New policy on anvil

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New-policyThe education policies have long been ignored in India. Modi-led government has however broken a fresh ground. Walking the talk and pulling out all stops, commas, the NDA government has put its heads together. A new education policy will hopefully see light of the day for the first time in more than two decades. The government has made clear its priorities of reforming the internationalisation in higher education, digitisation of education and skills development.

In a fresh release of the documents, 33 discussion themes – 13 for secondary, 20 for post-secondary – stood out, central theme of which will be formulated after an open consultation with people, a process which the government expects could take up to a year. The attempt to internationalise has caught attention of many people including Richard Everitt, director of education at the British Council in India, saying, “It’s not whether it should happen, but how to make it happen.”

Among the other hallowed objectives of the Government are strengthening of vocational education, promotion of languages; integrating skills development in higher education, promoting open and distance learning and online courses, and engagement with industry to link education to employability. These issues have been thrown open for public discussion. Put on the government’s website, all the issues will be concluded at the end of March.

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The international education stakeholders in the country say the list of proposed discussion themes show the government is taking a relevant approach to modernise the current education environment. However, the educationists are of the view that the government needs to make clear its stance on allowing domestic provider to partner with the foreign institutions.

“As we face our capacity challenges in India, we also have a responsibility to offer a clear framework that will make operating in India reasonably easy,” said Lakshmi Iyer, Director and Head of Education for market entry specialist Sannam S4.

Iyer added in the same refrain that India has huge potential to become an education hub for the students from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Iran and Africa, given the right government support.

“We have traditionally attracted students from these countries and Africa, we can attract more if we have international campuses that open up,” she said.

For many years, the foreign and the domestic providers have been constrained by the government’s tough but often unreasonable stance on keeping foreign providers out.

Educating India starts and ends with creating ‘infrastructure’, new schools, colleges, IITs and IIMs. It is a different matter that even the budgetary allocation is nowhere near the recommendation made five decades ago by the Kothari Commission. As is the practice in every other sector, education is an opportunity for business, exploiting a multi-billion-rupee market.

For many years, the foreign and the domestic providers have been constrained by the government’s tough but often unreasonable stance on keeping foreign providers out.

The problems have run deep into the social consciousness of the populace. Recently, the cheatings during an examination in Bihar were beamed across the country through the ever watchful electronic and camera carrying media. Now it is past its shelf life. But the shame begs for a proper explanation and careful analysis. It is rather unfortunate that one more opportunity has been missed for analysing the much larger question: Are we educating India?

Let us recognise one important fact. India is educated by its teachers and not by the classrooms, desks and benches, pipettes and burettes. The teacher must become the centre of education. The key question is: What are our schemes and plans to develop and improve the quality of teachers? Our motto should be to impart the same quality of education to every child in India, irrespective of her background, and, for that, the teachers all over the nation must be of the same high quality.

The important fundamental step required to start off in this direction is a central service for the teachers. One appears to be blind to as to why this country, while recognising the need for civil services in many spheres, did not think it necessary for education. Put aside the downside of the all-India civil services and concentrate on the obvious positive points.

Teachers being the key, two things are important: One, we need to attract dedicated and talented people to this profession by paying them the market salary and giving them the status they deserve. And two, they should be trained and retrained in modern methods of imparting education.

There is a need to introduce an Indian education service, according to some educationists. Although there is no unanimity over the suggested introduction, this can be at almost all levels — primary, secondary and high school. One wonders if the IAS model should be followed. Carefully chosen on the basis of a competitive examination, some educationists say that the successful candidates should be put through a rigorous oneyear training programme based on the IAS model. The breaking and stagnating educational institutes in the states can be renovated into at least five training academies in each State. There can also be a common programme drafted by international experts, well known for their modern teaching methods. Teaching is not only about mathematics, physics, chemistry and history. Teachers need training in understanding, motivating, moulding and even reprimanding a child.

Let these teachers be placed in government schools in the district headquarters. With time, let them adopt surrounding village schools. Let there be provision for them to grow in their profession. Let there be scope for a sabbatical for them to rejuvenate and qualify for a higher position. Let them be groomed to occupy important positions in the sphere of education.

Let them be catalysts for a revolution in education. That our education lacks quality, defined in a very conventional sense, has been pointed out by several studies. A few well-intended attempts by corporate giants, using their Corporate Social Responsibility fund of 2 per cent of profits, is not enough to solve the problem. In fact, this CSR money can well be used as financial support for the training academies, with no interference in administration.

It is not that higher education, which from the Nehruvian era got preferential treatment, is all hunky dory. Technical education is in a shambles. Sitting in an interview panel, I was shocked to see 39 out of 40 engineering graduates fumble on the equation of a straight line — a basic concept taught in school! ‘Make in India’ will remain, at best, a pleasant dream if this knowledge gap is not urgently addressed.Governments cannot take the narrow view like parents who, in most instances, look at education as a path for material wealth. Prosperity is a byproduct and not the main goal.

The idea of a central service will have the twin advantages of integrating India and normalising quality across the States. Language, no doubt, will be an issue, but not an insurmountable obstacle that can be solved with a broad frame of mind.

What is needed is cooperation between the Centre and the State, and not competition. Education cannot form the grounds for parochialism, though a child has to understand the society around her. Indian education, be it school education, higher education or technical education, requires a serious change in the mindset of the planners.

Let the government not be paranoid about growth and other macroeconomic indicators. Education is the foundation of society, its values, culture and progress. The Bihar incident is not an outlier, but yet another example of the rot that has set in. It is time we bring back the archetypal school teacher.

It is also time to realise that education is too serious a business to be left to the private sector.

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