Concerned citizens and academics, deeply worried about the visible decline in the quality of education, are awaiting radical changes in education policies and practices. They are eager to learn how the brazen commercialisation shall be checked, when the state-run schools shall get inputs stipulated in the RTE Act, and when these schools will have the right teacher: taught ratio. Expectations are indeed high and so are the challenges before those assigned the task to finalise the policy and its implementation.
India cannot expect to find an honourable place in the global ranking of universities so long its 65-70 per cent elementary schools remain deficient in basic needs of infrastructure and trained teachers. While the learner attainments in government schools are often lamented upon, several significant points that must be discussed often get ignored. Can any nation improve its standing in research and innovations if it continues to leave the majority of its schools in a state of neglect and deprivation?
Sharp decline in the quality of higher education is invariably attributed to the ‘disastrous role’ of the Academic Performance Indicator (API). It is a ‘mechanical’ tool that gives equal weightage to items like attendance in a national seminar, presentation of a paper, publication of a paper in a refereed journal, and the like. The consequences are now before one and all: the number of national seminars has gone up, several hundred online journals that claim to be peer-reviewed have sprung up, and a huge number of books are coming out after such seminars. A good research paper published in a reputed journal that is internationally known for its reviewing standards is just as good as another published after paying a handsome amount to the publisher of a newly emerged refereed journal. A paper presented in a conference organized by, say, TIFR or BARC of IIPA, earns equal marks with another organised by a private college established by an alert politician or a businessman who has learnt the finer details of how to turn black money into real estate business of the education industry. API makes one ‘eligible’ for the interview. Another gem: an associate professor who becomes eligible for a full professorship after three years is permitted to talk only about ‘what he did during those three years, nothing before and no vision on future matters. Can one think of a more mechanical approach to academic selections? One wonders when the breeze of fresh air shall take young academics out of this suffocating environment that prefers their attending frivolous seminars instead of concentrating on their research and innovations in libraries, laboratories and intensive discussions among peers.
Indian academia seeks quality Westwards. What better alternative than to send academics from national institutes to the US to learn evaluation in elementary schools. Our governments have done so in recent years, without caring how demoralising it would be for the indigenous systems as a whole. Our academic policy decisions are taken by the bureaucrats. Towards this, there is always a supportive report prepared by the pliable academics that prefer to be near Shastri Bhawan than in their institutions. The expectation is that all this would change. There is an illustrative anecdote that could enlighten the framers of the new education policy. David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emersion were the alumni of the Harvard University. Once, while recalling their alma mater, Emerson said the university now has all the branches of knowledge needed to embark upon a comprehesive quest for more and more knowledge. Thoreau is believed to have commented, “Branches are fine, but where are the roots?” This is the challenge before Indian institutions and policymakers. Can they evolve an education system that has its roots deep in the soil of India and is strongly committed to progress?
Rajput is a former director of the NCERT