Educational progress precedes socioeconomic development which is why every country has heavily invested in its education system. Policy makers therefore cannot be oblivious of what goes on in classrooms wherein children are imparted knowledge and skills that are critical for personal and professional advancements.
The findings of recent Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) demonstrate that learning attainments of students in the critical age group 14-18 years are so low that PM Modi’s policy of ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas’ and India’s hope of becoming an economic super power will remain a distant dream.
In this backdrop, I attempt to breakdown major findings on learning attainments and to assess the extent to which lack of adequate investment is responsible for disgraceful performance in school education.
DISMAL LEARNING OUTCOMES
The recent findings of ASER for rural India present a picture of light and shade. Based on the survey, carried out in 28 districts across 24 states with students between 14 to 18 years of age, it becomes evidently clear that while access and participation have significantly improved, learning outcomes and quality of education continue to be abysmally low.
At least, one-fourth of the students are unable to read their own language fluently, while 57 percent of them struggle to solve simple sums of division. Moreover, a significant proportion of the students cannot identify the map of India while, some cannot name the capital of the country.
ASER’s findings clearly reveal that school education in India suffers from serious systemic gaps such as inadequate spending on education and ineffective execution of schemes meant for teaching in school children.
A summary of the major findings are:
- 40% of students could not tell the time from a clock
- 46% couldn’t read and understand 3 out of 4 instructions
- 57% couldn’t solve basic Math problems
- 25% couldn’t read their own language fluently
- 47% of all 14-year-olds could not read English sentences.
- 40 percent of 18-year-olds could not read sentences in English.
- 36% children were unable to name the capital of the country correctly.
- 58% could not identify the map of their respective state.
- 40% could not tell time in hour and minutes.
- 73%of youngsters had access to mobile phones.
- 64% had never used the internet.
The report also identifies reasons for poor performance: insufficient infrastructure, shortages of qualified, trained and competent teachers, lack of modernization of curriculum and outdated teaching methods that ignore the media-rich environment.
The above findings have serious repercussions for progress of our economy and our society, which requires a well-trained and skilled workforce to function. For a large number of students, particularly from rural areas and deprived communities, secondary and senior secondary level of education is the terminal stage, after which they are compelled to enter into the world of work and earn a living to support their family. And, because of lower educational attainments, a majority of them remain unskilled and also underemployed or unemployed. In effect, huge resources are wasted, as their potential services are neither fully utilized in the rural economy nor expected economic returns from investment in their education are optimally realized. Consequently, it leads to lower earnings and a sub-standard quality of life.
As secondary schools are the feeder institutions for college and university education, quality of education at this stage affects the quality of intake in higher education institutions. It is one of the major reasons for bulging size of ‘unemployable graduates’, apart from lack of focus on quality teaching, research and innovation, which can be attributed to inefficient funding and mis-management of institutions.
A concerted effort which makes way for adequate investment for modernising infrastructure, recruitment of trained teachers among other things seems no way near.
Falling Investment in Education
Allocation of budgetary resources for educational development has decelerated from 3.1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012-13 to 2.4 per cent in 2015-16. Compare this with the oft-repeated commitments made by the successive governments to allocate at least 6 per cent of the GDP. This commitment has never been realized owing largely to lack of political will to equalize educational opportunities across the social groups and to improve quality of education and skills development, without which productivity of resources cannot be ensured.
Evidences show that collections of ‘education cess’ for universalization of elementary education and for improving quality of higher education and research have not been fully utilized, which has invited adverse comments from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. As the overall government support for the development of higher education and research is less than one per cent of GDP, the task of creation of new technologies and innovation is relegated to lower priority, which in turn adversely affects job creation and economic growth.
It is no surprise that performance and accountability of most colleges and universities in carrying out mandatory functions of teaching, research and innovation are abysmally low as compared to the institutions in different countries of the world. Minister of Human Resource and Development, Mr. Prakash Javadekar has revealed that over 53 percent of faculty posts are vacant in Central universities and 35 percent faculty positions are vacant in IITs.
Realizing the critical contribution of education and training for overall socioeconomic progress and for reaping the benefits of ‘population dividend’, investment in school education, entrepreneurial training and skills development is imperative. And, improving quality of education, including technical and vocational, must be accorded priority to match the levels obtaining in developed countries, with which India has to compete in global economy.
There are 14000 vocational and technical training institutions functioning in the public and private sector. Lack of resources hampers them from modernization, including recruitment of trainers, which is why manpower skilling gap is wide. A greater focus on this sector through budgetary support is a must.
Issues that hampers education and human development need to be addressed. It is indeed lack of accountability of the democratically elected governments to deliver in terms of promises made to its people. The traditionally backward communities, particularly from rural areas, are the worst sufferers of unequal opportunities for quality education, training and skills development. This has, in turn, contributed to socio-economic disparities across the communities, as evident from the fact that one per cent population possess seventy three per cent of income and wealth in the country.
The total collection of ‘education cess’ and its underutilization over the last decade demonstrate that ‘unavailability of funds’ is not the sole factor responsible for the prevailing ‘crisis in education’.
The factors responsible for perpetuation of educational disparity across the different socio-economic groups, lack of employability of graduates and shameful quality of teaching and research in colleges and universities, must be identified and addressed; because, in the era of knowledge driven economy and society, excellence in education, research and innovation is a must to succeed in global competition.