Indian education: Left wanting for reforms

Devaluation of the system

Indian education: Left wanting for reforms

In any nation’s economic progress, particularly developing ones, devaluing its currency is considered an unpopular act. It makes exports more competitive, but adversely affects almost everything else from imports to inflation.

So, countries try and avoid devaluing a currency unless they have very little alternatives in place or see tremendous advantages. But the same concepts of devaluation if applied to the education market works in a totally inverse manner. From the 1950’s we have been devaluing Indian education on a continuous basis, and in the 21st century, the quality of our education is going downhill at the speed of light.

Don’t take our word for it. Take the Prime Minister’s. In a recent speech on his visit to the US, he stated that India, whose education system was once an envy of the world, had “lost ground” over last three decades and his government was committed to correct the situation. A totally admirable sentiment in line with the Prime Minister’s high academic calibre. But the ground reality is so poor, that we need a huge consensus across politicians, business and society to make this happen, and as there is no movement yet in this direction, the countries education system is happily going downhill.

Quality of Education

It’s not that the quality of education cannot be improved. It can, quite easily. What cannot be improved is what we call the ‘madness of masses’ when it comes to education. This ‘madness’ is seen in the rush to educate our children, come what may. An MBA, BE, MBBS, BDS, and other degrees’ have become a necessity. What is not looked at is the quality of the education received, the colleges, the syllabus, research, publications, and overall quality per se.

This is why a person in the 1950’s could get a good job then with just a matriculation (10th standard certificate), but a matriculation today will get you an office boy’s job.
And we have become Masters of Devaluation. We are devaluating every subject and every degree possible. A classic example is dentistry. Karnataka has so many dental colleges, that the starting salary of a dentist after they graduate is around Rs 3,000. This is less than an uneducated security guard’s salary. Imagine the frustrations of  graduating dentists’ who realise that their career prospects from the beginning are the same as a security guard. And, we are all culprits. Whenever the alarming decline in our quality of our education is brought out, we all point to the IIT’s and IIM’s. Granted, the IIT’s and IIM’s are premier educational institutions, and their examples make us proud.

There are a number of other institutions that also provide quality education, but they along with the IIT’s and the IIM’s are just a drop in the ocean of Indian education. The trend is towards a certificate, not education, and institutions are coming up so fast that most of the regulatory authorities are not in the knowhow of things. 

This is why the The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, in its 2009 labour report found that the rate of unemployment is typically much higher among  persons with higher level of education, than among those with lower levels of education. Unemployment is highest for the age categories of 10 to 24 corroborating the view that youth unemployment is on the rise in India.

Why a disaster?

Even if we were to start addressing the issues on education from tomorrow, we have a huge problem on our hand. Our first big problem is the rush towards education. According to the World Bank, enrollment in Tertiary education in India which includes degrees, masters and others has doubled in the last 15 years. Although the rush towards education in a country is a good sign, it is not a good sign when the majority of the education provided is of poor quality. This make the people taking up this education unemployable. Considering the fact that Institutes charge quite a lot of money for courses today, the difference between what you pay for your education and what you finally get out of it becomes a major issue.  These are issues which will affect the very core of our society, particularly since statistics show that, over 90 per cent of job seekers who are unemployed are below 30 years of age.

Our second bigger problem is the phenomenal increase in the size of the market for education. World Bank statistics show that agriculture in India contributes 17 per cent to India’s GDP while industry and services 83 per cent.  By deduction, it will be assumed that this 83 per cent is where the jobs are. And since education is a must for jobs in this 83 per cent sector, the rush to get education will get even greater. The World Bank also states that 60 per cent of the Indian workforce is in agriculture. This is the nuclear bomb that is staring at us in the face. With non-agriculture providing 83 per cent of Indian GDP, what are we going to do when the 60 per cent start moving into the education market, because they realise they need education to get jobs.

We will have a huge mass of unemployed people. India from becoming a country with 60 per cent in the agricultural sector  in 2010 will become a country in 2050 with the largest unemployment rates in world history. All a recipe for increased crime, reduced investment, social upheaval, and other problems most of us cannot even think of at present.


But where does this leave us?  India is praised as the largest democracy in the world. But we do not need democracy in education. We need discipline and regulation. We are already in a major mess. A recent NASSCOM survey in Maharashtra which has good universities found that only 25-30 per cent of graduates passing out of universities were employable.  The Maharashtra government was concerned, and asked universities to revise syllabus, and stress on quality. But the government would have done better to find out just how this problem came about in the first place and try and redress those issues. Just pontificating on a few buzzwords will not solve our problems. As of 2008, India’s post-secondary high schools offer only enough seats for 7 per cent of India’s college-age population, 25 per cent of teaching positions nationwide are vacant, and 57 per cent of college professors lack either a master’s or PhD degree.

The solutions to our problems are not very difficult to envisage.  We urgently need autonomous regulatory bodies that have no political interference. The financials of these bodies must come from a corpus which makes them immune to corruption. The officials of the regulatory bodies must not be government or public officials, or government appointees’.  Then we have a chance at proper regulation. These regulatory bodies must  govern every sector of education. At present we have different bodies for different sectors like the UGC for Universities, AICTE for technical education, and so forth. But they all have different structures and different ways of working. We are talking of a single structure for each regulatory body. Levels of transparency must be kept at a high level.
 It can be done. If Narayan Murthy could do it at Infosys with over a lakh employees, why can’t it be done with a few regulatory bodies that governs probably the most important sector in the country today? Let us hope it happens sooner than later. After all, we would all like to live in an employers paradise, rather than an employees’ purgatory.

Joseph Rasquinha and Mohammed Zaheer Hussain, run Truemen Management Consultancy Services, a Six Sigma Recruitment Consultancy in Bangalore.

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