Enhancing Quality and Equality in Education
"Education is not only a means to an end but is an end in itself."
In today’s world where the social narrative in centered around Economic Growth, the importance of education has been reduced to the level of a tool whose only purpose is to help in improving the economic growth of the country. Education however is not only a means to an end (of achieving growth) but is an end in itself. Education is extremely important in changing social perceptions so as to make the society more egalitarian and also in increasing the quality of life of an individual. An educated man is free of societal dogmas such as caste hierarchy, gender roles etc. He is also able to enjoy a better quality of life by being able to participate in the society. Thus it is high time that a more holistic view of education is taken by the policymakers of our country. In this article I am going to discuss two such important aspects of education that need to be revisited by policymakers in our country – quality and equality.
The education system of India has not been able to shake off the influence of the colonial education system. The main purpose of the education system introduced in India by the British under Lord Macaulay was to create a class of people who understand British Language and customs so as to be able to help the British in Administrative work in India. The purpose of education was not to create thinkers, scientists, doctors etc but to ensure that the people are capable enough to help the British run the country. The system was deliberately designed in a way to make the people subservient to the ruling power so as to ensure that education does not encourage free thinking and an attitude to question the British. The remnants of this policy have survived more than 60 years after Independence. Even today our education system is geared towards rote learning and teaching kids to follow and not to lead. A very simple example of such tendencies in our education system is the idea of asking school students to write official communications such as a Formal letter, Notice etc. Schools should not be to spending a couple of years at least in trying to teach students how to write an official communication whose main purpose at the end of the day is to assist in administrative work. Another area of focus should be skill development. Indian schools teach their students how to write answers to questions from their curriculum but do not teach them basic skills that can be very helpful in improving their productivity in life. Most students in India after years of education are still not proficient with computers, something which essential to function properly in today’s world. The focus on higher education also is on creating more degree holders as opposed to providing useful skills to the maximum number of people. The collective imagination of the country has been hijacked by the Information Technology dream. However what the policymakers are failing to notice is that Information Technology is a service sector industry and thus cannot provide employment to the huge population of our country. Therefore the need of the hour is to make our manufacturing labor force more competitive and to provide specific skill training. The government should thus focus on promoting Industrial Training Institutes rather than focusing all it’s energy on opening new management and engineering colleges. The other aspect that has to be looked at is the quality of teachers and the physical infrastructure that is available in schools and colleges throughout the country. Teaching has become the profession of last resort for most people. This perception of teachers has to be changed so as to encourage the brightest minds of the country to enter into this field.
Despite the efforts of the UPA government to make education accessible to every child by making Right to Education a fundamental right there are still difficulties that are faced by various sections of the society in obtaining education. The most neglected section however is that of women. The government needs to not only include women under the ambit of their affirmative policy programs but also has to ensure that the environment in colleges, universities and schools is made more conducive to women. As far as students belonging to backward classes are concerned even though they do get reservations in colleges the access to primary education system is still abysmal. Thus reservations become meaningless for them as a large majority of them are unable to get good quality primary and secondary education.
Another worrying trend is the growing inequality in the quality of education offered by private educational institutions vis a vis government run educational institutions. The government has been trying to encourage the growth of private educational institutions for quite some time now. The fees charged by such institutes ensure that only a very few proportion of the society can access them. There has to be a rethink of this policy. The government should follow policies of western nations where governmental educational institutes are the norm and private educational institutions are an exception. The ultimate goal should be to provide world class education in every government institute so as to make education accessible to all.
One of the most important questions that should be asked of any political party is their road map for education reform in India. The government in power should build upon the work that has been done by the UPA government in improving accessibility and quality of education. Education will not only help the country in realizing its full potential but would also ensure that people of this country can participate in society and lead a more complete life.
By Winner of ‘Enhancing Quality and Equality in Education, Shobith Nanda, a Student of Campus Law Centre, Delhi University.