The complexities inherent within the Indian education system often appear too complex for precise comprehension. Currently, the clamour for quality has been accentuated prominently as none of India’s universities or higher professional institutions figure in the list of the global top 200. Why do our prestigious institutions lag behind? Is it ignorance, lack of vision, inadequacy of resources or the work culture?
Our young people made a great mark in NASA and Silicon Valley. Why can’t our academics and scholars raise the levels of institutions like Delhi University (DU), JNU, IITs, IIMs and the like? These are the favourite few that suffer no financial crunch, get enough opportunities for international interaction and are not restricted in launching research projects and innovations. The best of academics and scholars wish to work there. A select few, ‘who think alike’, from among these usually dominate government committees and commissions that advise and formulate policies and programmes. It hurts when one finds these institutions wasting energy and talent in frivolities.
DU was in the limelight for the conflict between academics and the Vice-Chancellor on the introduction of the four-year programme. JNU students were wasting talent in organising a Beef Mela. The way politicians manage the students’ union elections sets the example for the country.
In such a climate, where is the time for deliberations on quality?
In higher professional institutions, the situation has been allowed to deteriorate over the last decade. It is estimated that IITs working at 40 per cent staff shortage may take another 10 years to come to a normal teacher student ratio. It would be too naïve to expect IIT-Roorkee, with 360 vacancies out of the 753 sanctioned academic positions and performing their assigned tasks with a staff student ratio of 1:20 instead of the stipulated 1:10, to achieve miracles in quality improvement of its products or conduct high level research and innovation.
The other factor that has led to quality deterioration is the failure of national-level regulatory bodies which have permitted mushrooming of institutions awarding MBA, engineering and teacher education degrees. This could be ascribed to poor appreciation of ‘autonomy’ in the MHRD coupled with blatant political interference. It is the MHRD that selects and makes appointments to the top positions in most of the regulatory bodies. When politics dominates considerations of merit, institutions suffer.
The quality of higher education is linked to the quality of school education. The talent pool is widened when the school pays sufficient attention to the learning preferences and interests of the learner, augments these and provides avenues to upgrade them. Most schools suffer chronic teacher shortage, and the presence of under-qualified and even untrained para-teachers. It is futile to expect them to pay attention to individual preferences in learning or provide remedial learning. The concept of continuous and comprehensive evaluation, trumpeted by Kapil Sibal, becomes a farce when one teacher has to handle a class of 50-100 students.
Most government schools in rural and remote areas suffer from this malaise. For decades, the system has ignored the criticality of teacher’s presence at every stage of learning. The prime requirement is to prepare competent and willing-to-perform teachers. The education system could not evolve a foolproof method of teacher recruitment. It became a playfield for politicians. One former chief minister is in jail because of the fraud committed in teacher recruitment.
The Teacher Eligibility Test, apart from poor results, is now known for scandals. The environment for quality improvement is certainly depressing and requires Herculean efforts to cleanse it.
A massive recruitment drive for school teachers, and also in higher education, followed by intensive in-service orientation, is the key reform. Every educational institution deserves its head on sole considerations of merit. Will politicians agree, and allow?