The Future of Education in India
July 15, 2008
Two pieces on education I read this morning inspired this post. The first one by Reuters features how technology is reshaping America’s classrooms, a big deal in itself and a dream if one were to hang onto every word in there. The second, an editorial piece in today’s Times, aptly titled “Igniting Minds” is a stark opposite focusing on what’s crippling Indian education which gets further ugly when backed by statistics of how many of India’s under-25 population go onto complete their 12th Std.
The East-West Divide
The Reuters piece sang praises of how introduction of Apple’s Mac Laptops in classrooms for everyday class and home work in 7th and 8th grades is transforming education eliminating the need for textbooks and excuses of not completing homework. The point that caught my eye was the increase in percentage of daily attendance. On some levels, this is equivalent to the introduction of mid-day meals at all Primary schools across India which was a good incentive for kids to attend school. Laptops and other technology driven classrooms is a far-fetched cry in India. When the basic needs such as a full stomach is not met, it is irrational to expect children to attend school.
The case cited by the Reuters article is not a widespread practice in America just as it would be foolish to conclude that there are no schools in India which are equipped with such facilities and much more - only that they are meant for the few privileged. The facilities in schools abroad, their approach to education are literally worlds apart to what we have at home. Education is the most debated topic and will continue to be one for many years to come with little done about it. If only our policy makers pay some attention to reforming the highly skewed system and aim at 75% of children completing their secondary education, imagine how powerful India will be. To begin with quantity for rural India and quality for urban India is a realistic dream to dream of.
If one were to go by the statistics, then in a country with roughly half the population under the age of 25, it is claimed that only 40% go on to make it to class 12. It is scary to think that for every child who can read and write, we have one who cannot. There are so many instances that we see in our everyday lives. The daughter of my maid has never seen a school in her life; she is nine and brought by her mother everyday to do household work. As a policy, I do not allow kids for household work at my place and have tried explaining to the kid that is necessary to be educated. The other siblings of the kid attend school, this kid is just not interested in studying. The options for finding ‘office’ employment for such kids when they grew up are minimal. Every place - be it a mall, or supermarket require one to have completed 12th Std and be conversant in the local language and English.
One evening last week, our electrician had a request - if we had some connections to get his children admitted into the most popular and most expensive convent school of the locality. Surprisingly, money is not a deterrent. It’s an investment and passport to a better life. He aspires for his kids to be conversant in good English. Ironic that speaking good English can land one in decent jobs in this country. Just so you know, the line to collect application forms in the mentioned school start at 7:00 p.m. the previous evening. Yes, parents spend the whole night there - for KG admissions. Ridiculous. There are far too many people in this country that makes me think if it’s a right decision to stay on here.
On the other hand, there are some parents who want their kids to make it big too soon or in a parent’s words have a career as early in life as possible promote their kids’ participation in reality shows. As if the stress in schools wasn’t good enough, there is this high drama now. To quote a reality show’s creative director,”We treat our kids with maturity. For example, we don’t cancel a shoot that goes on till 2 am just because we are shooting with kids.” It’s high time someone got him medical help for restoring his sanity. Can’t blame the parents too. 90% is the new 60%. Unfortunately even 90% is not good enough to secure a seat in a good college leaving the kids only more depressed and stressed.
The quota system makes it far worse for the so-called upper castes who are now a minority. With increased competition, parents exert more pressure to get into good colleges. A pity there’s only so much kids can do. When a 50% is ok for other castes, even 90% is not good enough for others.
Scarcity of good schools and colleges
What bothers me is the quality of education in urban India - how much is taught and how little learned. For many, investing in education for their kids is a long term investment, the fruits of which are not borne before 22 years. Last evening during my customary evening walk, I overheard aloud conversation between an aunty and a girl. When asked what the girl was upto, she replied, “MBA kar rahi hoon aunty. College agle sector mein hain.”Let alone the reputation of the college, I wonder what value the degree brings. Some states in India boast of either an Engineering college or a Management Institute in every lane.It’s an open secret that unless one graduates from one of the top institutes, chances of landing in a decent job are bleak. Some enter the colleges paying such a hefty bribe that it will take years to get returns on their investment. It only gets worse year after year. Today’ Economic Times boasts of demands for CAT forms jumping 3 fold this year. No end to this rat race.
The contribution of our schools in the all-round development of a child as a good human being is dismal. It impacts our later lives in more ways than we acknowledge. The seeds of our loneliness later in life are sown much earlier. The current education system does not encourage a child to pursue his/hew own hobby. It’s only when they get a break from their hectic schedule of completing tons of homework will they have the energy to go have some fun and play. I guess it’s far worse in cities than in small towns like the one I grew up in. It’s but a hoard thing to enroll one’s child in a skating class or dance class because your friends’ kids go-to one. And, if the school has a competition then there’s no way your child can miss it whether or not she has interest in it. As retired people, the only pursuits one is left with is in a temple or getting involved in some kind of social activity.
With the peer and parental pressure and stress that a kid is subjected to, all I know is it’s not a child’s play being a child in today’s times.
Filed Under Education