Genuine concern is often being expressed on the low levels of learner attainments in schools and the absence of Indian higher education institutions in global rankings. Informed discourses on education often revolve around the inadequacy of infrastructure support and teaching staff across the spectrum, right from schools to universities and even IITs and IIMs. It is the unconcern for quality that leads to the closure of government schools in several states, and also that of private institutions offering technical and management education. State governments close down their schools, as there are no takers due to loss of credibility and a public perception of irregularity, unconcern and lethargy in their functioning. During the last two decades, parents from very low-income groups, too, try their best to put their wards in a new category of private schools that charge fees that could be extracted from the clientele around. One could find such schools in rural areas, and also in clusters housing say, migrant workers in urban areas. Expectedly, quality remains a casualty. The phenomenon of parental disillusionment with government schools offers a very relevant area of research to educationists and social scientists. Private institutions offering engineering and management degrees and diplomas charge very high fees, but fail qualitatively. Consequently, the products fail to find a place in the job market. While India needs to enhance its participation in higher education, institutions are closing shops in hundreds. Given the situation, one can safely assume the presence of systemic concern and inadequacy of professional readiness to understand and appreciate the import of a decline in the quality of education during a much-hyped ‘golden period of demographic dividend’! The intention here is not to belittle the achievements in expansion of education that have resulted in over 95 per cent enrolments in schools and literacy rates galloping to over 70 per cent. This becomes more laudable when one recalls that after Independence, the population of India has risen from 330 million to around 1280 million. A huge expansion in any sector invariably leads to dilution of quality and that has to be attended to on a priority basis.
Several factors could be delineated as contributors to restore institutional effectiveness. Traditionally, even deficient schools and other institutions have exhibited comprehensive learning effectiveness if they had the right leadership. Those who were in government schools during 1940-60 would still recall their headmasters and the laudable levels of their commitment. The same would apply to the Vice Chancellors of the level and likes of Dr Radhakrishnan, Ramaswami Mudaliar, Ashutosh Mukherjee, Pundit Ganganath Jha and Amarnath Jha. Today, thousands of schools have no regular headmaster; scores of universities may not have regular Vice Chancellors for years. Even major national intuitions remain headless for long durations. A policy makes provisions and lays down sufficient emphasis, but it is the commitment at the level of implementation that makes or mars it. In the early ’90s, Operation Blackboard was launched and around 1.30 lakh single-teacher primary schools were supported through Central government assistance to appoint a second teacher. States were requested to appoint at least one woman teacher in every school, and designate one of the two as headmaster. Over the past 25 years, this seemingly small recommendation—to ensure dignity and requisite social recognition—could’ve made a big difference, if implemented sincerely. One must search for ‘rays of hope’, like the impact of increased availability of separate toilets for boys and girls under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan leading to a hike in school attendance by 11 per cent. It is a big achievement, as around one-fourth of the girls drop out once they reach puberty. Everyone knew it, but no one cared to find a solution. One leadership initiative could make a big dent in one year. It gives sufficient grounds to envision that leadership in institutions, too, can overcome impediments and significantly enhance quality in learner attainments. firstname.lastname@example.org
Rajput is a former director of the NCERT