Friday, October 26, 2007

Why quality education is so important to India’s future

As of 2006, there are only 34 million people employed in India’s organized sector which comprises the country’s bureaucracy, military, and those formally employed in the private and non-profit sectors (with registered organizations). Despite this small proportion of employment in the organized sector, much of India’s economic growth is directly attributed to their contribution (such as those in IT, heavy industry, textile, etc.). It is just a few – less than 2-5% of this 34 million people -- who are highly educated and who can give India the cutting edge superiority to create a comparative advantage over other developing countries that also provide low cost labor. It is the IITs, IIMs, and other good colleges in science, engineering, medicine and research that provide the continuing flow of highly trained young scientists and managers. The same is true of other fields like architecture, law, and environment. Without them, India’s workforce will still be digging manholes.

The question that we all need to answer is a simple one: should the highly educated and trained elites of India’s information technology and industrial sectors come only from well-to-do families and communities? Should we be offering to at least a few young people from deprived communities the same opportunity, or should they remain for ever at the low ranks?

The conventional way of thinking about poverty is to get the masses out of illiteracy and offer them some education to be able to hold jobs beyond being simply unskilled labor. Undoubtedly these are necessary initiatives. But it is not possible for any student to cope with good college studies without the right background all the way through high school. There are no shortcuts. Literacy programs and emphasis on primary education can give a valuable head-start but nothing more.

I am afraid most people are unable to visualize the impact of professional success among those from socially and economically deprived communities. There is no great aspiration on anyone’s part for them. We need to change that mindset. That is precisely why we started Shanti Bhavan nearly 11 years ago.



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3 comments:

Arundathi said...

You are absolutely right about this problem of who will join this professional pool of 34 millions in India. The way our educational system is functioning (or dysfunctioining?) today, poor have absolutely no chance and a school like yours show it need not be the case. The US partly got over this problem through what was once an excellent public education system. Unfortunately it is not universal even in the U.S today.; look at the downtrodden and central parts of the US cities where schools are in pretty bad shape and students graduating from them have little chance of getting into good colleges.
I have some experience with Mysore’s schools. I am arbitrarily classifying them into 8 categories. In the top class we have expensive residential schools charging from Rs. 80000 to Rs. Two lakhs a year per child. The next category is the private schools. They are either private unaided or aided. All unaided do not give similar kind of education and they are further classified into top tier and second tier. In the aided also there are top tier and second tier. The bottom of the school system is government schools which are grouped into good, average and poor. There are some government schools which are better than or equal to top tier aided or second tier unaided schools. But these are exceptions. It is not that the government is not capable of managing a first rate high school. At one time the central government managed Demonstration Multipurpose School was the best in Mysore. However today it does not have such high standards of yester years.

A child going to residential schools is likely to graduate with a probability of 100% and is likely to go for professional college with a high probability of 80% whereas a child attending a poor or average government schools is likely to complete high school with 25% to 35% probability and he or she is likely to have less than 1% chance of attending a professional or degree college. These statistics should shock any society. More than one hundred years back Swami Vivekananda made a similar observation and our society has done very little to change it.

I agree with your observations on Pratham though I am part of it. At best it gives very young children a small chance to enter better prepared to attend elementary schools. But what happens then? In addition, Pratham, Ekal, Asha and other educational NGOs should bring about radical transformation in the present organization of our education system. Unfortunately, if one makes such recommendations, he/she is considered an outcaste, as you know very well.

In conclusion, Shanthi Bhavan demonstrates in a meaningful and practical way what a society which preaches equity should do. Accident of birth should not decide the future of a child as happens today in India. Shanthi Bhavan will disprove this.


Bhamy

Anonymous said...

Historically, societies achieve a greater level of income equality when several cornerstones are met: legal rights, free media, infrastructure, health care, education, etc.

Poverty alleviation cannot be achieved with rudimentary education that continues the status quo. Education programs for the poor must offer services equal to the middle class if true upward mobility is to be achieved.

Many organizations over the past decades have offered widespread limited education with little to no result on several different continents. The children of parents who went through these ngo and/or governmental programs aimed at educating the poor(with the agenda of upward mobility) end up repeating the same programs as their parents...with the same result as their parents--that is, they receive a bare bones education that does not allow them to move forward and condemns them and their children to poverty, to repeat the process.

At times, these programs seem to be designed more for the "feel good" factor than for genuine change: members of these organizations always feel good about their work, for "helping the poor", even if the end results are not sufficient.

Looking at "Read India" at Pratham's webpage and synopsis of Read India:

"The Solution: Pratham has launched the Read India campaign aimed at achieving reading and arithmetic proficiency for all children in the country within and
outside the school system. The focus will be on:

Std I-II : alphabets/words and numbers/place value level.

Std III-V: fluent reading, writing and solving arithmetic problems.

Higher standards are not excluded, but will not be the primary focus."

I am not entirely sure how this differs, in a serious way, from prior projects by various organizations to educate the poor; it does not focus on higher standards of education, but rather offers only the basics. The ambitions are massive--country-wide education--but I don't see it as a effective in the long run. It may claim big numbers and say it achieved X, Y or Z in its goals of education, but will the end result--a shift in the upward mobility of the families impacted--be met? I don't think so, if only because the model is not attempting to surpass prior efforts in nation-wide education. Somehow or the other, the poor are only seen to need the basics in education, and nothing more and somehow their lives will be better for it. I just
don't see this as believable.

A lot of these programs are flashy and claim headlines with big numbers, etc. But this is how it has always been and been for decades--a lot of people patting each other on the back about how many poor people they have helped. And yet, that same segment of
the population needs help by the next generation.

Shanti Bhavan represents what needs to happen--excellent education that prepares the students for top-notch colleges(and gives them the financial
means to go to such colleges) and successful careers beyond the school. Obviously Shanti Bhavan will only make so much of a dent--once it proves itself, the model can be replicated dozens of times over.

Even then, Shanti Bhavan schools will only effect a percentage of the poor population. But the side effects of schools like Shanti Bhavan will hit the larger poor population and the overall impact will be major and permanent--unlike
other short-term, bare bones projects which will constantly have to re-address the same basic education needs generation after generation as it has been doing for decades now.

The poor only seem to ever deserve and warrant the very basics and no more. As if the poor should only go so far, but no further. Only when this mindset is reversed will there be genuine change in the opportunities, and conditions, of the poor.

Amazing Stuff said...

Amazing thoughts on education of India...there are not availability of jobs for freshers in India..