Overcoming challenges in the education sector

way FORWARD

Overcoming challenges in the education sector

Finland boasts of one of the most revered education systems in the world. Catering to a population of 5.2 million citizens in Finland, this system has broken many rules of education planning and delivery to make it inclusive and effective.

In comparison with this, the Indian education system caters to over 250 million students. The higher education system addresses the needs of over 70 million students. The Indian education system – one of the fastest growing in the world is facing a challenge of size that few other countries have confronted.

The demographic divide places India in a unique position of advantage by enabling the country to support the employable deficit of a large number of developed countries. To its credit, India has recognised the importance of education and skilling in the overall development of the economy. Yet, the challenges that it has to address are numerous.

Inclusion

India has managed to make 75% of its population literate, which in itself is a phenomenal effort. Yet, over 300 million Indians cannot read and write, leaving a lot to be desired. Regulations, particularly the Right to Education Act has drastically improved the situation in primary education. In the case of higher education, there is a lot to be achieved. A Gross Enrolment Ratio of less than 25% is far below the acceptable rate in developed countries. It is important for the regulators to build measures that will allow more individuals to pursue higher education. Inclusion demands greater availability and affordability of education across strata in the society.

Skill development

The much touted demographic dividend of India is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, India has the potential to support almost 80% of global workforce requirement by 2020. On the other hand, if we do not skill our youth, we could have millions of them unemployable. It is important to infuse vocational training into the education system for India to emerge as the future global power centre. This means that the skilling initiative has to spread across the length and breadth of this vast country to ensure it reaches the masses effectively. The Directorate General of Employment & Training (DGET), National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and the Ministry of Skill Development And Entrepreneurship have laid a good foundation for India’s skill development initiative.

Quality

Studies have consistently reflected India’s employability to be at around 20%. Corporates that hire talent produced by the Indian education system are unhappy with its readiness for workplace. Lack of employability has led to these corporates setting up their own training facilities and automating many repetitive functions. There is an immediate need to improve the quality of education system and assessment methods. In this fast paced world, regulators and educational institutions should constantly examine the changing demands and upgrade their curriculum, teaching pedagogy and assessments. Educational institutions should also align closely with the industry to understand their expectations to be able to ‘produce’ talent as per their requirements.

Size

While inclusion, skill development and quality continue to be key concerns, the biggest challenge in transforming the education system in India is its massive size. The system already caters to 250 million students. The country has been investing around 4% of its GDP on education. Currently, there are over 35,000 colleges and over 700 universities that deliver higher education and 1.5 million schools addressing the primary and secondary education demands. All these numbers are not able to cater to the massive education needs of the country. Traditional education and training models alone will not be able to address these needs. There have to be concerted efforts in filling the gaps with new age models like MOOCs, certifications (online and offline) and vocational skilling. Greater participation of private players is necessary to infuse funding, build infrastructure and spread high quality education in the corners of the country.

The Indian education needs a systemic transformation to be effective. Linear growth will not support the vast scale of requirements of the country. There has to be a massive tectonic shift in the way education is managed in India. Connectivity, technology and its understanding are necessary for this transformation to succeed and spread. India’s challenges are unique and copying international best practices will not help.

There has to be a concerted effort of ‘Indianising’ by adapting best practices that have worked elsewhere in the world. Focus should be on effective growth of the system and there is a need for incentivising private players to partner the government in expanding the scope of education in the country.

(The author is executive vice-president, MeritTrac Services, Bengaluru)

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