Among the first things the new government should focus on is educational reforms.
Hoping the private sector will fulfill them is like chasing a chimera. Only a robust public education system can create thinking minds.
A lot has been discussed about the agenda that the new government should pursue, but little is being talked about education, one of the most critical areas that hardly saw any action in the previous government. Not going into the criticism of individual ministers or previous policies, I would like to propose a few reforms that the new government should consider in this tenure.
Not just policymakers, but unfortunately, right-wing influencers on social media have limited themselves to a myopic agenda, mostly revolving around the discriminating aspects of Right To Education and history curricula in schools. While not denying the importance of these issues, there are more important structural changes that are needed in the Indian education system, which would be in line with India’s ambition of becoming a true global power.
First and foremost is the revival of the public education system in India. No great nation today was built on the private education system. Especially, the kind prevalent in India. Education as a sector does not have a business case. The only way commercial and quasi-commercial (in the form of education trusts) units can turn in profits is either by cutting costs and delivering poor quality education or charging very high fees and thus limiting access to very few. This needs to change, especially the first segment, which is described as Affordable Private Schools or APS.
The government needs to revive public education through Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) and other innovations. If corporate CSR funds could be used to construct toilets, they can be used to rebuild government schools as well. There are various options like tiered fees, education bonds, et cetera that can be used.
Quality Learning Outcomes Needed
Just creating government school infrastructure will not be good enough until it can deliver quality learning outcomes. There are various challenges that the current government needs to address. The most basic of these is to get well-qualified teachers at various levels to replace Shikhsamitras or Shikshakarmis that are currently employed at paltry daily wages. Pay grade hikes and promotions of these teachers should be based on the overall performance of the school and their classes they teach.
To plug the immediate human resource gap, the government should consider re-employing retired college and university teachers less than 75 years of age.
Today, most of the professional entrance exams, be it for Engineering, Medicine or Law have been centralised, but we still continue to have state boards with varied curricula. We need a centralised curriculum and a board that offers flexibility to include State history and regional languages, et cetera. The argument here is not to take away education States but bring uniformity in education and create a level playing field for students from all States. An apt example to support the argument is the case of the Police. Though Law and Order is a state subject, it still operates under the purview of a common Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
Along with a common curriculum, we need the right frameworks for both formative and summative assessments at all levels. While creating a common board and curriculum will address the issue of summative assessments (final and board exams et cetera), a robust formative assessment framework will actually help improve and assess the delivery of learning objectives.
Apart from rationalising the RTE and discriminating clauses, strong regulation is needed to rationalise payscales in-line with Cost of Living Adjustment (CoLA), qualification of teachers at various levels; and so too is needed a complete ban on unaffiliated schools.
Indeed, it is a tall order, but not impossible to achieve. If other countries can do it, India can do it as well and better too.
Views expressed are personal and not of the author’s employers.