Education system in distress

Monday, 10 September 2018 | JS Rajput–

India’s educational sector is heavily polluted. There is a need to revitalize it. While prevailing malpractices must be curbed, we must also look around and observe as to how education has improved globally

Quality of education and suitability of its products determine the efficacy, pace of progress and development in various sectors of growth and advancement. While none can doubt the sincerity of initiatives, plans and programmes that are launched from time-to-time to bring improvement, these are often impeded by certain practices that have gained ground over the years, thanks to the entry of unscrupulous elements in the sector of education. A couple of decades ago, realising the gravity of damage caused by copying in mass examinations, the Uttar Pradesh Government had issued a nakal virodhi Ordinance. It had its impact. However, it was repealed by the successive Government, which was, in fact known to be soft towards the examinees. The malpractice has grown to gigantic proportions, particularly in States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Sadly enough, practices like mass copying in examinations, making degrees available for consideration, fixing up examination sectors and the like, have not only ruined the lives of millions of young students but also contributed to a decline of credibility of certificates/diplomas and degrees awarded by most of the institutions in these States. Improvement in the quality of education and its products in these two States is indeed a daunting task. News reports showed a dip of over nine lakh examinees in Uttar Pradesh board examinations for 2018-19. Normally, these numbers increase every year with growing population. This unexpected and significant decrease in those aspiring to clear board exams deserve a serious analysis as it dampens aspirations of the young and damages the demographic dividend of India. One is reminded of what happened during the 2017-18 Uttar Pradesh Board exams. Around 10 lakh students, though registered, dropped out of examinations of class X and XII. The pass percentage was 75.16 in high school and 72.43 in intermediate. Failure, that lasts a lifetime and consequent demoralisation, was the fate of at least 27 lakh students in a single year in one State. Is it not a number that must make the entire nation sit up and think? On the very first day of exams (2018-19), it was reported that around 1.8 lakh examinees abstained from appearing for the exams. It included 1.27 lakh of class XII students. Numbers kept on increasing. The newly-formed State Government had put in place strict preventive measures to confront the nakal mafia and it made a difference. The moot point is: The nakal mafia did not acquire “strength, power and credibility” amongst the masses on its own. The obvious inference was its collusion with politicians and bureaucrats. It is encouraging that this year saw a fall in the purchase of certificates of success. A dip in the number of examinees of around a million speaks volumes about how our education system works. Who can forget visuals of mass copying in board examinations from Bihar’s Vaishali? Or the Vyapam scam of Madhya Pradesh a couple of years ago? It is widely believed that scandalous practices to get entry into medical colleges and even in recruitment to State Government jobs continue unchecked. All those who could purchase entry, walked into the precincts of much-sought after medical colleges. Generations of young souls have suffered injustice at the hands of elders, people in position of power, and politicians. This wastage of young manpower is not confined to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar only. It extends its operations to most parts of the country. The original nakal mafia nexus now extends to several other sectors dealing with the youth and their future. Coaching institutions have indulged in prior leakage of question papers to ensure success in professional entrance tests. These groups have created links even with public service commissions, teacher recruitment commissions and one often comes across instances of youngsters being cheated by unscrupulous elements, some of whom may be highly educated and well-positioned. Absence of social consciousness and awareness, that has led to an  irreparable damage to the young generation, poses a great challenge to the education system of the country as well. If a reduction in the number of examinees in Uttar Pradesh is any indication, it is not tough to imagine how millions of youth are victims of this unscrupulous exploitation. It is indeed very stressful to be happy about the much-hyped ‘demographic dividend’ that awaits the young of India in the ageing societies abroad. The situation is accentuated by several revealing factors that include 10 lakh vacant posts of teachers in Government schools, upsurge of private teacher education institutions, uncontrollable high fees charged by public schools that indulge in rampant commercialisation that leads to loss of credibility of Government schools. The way India is treating its youth poses a serious question: Are we really giving them their due? One would like to immediately add that there are no issues with around 30 per cent of children and young persons who are lucky to get education of ‘acceptable level’ in private prestigious schools and a small percentage of Government schools. One is inclined to infer that the remaining 70 per cent is fated to get education that is of little help in settling down in a creative and contributing life. Countries with strong educational systems are fully conscious of the pace of change all around, and the need to prepare their younger generations for a highly competitive world. This obviously cannot be achieved in an environment highly polluted by practices like copying, bribing State functionaries to get into jobs and having degrees and certificates without acquiring adequate knowledge, skills and value. While India needs to combat the prevailing malpractices in education system on its own, it will do no harm to look around, observe as to how education has improved globally. India, too, like other educationally-advanced nations must put into practice the adage that investment in education pays the highest returns. No nation can remain slow and reticent on this count. Renowned columnist, Thomas Friedman, in his latest book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, attempts to comprehend the pace of unprecedented changes taking place all around, and has called the present times as an “age of accelerations”. Even if India is late in certain aspects of improvement, it must invigorate the system with new ideas and initiatives. Even in tough conditions, young Indians have excelled practically in every field — ICT, space sciences and practically every promising area that could change the world for better. The horizon of quality education, presently available roughly only to one-third of the students, needs to be extended to all, and fast. Only such systems will be effective in the future that are conscious of their ever-increasing responsibility, and ever-expanding needs and expectations from every sector of the population — right from children to veterans. The youth are etching to be a part of the change. They are the products of educational expansion and extension of access to those who were kept out of what was termed as the ‘mainstream’. For them, the only ray of hope is education, about which Gandhiji had envisioned in 1922: “But there is hope, if education spreads throughout the country. From that people would develop from their childhood qualities of pure conduct, god fearing, and love. Swaraj would give us happiness only when we attain success in the task. Otherwise India becomes the abode for grave injustice and tyranny of the rulers.” Should the Indian education system not delve deep into ascertaining what has gone wrong within, and outside, the system of education? It demands high levels of professional commitment, dynamism and vision on the part of policy-makers and implementers, with inputs from academics and scholars. We have issues in accepting diversity, achieving social cohesion and religious amity as the necessary ingredients in baking life better for all. As Nelson Mandela said: “The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation building and reconciliation.” The seeds of growth, development and progress are sown in the primary schools, where value inculcation and nurturance must begin in right earnest by abled teachers working in a conducive environment for learning and interaction. (The writer is the Indian Representative on the Executive Board of UNESCO)

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