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The Supply Side Problem of Indian Education

विद्यां ददाति विनयं, विनयाद् याति पात्रताम् । पात्रत्वात् धनमाप्नोति, धनात् धर्मं ततः सुखम् ॥

Ancient Indian education aimed at the holistic development of individuals – bestowing knowledge, skills, humility, suitability, religiousness, and happiness. India has been home to world-class institutions such as Takshashila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Vallabhi, which set the highest standards of multidisciplinary teaching and research attracting students from around the world. However, after their destruction by invaders, Indian education fell into the hands of regressive rulers and India could not catch up with the European Renaissance. The present system of education was introduced by the British to ‘create a class of public servants’ as envisaged in Charles Wood’s Despatch of 1854.

Despite various Commissions and education policies put in place in the last 75 years, our education system is still unable to shed the British legacy. Even after a hundred years of GK Gokhale’s bill, India is yet to achieve universal elementary education. India’s literacy rate as of 2022 is 77.7% - far below its neighbour Sri Lanka or other BRICS countries. The current GER for classes 11th-12th is 56.6%, indicating a substantial number of dropouts after completing elementary and secondary education. All these point out a host of supply-side problems in the Indian Education system.

Poor Curriculum sans Creativity: Poor curriculum and little choice of subjects make school education uninteresting. The text-heavy, exam-centric, theoretical curriculum emphasizes rote learning rather than critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Everyone is expected to excel in the same subjects. On the other hand, the most important life skills such as fitness, first aid, self-defence, survival skills, personal finance, public speaking, etc. are not taught at all. Indian education lacks creativity, as it produces job-seekers rather than job-creators. This is why India ranks 40 out of 132 countries in the WIPO Global Innovation Index.

Poor Infrastructure: Of the 14 lakh schools, almost 85% are rural. In numerous cases, students have to travel long distances to attend school. Numerous schools have only one or two rooms. Most lack infrastructure such as benches, playgrounds, laboratories, or toilets. Sometimes, with the poor density of educational institutions, transportation is a huge challenge, and lack of connectivity often results in poor enrollment and early dropouts. Over 40% of schools don’t have electricity connections and playgrounds. 70% govt. schools don’t have laboratories. 31% govt. schools don’t have a dedicated library. The Covid-19-induced school closures severely hampered the teaching-learning process. This offered a good opportunity to upgrade the digital infrastructure of our schools to enable remote learning. However, during 2020-2022, the Assam government spent over ₹ 500 crores to give scooters to girl students who got first division in the +2 examination. Priorities do matter!

Lack of Qualified Teachers: The shortage of qualified teachers is a serious supply-side problem. According to UNESCO’s State of the Education Report 2021, nearly 1.2 lakh schools are running on one teacher. Although overall PTR is 26:1, in Secondary and Senior Secondary levels, it is 43:1 and 47:1 respectively. There is a shortage of 1.1 million teachers. Around 45 percent of teaching positions in higher education are vacant. The average salary of private school teachers in India is ₹13,564 per month, with rural private school teachers earning ₹11,584, as compared to ₹35,370 per month for Govt. teachers. Most govt. School teachers are assigned non-academic tasks such as census, election work, preparing mid-day meals, etc. This negatively impacts teaching.

Shortage of Seats: There is a shortage of seats for quality higher education. Therefore, getting admission into the top institutes like IITs, IIMs, BHU, Delhi University, JNU, etc. becomes highly competitive forcing lakhs of students to study abroad. As of 2022, over 770,000 Indian students are studying abroad causing an outflow of more than ₹50,000 crores annually and a brain drain forever.

Gender Discrimination: The availability of safe, accessible, gender-sensitive schools, sufficient support from families, and employment possibilities for women – all are supply-side problems in educating girls. In India, compared to 82% of men, only 66% of women are literate. About 40% of adolescent girls in the age group of 15-18 years are not attending school, and 23% of girls drop out of school upon reaching puberty, as there are no proper toilets and schools are considered unsafe. For parents, girls’ education is on lower priority compared to boys, as they are considered ‘paraya dhan’.

Slow Reforms & Improper Implementation: In the last 75 years, we have seen three education policies – 1968, 1986, and 2020 and a number of education commissions. All these are incremental reforms, not ground-breaking. They are not able to break free from the British legacy. But more importantly, their implementation is very poor. For example, the Work Experience Programme (WEP) recommended by the Kothari Commission was implemented so badly that in Assam, parents used to buy some handicraft items from the market to be submitted at the school on behalf of students. Similarly, the School Bag Policy 2020 is rarely followed by private schools, as students have to carry all the books to school, as there are 8-9 periods daily. On the other hand, so many periods adversely impact learning, which, ironically is being ignored by the academic community. It will be interesting to see, how the ‘no bag day’ of the NEP 2020 turns out to be in reality.

Absence of an Indian Education Service: Education, which was a state subject till 1976 is now a subject of concurrent list. Therefore, there are numerous rules regulations and policies followed all over India. Considering the gravity of the matter, the ‘National Policy on Education 1986’ and its ‘Programme of Action 1992’ emphasised the need for a strong educational management structure in order to make the system efficient and effective. However, we still don’t have an Indian Education Service, similar to the IAS and IPS.

Shortage of Fund: India’s present education expenditure is 3.3% of GDP, which is quite less than the world average of 4.4%. Our R&D expenditure has, in fact, declined from 0.8% of GDP in 2008–09 to 0.7% in 2017-18, less than other BRICS countries. By 2030, India will need 1500 additional universities to accommodate the 140 million strong college students. While the NEP 2020 targets doubling enrolment in higher education and increasing education expenditure to 6%, it is silent on the details. India ranked a lowly 97 out of 154 countries in the UNDP’s Global Knowledge Index 2021. This is, as we have seen from the above analysis, due to the fact that education has remained one of the last options for us – the government, the parents the academic stakeholders.

As India envisions being among the top 3 countries by 2047, it will need to transform itself into a knowledge economy. The most important driver in this process will be education. For that, education has to be made accessible, affordable, experiential, and rewarding. Therefore, to realize this dream, the coming decades will demand all the stakeholders to make education the first priority, not the last.

About this article                                                 
Dilip Hazarika's thought-provoking article, 'The Supply Side Problem of Indian Education - The system can't truly deliver if teaching remains the last option for us,' has achieved the prestigious distinction of being among the 'Honourary Mentions' in a national-level article writing competition on the occasion of National Teacher's Day. In this compelling piece, Hazarika sheds light on the formidable challenges confronting the Indian education system, offering insights that demand our attention and action.

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