Let us all take a minute to think about what our children are learning today. Are they receiving the education that Swami Vivekananda spoke about? Our education system today is teaching our children how to make a living but not how to make a life.
Is the education system of today helping us build the character of our children? Is it bringing out what is unique in each child? The answer to that question is a No. Most teachers and parents alike are only interested in completing the curriculum, getting marks and moving on. Today, if a child likes to dream he is shouted at or branded as a dull child, but today’s teachers have forgotten that it was a single dream that was the seed to an innovation. Today, if a child is more interested in art rather than math, that child faces the burden of not matching up to the mundane. Education must be education for all, education that develops your personality.
Education does not only mean academics. Extracurricular activities must be given due importance. India lacks in spheres such as sports, arts, music etc. Students with exceptional talent in these fields must be supported so as to attain glory for India at the global stage in the future.
Amongst today’s children no one talks about inventions or discoveries even though India is the country where the value of Pi was first calculated, where the art of navigation was born, where algebra, trigonometry and calculus came into being and also where chess was invented. India is losing its uniqueness because we are not being able to pass on to our children the very essence of our culture, our Heritage. This attitude of Xeroxing personalities must be stopped.
A teacher is a person with great power and a person who shoulders a huge responsibility. A teacher has the gift of influencing young minds, the future generation, India’s prospects. What nobbler employment? What is more valuable to the State than a man who instructs a rising generation?
Our teachers should be those who have the power to engage young minds, who have the ability to talk to you even in your sleep, who have the ability to make you understand and not blindly follow the book. More emphasis must be given to research and understanding rather than blindly mugging up books prescribed in the curriculum. For this to be achieved we need an atmosphere of academic freedom so that teachers themselves have an opportunity to continuously learn as it is a continuous process and then impart that to their students. Teaching should not be made out to be a 9-5 job; there are ample avenues for the teachers to improve upon themselves by meaningful exchange, interaction with others. If the quality of teachers is improved many other avenues of the education system will be bettered, like paper assessment.
The rise in the number of part-time teachers and the freeze on new full-time appointments in many places has affected the morale in the academic profession. The lack of accountability means that teaching and research performance is seldom measured. The system provides few incentives to perform. India needs to initiate a system that provides people entering the academic profession with job security and monetary incentives in all schools, colleges and universities equally and higher pay packages so as to attract the best and brightest minds to the profession that are being lost mostly to the private sector.
Another glitch in our education system is the curriculum. The curriculum must be regulated by the Government so as to ensure that teaching in India is uniform and the facts verified. The curriculum must be altered to include India’s vibrant and rich history and culture that form the basis of our country, the mindset of our people, that seems to have slipped out somewhere during the course of the past century. Keeping up with the world while retaining our history and culture should be the main aim of the government while setting the curriculum that is to be taught in schools and colleges. As Hu Shih (former Chinese ambassador to America) once said, “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without having to send a single soldier across her border.”
A phenomenon that has occurred in India is that there has been a shift in our value system. India, the country that gave the Zero to the world is now a country where subjects like Vedic Math are not even mentioned or a part of the curriculum. In a country where over 70 per cent of the population is part of the agricultural sector, no one talks about educating our children in this regard, which could help better one of the most vital sectors of our country which feeds our ever growing population and also earns us a large part of our foreign exchange largely through our exports. No one talks about teaching our children about astronomy, a subject discovered in India. Today, a subject like Sanskrit, the divine language, is given as an option among other languages like French or German etc. The students are now only part of the rat race with their only aim being to get a degree. Keeping up with the world is important too, but one must strike a balance.
The path that India has chosen in terms of development cannot be sustained with the present structure of India’s education sector. India is in need of a knowledge based economy. In the education sector India’s weaknesses far outweigh its strengths. The present population of India and its Gross Enrolment Ratio indicate the potential for growth in higher education. It is envisaged that India needs at least 1500 as opposed to the current 350 universities in order to cater to its growing population. Its systematic disinvestment in higher education in recent years has slowed down the progress of world-class research and the subsequent training required for scholars, scientists and managers to sustain high-tech development.
A London Times Higher Education Supplement ranking of the world’s top 200 universities included three in China, three in Hong Kong, three in South Korea, one in Taiwan, and one in India (an Indian Institute of Technology at number 41). It is extremely disheartening to see that the country that is the birth place of the Vedas, the Smritis, the Upanishadas now lacking behind in the sphere that it was known world over for.
Barring a few private funded universities/institutes the rest of them are funded by the government. The University Grants Commission (UGC), the central government’s main agency for managing general higher education uses almost 65 per cent of its meagre budget for the nation’s central universities, and other colleges in Delhi. The remaining 35 per cent being for the rest of the Institutes in the country. Funding of State universities is primarily with State funds (75 per cent) the rest (25 per cent) comes from the Central government. However, it is noteworthy to point out that the bulk (85 per cent) of this amount for State universities goes towards salaries, leaving very little for the actual infrastructure required for higher education, and any sort of serious academic activities. Universities must be allowed to raise funds from consultancy and research to augment fee income. Existing government institutions must aggressively look for funds to improve infrastructure in educational institutes to achieve the alteration that the system requires.
An additional predicament is that the 350 odd universities accommodate about 15 per cent of the student population while the rest are taken care of by the affiliated colleges which number about 18,000. While this system of college affiliation serves a larger purpose of affording education to all, it is also the reason for a more serious problem of maintaining universal quality in the Indian higher education system. The management of affiliated colleges is mostly fragmented and dysfunctional. This is because most of the affiliated colleges and therefore their students come from very diverse socio-economic/geographical backgrounds and then have to be covered under an umbrella (of rules and syllabus) which is basically designed for the urban people. There is thus a total mismatch and disconnect between the end users and the owners/management.
Regulation of higher education is another issue that needs to be addressed. Since most of the universities in India are State run and since education is a concurrent issue, these universities fall under very conflicting regulations at times. It is important to have minimum regulations and maximum governance, highlighting the importance of autonomy and accountability, which is seriously lacking in the Indian system.
To conclude, I would like to say that education, simply put, is the soul of our society, next in importance to freedom and justice, neither of which can be maintained without education. It is the only dictator that free men recognise, and the only ruler that free men require. We as individuals should be careful to leave our daughters and sons well educated, so that they do not only know how to read but they have the good sense to decipher what to read.