Reboot Indian Primary Education

There needs to be a fundamental shift in our thought process that guides educational reforms

Published: 11th March 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th March 2014 09:04 AM   |  A+A-

The election announcement for the 16th Lok Sabha empowers the Election Commission (EC) to monitor the activities of the caretaker government. This is to ensure that no new policies in the immediate interest of public good are announced to gain electoral advantage. The EC’s job is made easy as far as education policies are concerned with the MHRD lacking any good policy decision and also in the name of policy making the education system is saved from victimization for the next 2 months. However, it doesn’t guarantee that the new government (whichever formation it is) is going to cruise the education-ship through troubled waters. The problem of Indian education cannot be fixed through Band-Aid policy making. It needs a Multiple Organ Transplant.

Education reforms in independent India could not produce the type of pre-independent thinkers or scientists like Sir C.V.Raman, Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Tagore, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, etc. It is unfortunate that products of an imported educational system in post-independent India are still dwarfs before such intellectual giants. Is our system of education incapable of producing such great visionaries despite the western packaging it has? The answer is simple: The process is more important than the packaging. The ‘modernised’ policy wrapper ignores the dysfunctional realities at all levels of education – K to 12 to Ph.D. and this explains why despite the plan grants for education (which is less than global comparable average) and budgetary provisions, the outcome is pathetic at all levels.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in our thought process that guides educational reforms. Reforms cannot happen over trips to USA, Australia, Europe, etc. by bureaucrats and ministry officials who are only passengers alighting at their next destination. Reforms cannot happen during conclaves and summits in which the sounds of the clinking crockery drown the sound of twinkling thoughts. Reforms cannot happen by rules and policies on paper. Reforms can happen only if there is a strong change agent which has a positive force-multiplier effect. The first such force multiplier is to understand that the hysteric theatrics surrounding the ‘RTE noise’ is only an academic renaissance and not an achievement to celebrate with ecstasy. After all, India’s historical educational attainment record is its pride.

On October 30, 1931, Mahatma Gandhi delivered a historic speech at the Cheetham Hall in London praising the Gurukula system of Indian education and how it stood like a Beautiful Tree. He explained how the British administration rooted out the educational system of India and ensured that “The Beautiful Indian Educational Tree” was crushed by the imperial might of the British government. Gandhiji (Mahatma) charged the British establishment for decaying indigenous Indian education that India became more illiterate when compared to the literacy rates fifty to hundred years back. Gandhian scholar and eminent historian, Dharam Pal was deeply influenced that he named his seminal book, “The Beautiful Tree.”

 It is in this book, Dharam Pal shared the findings of his masterly research that opened many eyes to the glorious past of India’s education and literacy, a past that today’s youth and the carless policy makers need to understand. The book reproduces the findings of the numerous survey reports conducted by the British in the Bengal, Punjab and Madras Presidencies during 1800 to 1830 to understand the state of Indian education.  The depth of this study makes it an academic census than a survey. They touched many points: number of schools, mode of instruction, curriculum, text-books, hours of coaching, tuition fees, financial support and also contained information regarding the state of female education, caste-composition of the scholars and the teachers and also their religious and linguistic affiliations. Dharam Pal records that, these reports, besides throwing light on the educational state of the period became a mine of information on many sociological facts.

Some of the findings of the reports were indigestible truth for the British. The total number of literates was more in proportion in Indian than in Britain. The content and method of Indian education was far superior when compared to the British education system. The education system was inherently inclusive to include learners from all sections of the society.  The literacy rates were considered high accomplishments by the Indian education system. The quality of teaching and life of the teachers were impeccable that they were role models and known for their simplicity.

The Madras influence in Britain is tellingly visible through the works of Andrew Bell who studied the Madras System of Education and took it back to bring about a revolutionary change in teaching methods in the schools of Britain during the early 1800s. His work was permanently rewarded with a tomb in Westminster Abbey reading “The Author of the Madras System of Education.”

There are many historical examples of India’s rich contribution to the occidental world which unfortunately is not factored even accidentally by our policy makers. The school education needs to undergo a major reform process recognising our indigenous strengths. Theatrics like the nationwide RTE roll out, unquestionable government school system, abysmally low student turnout (enrolment is different), poor teacher attendance, etc. are bad news. The good news is that these can be redressed.

In Nani Palkhivala’s words, “we try to solve century-old problems with 5-year plans, 3-year officials and one-year budgets and still hope that the problems will be solved as we are all Indians.” We need an educationist’s long vision and not policy maker’s short mission. Between the long and the short lies the future of India and in the process, the world.

Indian Overseas Bank Chair Professor of Management & Adjunct Professor, School of Law Dean - Planning & Development, SASTRA University

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