Primary school enrolments in India dropped by 2.6million in the past few years, according to government data. This is a disturbing statistic. Did a column on the possible reasons. The TOI link is here.
As always, comments are welcome and do read other people’s comments, as one column alone cannot cover all aspects and I might have missed something. If you like someone’s comment you can praise them too!
We don’t need no education?
Recent HRD ministry statistics show a significant decline in national primary school enrolments. Given Indian demographics, where the number of children is increasing every year, the results are even more shocking. This is despite all the noise about right to education for every Indian. While we may choose to forget this statistic for the next sensational news item, this is an extremely disturbing development.
If India’s population is not trained to face the globalised world – and primary education is the first step in that training – we will become a nation of servants and clerks. Given our highly educated, ex-educationist prime minister is of late more interested in covering up scams than education, it doesn’t seem likely that our top leadership cares. Still, if enough citizens care, maybe politicians will take notice. It is with this hope that i try to analyse the possible reasons for this decline, what will happen if we don’t address it and what we can do to actually fix it.
There are five main reasons why enrolment could have dropped. One, the most obvious reason is that the schools are terrible. If you ever visit a village school, you will realise how everything is low quality, from the classrooms to the desks to the quality of teachers. Why? Don’t villagers deserve good schools for their children? One may say the schools are subsidised so quality cannot be there. Well, maybe we need to spend more money then. Maybe we need more private partners. Maybe we need to redesign the traditional model of a school, perhaps using technology to impart learning. The education may be at the primary level, but it still needs to be high quality. Low quality education is not really education at all.
Two, the curriculum in our schools is obsolete. How much has the professional world changed in the last 30 years? How much has our curriculum changed? Who sets our curriculum? Do they revise it from time to time keeping in mind the needs of industry and the services sector? One big reason poor people send their kids to school is that they will learn skills to make more money. If schools don’t give them those skills, why will they bother? Advanced concepts like education to satisfy curiosity, or learning for learning’s sake, do not apply to people with no money. A hungry person does not watch Discovery channel. Surveys show a person with decent English language skills can increase earning power by 400%. Why don’t we teach our poor people English? Why do government schools start teaching it so late?
Three, the massive inflation rate has made life extremely difficult for people with low incomes. Every pair of hands on the fields is now more valuable than sending a child to a substandard school for several years, the benefits of which are unclear.
Four, there isn’t enough money being put into education, to make more schools or improve existing ones. Tax collections have seen high double-digit growth rates for several years now. However, much of taxpayers’ money is used to fund scams and mass bribery type subsidies or to pay interest (often on borrowings made to fund past budget extravagances). If 2G auctions were done properly, or the Commonwealth Games didn’t waste so much money, we could have had a lot more schools. If instead of NREGA we provided villagers the right skills to modernise, enhance farm income and increase job eligibility, maybe we would generate wealth rather than burn it.
Five, a controversial, sinister reason: the hidden benefits of illiteracy to politicians. Illiterate people are useful when it comes to maintaining vote banks and keeping scam parties going. If everyone were well-educated, would the government get away with so many scams? Even today, our PM’s biggest defence is: ‘People vote for us, hence our actions are justified’. The DMK still has a solid support base in Tamil Nadu. If every Indian really understood what happened, could the loot continue? So while there may not be a deliberate strategy to keep people illiterate, there is no burning passion or political incentive to make India educated either. And politicians only work on incentives, not on the goodness of their hearts.
This problem won’t go away. It will get worse. If today millions aren’t being educated well, how will they get proper jobs tomorrow? Won’t the education crisis translate into a far scarier job crisis in a few years? Or are we happy for our kids to be poor forever?
This can be fixed. Primary education has to be so vast in scale and scope as to be seen as a utility – such as power or telecom. The most modern techniques, thinking, strategy and execution are needed on a massive scale to educate our people. Ideally, just as with a few power utilities, the effort should be privatised, maybe on a semi-subsidised basis. In any case, if the education is worth it, people pay for it.
Course materials have to be brutally revamped to make them in sync with the modern world. Rural schools need net connectivity, even more than big city ones. These are things we should demand from the leaders of our country. They don’t seem to care much. But we, the citizens, have to be the strict teachers who tell our leaders that they have a lot of homework to do.