By Moin Qazi
India’s education sector has grown to enormous proportions. With more than 1.5 million schools—1.1 million of them run by the government—and more than 250 million students, the country’s K-12 school system is one of the largest in the world. India’s education market, currently valued at USD 100 billion, is likely to nearly double to USD 180 billion by 2020. This new development has been sparked by a 30% compound annual growth rate in the online and digital learning market.
Full enrollment is not a panacea
The public school system expanded massively in the 1990s and the first decade of this century. From about 55% enrolment in 1987, India is now achieving near-total enrolment. According to a 2008-2009 report by the Delhi-based Institute for Policy Research Studies (PRS), enrollment in class 10 currently stands at 77%, yet this drops in class 11 to only 52%. Meanwhile, teacher education institutions (TEIs) have mushroomed across the country, but 90% of these are privately-run.
The 2009 Right to Education Act (RTE) was designed to guarantee a good education to all Indian children between the ages of 6 and 14. It requires private schools to reserve at least 25% of their places for disadvantaged children—selected by lottery—and the government must reimburse the schools for the students’ fees.
According to IndiaSpend, between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the number of private schools in India grew 35% from 220,000 in 2010-11 to 300,000 in 2015-16. By contrast, the number of government schools in the same period grew just 1%, from 1.03 million to 1.04 million, while the amount the government spends on education increased by just 0.2% of GDP since 2010. All this, despite the introduction of the 2009 Right to Education Act, according to which all children between the ages of six and fourteen should be provided free and compulsory education.
A large investment boost into educational infrastructure has seen about 3.5 lakh new schools opened in the past decade under the government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme. The policy is a key component of the Right to Education Act. It is aimed at curbing dropout rates in rural areas, reducing stress and ensuring that youths stay in school until age 14. Eight years on and 99% of India’s rural population has a primary school within a one-kilometre radius.
However, while the aim of raising enrolment has been met, school completion rates remain pathetically low, and actual learning outcomes have sharply deteriorated. In particular, the ‘No Detention Policy’—the practice of automatically graduating children through the grades until they reach grade eight, even if their test scores are poor—needs to be revisited, to ensure that it is judiciously implemented.
Standards continue to fall
More Indian children are in school today than ever before, but the quality of public schools has sunk to abysmally low levels, as government schools have become the reserve of children at the very bottom of India’s social ladder. According to the World Development Report 2018 ‘Learning to Realize Education’s Promise’, India ranks second from the bottom after Malawi in a list of 12 countries where some grade two students were found to be unable to read a single word from a short text. India also tops the report’s list of seven countries in which some grade two students could not calculate simple two-digit subtractions.
In all, 53% of school children in India are at least three years behind expected learning levels. According to a 2015 Brookings Institute report on primary education in India, 29% of children drop out before completing five years of primary school, and 43% before finishing upper primary school. High school completion, according to the report, stands at only 42%.
These figures are a serious concern in a country where only 74% of its 1.2 billion inhabitants are literate, making India home to the largest illiterate population in the world. Inefficient teaching methods, such as rote learning, which focuses on memorisation as opposed to critical reasoning, are still widespread at the primary and secondary school level. The rote teaching methodology has demonstrated shortcomings. Studies by the Program for International Students Assessment, an OECD initiative, and Wipro, an Indian consulting firm, found that students at the primary and secondary school level have fallen back in math, science, and reading literacy in recent years.
Developing a new education policy
The National Education Policy (NEP), in place for the past three years, established a committee headed by former Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramanian to draft a new NEP. The report by the Subramanian committee did not mince words about problems with teacher management, “These include teacher shortages, absenteeism, corruption in recruitment and transfers,” it said. “A large number of government schools do not have full-time headmasters/principals. The lack of effective leadership has contributed to indiscipline among teachers leading to declining academic standards.”
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake for the government to rely on the results of dubious rankings and increased admissions to elite schools. The most valuable educators are often those unrecognised teachers who are pioneering unorthodox methods. Despite the government’s underfunding, there is far more diversity within the public system that is often portrayed.
If India is to truly rise as a global economic power, it must focus its efforts on developing its public schools into a world-class education system. Adequate resources, higher standards for teachers and the flushing out of corruption must all be part of a reform package that seeks to make Indian education the nation’s top priority.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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