Equality of access and success in education emerged as the most professed objective of the developing countries. In India, Mahatma Gandhi devoted time and energy to evolve a model of education that would suit its people. He completed his initial education from a school which was open to children from every strata of society. His sojourn to the UK made him realise the importance of universalisation of education, which reflected in the Hind Swaraj in 1909. He not only conceptualised basic education, later buniyadi talim, but also put it to practice. After Independence, India ignored his approach and persisted with the transplanted alien system designed for a few. Expectedly, it collapsed when extended to all.
So it’s amazing when comparisons are made with countries like Finland or desires are expressed to borrow their system. Indian practices such as teacher absenteeism or proxy teachers would appear unbelievable to teachers in Finland. They would be shocked to know that teacher-taught ratio could be 1:100 or more in thousand of schools here, and that around a million para teachers work on a pittance of an honorarium. They may never have heard of degrees, particularly of teacher education, being purchased. The average teacher-taught ratio in India was 40.6 in 1971 as against 16.2 in Finland. While it stood at 13.2 in 2013 in Finland, it was 42.9 in 2011 in India.
Finland is proud of its teacher preparedness, which is scientific and exhaustive, with provisions for renewal and updating of the content and pedagogy. Finnish society treats its teachers on par with medical and technical professions. Admission procedures to teacher education institutions are rigorous and selective.
Is it possible to talk of Finland without realising that India ranks 143 as against No. 6 of Finland in the first annual assessment of sustainable development goals on health performance report released recently? There are other hidden but universally known elements as well that have contributed to the decline of quality in the Indian education system. Is India proud of its teacher preparation institutions? One is not aware of any intensive reform programme to alter the quality of teacher preparation and ensure that it is no more a last resort to the disinterested.
India participated in the multi-country Programme of International School Assessment, a survey to compare learning achievements launched around 2002. It was placed at 72 in a total ranking of 73 countries. India withdrew participation in the next phase. In the 2012 rankings Finland is placed best in Europe. Every school there is open to every child, no eclecticism. Hence, they get full support from the state and the parents and community. There are no schools without drinking water or functional toilets. Electricity is not disconnected because of non-payment of dues. Schools there also provide affiliated services such as daily meals, health care, psychological counselling, facilities for sports and games. Children in India who require additional learning support are ignored, often leading them to drop out. Finland provides extra teachers for such children.
But there is a way out. Instead of Finland study tours, study the philosophies of Swami Dayananda, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, B R Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule, Gurudev Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi et al. Tangible alternatives would emerge, which should be implemented with integrity. Gandhiji succeeded because he heeded the advice of great Gopal Krishna Gokhale to understand India. Others too can if they strive to understand India and Indians.
J S Rajput
Former director of the NCERT