M Rajivlochan, June 26, 2016
New education policy: A country aiming to 'startup' and 'standup' needs to spend more on education

Recommendations on yet another education policy, leaked into public domain, are most welcome as a considered evaluation of the system of education in India. The report is the outcome of analysing thousands of responses from various stakeholders, refracted through the exhaustive experience of public life shared by the members of the committee set up to help the government evolve a fresh policy.

The recommendations are mostly in line with the numerous previous efforts with a bit of recent fads from America thrown in for good measure. Quite in line with past observations on the system of education in India (dating back to 1854), the draft NEP document too, notices the lack of interest in education among the teachers and the taught at virtually every level, boring and outdated syllabi, lack of resources within the educational institutions and a complete absence of effective monitoring of the quality of education are mentioned as major problems.

If there is something different, it is the refreshing candour in the observations of the committee even when some of their recommendations for improvement are an innocent rehash of previous efforts. Might this be because the committee was dominated by people who have been bureaucrats all their working life and been important public intellectuals thereafter? The only person in the committee with a prior involvement in education was J S Rajput, a Professor of Physics, most of whose working life was spent in managerial positions and who headed the NCERT from 1999 to 2004.

“It is no wonder that anyone having dealings with the education system has generally lost faith in its credibility,” says the committee. Few in India would disagree with that. At a later point, the report illustrates the disconnect between academic research and the concerns of the nation. The committee was provided a secretariat at the National University of Education Planning and Administration, New Delhi, the apex institution for research into education. The panel duly notices the tremendous efficiency and hard work put in by the people at NUEPA and then remarks that unfortunately, when it came to obtaining factual information on the state of education in India, the researches at NUEPA were clueless.

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) comes in for some criticism, especially in its inability to assess institutions of higher education effectively. Absence of transparent and effective assessment of institutions, the committee says, disables prospective students from making informed decisions about where to go for higher studies and recommends strategies for making the assessment process more efficient and effective. “Involve the private sector”, they say.

The harshest words, however, are reserved for the University Grants Commission. “A quick demise of this institution would be best,” the committee recommends, as it notes the presence of corruption in the working of the UGC and its total mismanagement of the realm of higher education. Not having a quality system of higher education is costing the nation heavily, the group notices. Nearly three lakh students go abroad for studies every year spending more than $10 billion, it says. If this figure is correct, then, as someone involved in higher education, I am duly ashamed.

Words of praise, carefully chosen lest they be misinterpreted for accolades, are reserved for the Indira Gandhi National Open University and the National Institute of Open Schooling. Both are bodies that provide distance education to those who cannot afford to join the regular stream of education and seem to have comported themselves rather well. Norms need to be set up, says the panel, to properly evaluate their workings and contribution to nation building. The absence of norms is something that it notices in the system of school education too. The numerous efforts to improve education, like the Right to Education, have only harmed the system of education, members seem to suggest and recommend drastic course correction.

Unfortunately, the recommendations for improving education revolve around managerial bromides of great antiquity – “give more money, make teachers work, train the managers of education better, ease up norms such as how many acres for a campus”. Grant more autonomy, says the report, as it notices the total ineptitude of the vice-chancellors (V-C) to lead their universities. Thankfully, they do not recommend an objective type test for V-Cship for, in all other realms of education, such tests have been taken to be the basis of appropriate decision making leaving no scope for qualitative evaluations of anything.
If there is a departure from the recent past, it is in recommending that teachers in colleges be not impaled on the pulpit of research, rather, their ability to teach be judged and outcome assessed. Teach them how to teach, if that is needed, the report says.

Areas of innocence

There are some areas of innocence, too, that one notices in the report. One such recommendation is on introducing the percentile system. Unbeknown to the members of the committee, the best performing organisations of the world have long given up on fancy phrases like bell curves and percentile-based evaluations. And it would be best if Indians who are looking for a bright future for the country do not resort to innocent copying of outdated foreign fashions. Even if the IITs do it, it may not be good for the rest.

Improving medical education comes in for special comment but here too, they ignore the need to empower the district-level civil hospitals to impart medical training to prospective specialists. “Encourage private sector investment” is all they can recommend.

The disaster that has come as a result of the rapid increase in engineering and management institutions of low quality is reflected in an interesting recommendation: judge the institution on the basis of the employability of its graduates. Perhaps the committee members are innocent about the sharp placement practices that some of the largest private universities have employed for many years now.

 Like all previous evaluations of education, this committee also disallows any role to the two most significant stakeholders in the education sector–the parents—who want their children educated, and the teachers, whose entire life and its meaning is tied with education. Parents, it is recommended, need to be informed about the performance of their children without having any direct role in the management of the school/college or university to which they pay tuition fee. Teachers need to be instructed, managed, controlled and much more, says the report.  

Unfortunately, these two strategies, that came into fashion during colonial times when the government considered Indians infantile and ignorant, has not yielded any positive results in the past 100 years. Perhaps it is time that parents be actively involved in management and teachers be given a freer hand in teaching and examining students and creating curricula.

(The writer is member of the Punjab State Higher Education Council, a historian and also in-charge of Internal Quality Assurance, Punjab University, Chandigarh)


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