Some 200 years ago Bhagwan Swaminarayan took a highly progressive path by making educational service (teaching or sharing knowledge) a spiritual duty in the Shikshapatri. It’s good to see the current Government and the Supreme Court finally share and propagate this value by making education a right and providing it compulsory and free. They even forced private schools to keep 25% seat open for less privileged students. Well done!
With those kudos, though, I do want to share some more foundational/systemic problems in the education system – with the prayers that they too may be addressed some day soon.
The first thing to note about the Indian system is that is based off the English educational system and still retains a similar format of board examinations at the tenth and twelth standards. What is frustrating about this system from an American perspective is that students are forced from as early as tenth grade to choose which lines they will take in the future. For example if I want to be a doctor, engineer, computer programmer, etc. I have to score a certain grade on my tenth grade math and science examinations or else all scientific study at the university level is closed to me. This forces children to deal with a lot of stress at those grade levels. Coming from a system that allows students a lot more flexibility and having experienced the benefits of being able to choose and change amongst career lines or majors, I find the Indian system very frustrating and unfair. Fortunately, in Gujarat atleast, there are changes being made. The tenth grade examination is being removed next year. Another move has been made to change the format of the examination from being one annual exam to being two semester exams. Of course they also added examinations to the eleventh grade and have made it so that the final twelth grade result is a cumulative of the four exams you take over the four semesters of 11th and 12th grade.
The fact that one must score high in the math and science exams to leave open avenues for lucrative careers in the future also has an effect on the perception of which subjects are worth studying and which are not. It has become a common bias in India that smart children should study science and only lazy or unintelligent children would enter the arts or social sciences. I see a direct link between this supposition and the poor level of governance and public policy in the entire nation. In India there’s very little true political discourse because there is little study of true public policy or research of social and psychological and anthropological and historical realities that that would inform intelligent public discourse.
Another thing that is detrimental to the education system and social welfare of the entire nation is the affirmative action system which is called the quota system here in India. Affirmative action is not a concept that is alien to me but what was surprising to see was how far overdone it is here in India. This is a dangerous thing to say as a middle class Hindu becuase automatically a stereotype is attached to my frustration with the system. I think however you will better understand my frustration that most people here share when you find out that in many institutions more than 50 percent of the available seats are kept for members of selected casts and tribes. this not only solidifies the perception that these people are from lower castes and classes but it also increases the divide between these people by making it difficult for middle class Indians to get a good education. The same seat that a middle class Hindu would have to get 95 percent or higher to receive is given to lower caste and tribal students for as low as 40 or 50 percent. I would not believe these numbers if I had not seen them with my own eyes. Affirmative action is necessary to assist people when they have been historically oppressed. However in India affirmative action has gone just too far because it is not planned or assessed as a social policy tool but is used as a political bargaining chip or bribe to gain or retain votes.
Another thing often mentioned by intelligent students is the lack of opportunity for higher study not just because of the lack of universities but also from the lack of study disciplines available at those universities. The academic prospectus of any major Indian university is bound to be many pages less than any prospectus of a major university in North America or Europe.
Two things that India seems to be very good at his math and science education and occupational education. These are the very strengths that are supporting the international competitiveness and economic success that India enjoys today.
One thing that I would like to mention for Gujarati in particular is that the language of education in this state is very poor. Every child here wants to study English. However the teachers themselves are not proficient enough in the language to teach it properly. So you end up with students who believe they are good in English but in fact are mediocre to poor. Because they love English (for sexiness, status, and occupational outlook) and study in that language the same children also lose grip of their native languages – Gujarati and Hindi. In the end you’re left with children who are masters of no language.
Another thing to mention, though I’m not sure if this is national or just a trend in Gujarat, is the poor standard of teachers. These people, for the most part, are lazy public servants. They attend school as much as they have to and have very little care for how and what they teach. Many of them run private classes at home in their free time and so have even less motivation to teach during school. If the kids are lost in class then they’re bound to come to the tuition and pay prime ruppees to learn properly. This way the teachers make double profit – one from the public salary get and the second from lucrative tutoring sessions that they don’t report as income. That most are not intelligent in their own area of expertise, forget having good teaching skills, is not surprising since they too have been passed through the same system themselves.
That is really what is troublesome here. This is a messed up, very politicized system that is inevitably a self-preserving and self-propelling system.
Speaking of politicization, this is interesting. You would be correct to assume that the largest universities are public universities recognized and funded, at least in part, by the University Grants Commission. The UGC is a government body and is a political appointment like any other so that the government gets to decided what programs are funded and how many professors are hired where and who gets what job and what research is promoted and which is cancelled. Each public institution’s chancellor and vice chancellor are also political appointments. The Chancellor is usually the governor or chief minister of the state and the Vice Chancellors are his appointments.
In short, the system in India is not the worst in the world. It is producing obviously. And there are the world famed IITs and IIMs. But it would be wrong to take the IITs and IIMs excellence and let them stand for the system underneath them. Out of a billion people, you’re bound to have a few hundred thousand who are just gifted by God with brains and so simple probabilities allow for alot of the success at India’s highest levels. The system that is supposed to serve everyone and move them all forward, maybe not with equal results but with equal opportunity, is in pretty sad shape.
These are some of my thoughts but sound back your thoughts as well.