The Constitution mandated the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children till they attain 14 years of age within 10 years. Launched with great pomp and show, the target of the RTE Act, 2009 still remains elusive. These days media regularly reports on research and surveys that emerge from government, voluntary agencies/NGO, and international bodies. The common denominators include out-of-school children, dropouts, poor learning conditions in most government schools, teacher vacancies and absenteeism, delays in distribution of textbooks and other learning materials. Presently, the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report of UNESCO is under discussion. A disturbing inference indicates that India is 50 years behind on educational goals, which were accepted by 160 countries in 2000 at Dakar, Senegal. These include “quality education—ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Gender equality was also among the 169 goals to be achieved by 2030. The report laments that the target of universal primary education would be achievable only by 2030, which
India had resolved to achieve by 1960. The UN estimates provide another opportunity to consider its main suggestion: India must introduce fundamental changes in its education sector. That means total attitudinal and philosophical transformation along with pragmatic planning of investment.
Begin with an incisive analysis of the field situations: “Over 60 million children in India receive little or no formal education.” It could be much higher. One comes across regular laments on Indian institutions of higher learning not figuring in the global rankings. Latest QS rankings place IISc, Bengaluru, at 152. From the primary education to the institutions at the top, the commonalities must be delineated to visualise an effective change, as a real transformation may appear utopian at this stage.
The toughest challenge is to restore the lost credibility of public-funded institutions, including regulatory bodies, which has reached its nadir. Higher education institutions cannot excel in research and innovations if learner attainments remain poor in schools. Quality and talent nurturance demand a sustained focus on ascertaining the interest of the child from the initial stages. It can be achieved only by competent teachers genuinely interested in teaching and learning. India needs to nurture talent in every sector—sports, music, creative writing, media, films and others.
After talent identification, there should be special schemes, and schools for these children. The rat-race for parent-preferred areas like medical, engineering, software technology and others will then get confined only to those who are really interested in these sectors. That would save lakhs of children from tuitions and coaching in subjects they detest.
The 2013 Economic Census finds education as the third largest sector offering employment to 106 lakh, only behind manufacturing and retail trade. If teacher education institutions could assimilate the import of ‘man-making education’, transformation is achievable. The Radhakrishnan Commission highlighted in 1948-49 that “the most important reform in education is to transform it to endeavour to relate it to life, needs and aspirations of the people and thereby make it a powerful instrument of social, economic and cultural transformation… education should be developed so as to increase productivity, accelerate the process of modernisation and cultivate, social moral and cultural values.”
Ignored for seven decades, can India begin this much-delayed transformation?
The writer is Former director of the NCERT