History offers profound insights on why we are where we are and why we are not where we should be.
In 1966, the National Education Commission chaired by Daulat Singh Kothari suggested that India’s expenditure on education should be increased to 6 per cent of GDP. More than half a century later India continues to aspire to spend 6 per cent of GDP on education. The bitter truth is spelt out in the recently released New Education Policy 2020.
The Kothari Commission Report listed a set of goals — numerical and language literacy, inculcation of social responsibility, vocational training in secondary education, special emphasis on teacher training and quality of teachers and focus on research in higher education — for nation building. The fact that 54 years later India’s New Education Policy should need to list foundational literacy, quality of teaching, equity and inclusion, curtailing dropout rates, vocational education and holistic education is an eloquent testimony on how India’s policies failed children over seven decades.
Comparisons often illustrate successes and failures eloquently. In 1966 when the Kothari Commission submitted its report, India and Indonesia had similar rates of literacy. In 2020, Indonesia boasts of a literacy of 95-plus per cent and India is at 75 per cent. Yes, India has improved enrolment thanks to mid-day meals and access after Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Quantity though is not accompanied by quality.
Such is the rot in the system that India’s youth is caught between lack of employment and poor employability. In mean years of schooling, which is number of completed years of schooling, India fares worse than its BRIC peers Brazil, Russia and China. This factor accounts for lack of competitiveness in many labour intensive sectors and is one of the causes for poor yield in agriculture.
The crux is the state of primary education. For decades since M C Chagla, education has lacked a champion for the cause. Originally a state subject, education was dragged onto the Concurrent List in the seventies triggering a bipolar disorder, divorce of authority and accountability between the Centre and the states.
Money is an issue but money is not the central issue. In the past two decades, India’s expenditure on education, the Centre and states put together, rose from `67,000 crore in 2000 to nearly `6.5 lakh crore in 2019. Yet even as the government has spent more and more, ever more people are choosing to send their children to private schools — between 2014 and 2018, the number of students in government schools dropped by 1.24 crore. In 2019, nearly 48 per cent of children are enrolled in private schools — the reasons range from a yearning for English-medium schools to perceived better outcomes.
NEP 2020 is pious in intent and is informed and influenced by a wide array of research and experiences — not to mention three drafts and through the tenure of three Human Resource Development ministers in six years. The 63-page promissory note to the future of India is eloquent in its promises of what it aims but tentative in its approach and coy about a plan of how!
Hindsight, the cliché has it, is 2020 vision. NEP 2020 promises change but much rests on flailing systems. It assures emphasis on early childhood care and education using a combination of Balvatikas and Anganwadi centres, which is problematic given the state of physical and human infrastructure. In
December 2019, the government informed Parliament that of the 13.77 lakh anganwadi centres, 3.62 lakh do not have toilets and 1.59 lakh do not have drinking water facilities. Anganwadi centres are also understaffed with over 1.75 lakh posts left vacant.
In the classroom, teaching demands the presence of teachers. The new policy assures Anganwadis will be expanded, teacher vacancies will be filled. Data reveals the assurance could well be a triumph of hope over history. In 2014, over eight lakh teacher posts were left vacant by states. In July 2019, the government informed Parliament that over 10 lakh posts of teachers in primary and secondary schools were vacant across states — Bihar and Uttar Pradesh accounting for nearly half the vacancies in primary schools.
The state of affairs in education is really the state of governance. There is no dearth of solutions. The gaps in capacity can be bridged. Creating tutor posts at different levels, allowing for internship/apprenticeship based teaching degree will bridge gaps and spur income/employment. Recast of syllabus load can end the chapter-to-chapter scramble and allow teachers to create room for improving pedagogy. Use of technology from use of QR Code enabled access to online material to web streaming of lessons to app-based learning to simple access to tutors on a stipend on call system can help both teachers and students.
NEP 2020 is a good beginning. However, piety like hope is not a strategy and the aspiration of transformation demands educated outcome plans. There is a need to distil definitions of autonomy and accountability. To end the parade of sub-par outcomes, the Centre and the states must re-design the architecture of delivery — for education and for all public services.
Author of The Gated Republic, Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution, and Accidental India email@example.com