involvement in the learning process and induct technologies to increase teacher preparations and delivery is a matter of important concern. Philanthropic and religious institutions have been a dominant force in private educational system, however, entry of corporate and profit making institutions in school education is a recent phenomenon. The role that these institutions are playing is an issue of significant import to other stakeholders including the State and requires attention. While parents and teachers in the west are actively engaged in discussion and debate on the decline in educational standards, here the core stakeholders, students, parents, teachers and the managers of the educational institutions remain on the fringe of the debate. Today there is a need for fresh initiative in the State’s educational set up. We need to seriously ponder on the present state of affairs in light of the above lacunae to evolve a new paradigm so that learning becomes an endeavor of creativity and social progress rather than a tool of social fragmentation and a source of hatred and negativity. Reforms at higher level of education, though overdue, cannot sustain unless a new beginning is made at primary and secondary level. In the end we need to remember that education is not simply another branch of governance like power, healthcare, public works and agriculture where we can encourage innovation and privatization to improve the quality standards. Education needs to be taken with special care in order to let it serve as a progressive civilizational force.