A Better Way to Achieve Equity in Education
With well over 700 million people living in rural areas of India, a great majority of the nation’s children are enrolled in government schools. So much has been written about the deplorable quality of education offered by most of these schools attended primarily by children from poor families. Over 75% of the population in India earn less than $2 per day, and their children do not have the financial means to attend better quality private schools. Consequently, there is now a two-tier system of education in India – better quality education for those who can afford private schools, and poor quality education for all others.
During the past several decades, Central and State governments had launched many initiatives to improve their rural schools. These programs have increased enrolments to well over 90% at primary and secondary levels, and more girls attend schools. Literacy rates have risen significantly. But there is very little improvement in the quality of education offered. Only a small percentage of the children attending governments schools are well prepared to pursue higher education in colleges that offer quality programs. A great majority of high school graduates who seek higher education enroll in government colleges that do not offer good instruction. The result is that most students graduating from schools and colleges in India are not prepared to meet the employment needs of industries for today’s global marketplace.
Instead of trying to improve the quality of education offered by government schools and colleges, the authorities seem to be more interested in leveling the playing field through mediocrity, if not substandard quality. In the name of social justice and equity, government regulations and practices make operation of private schools difficult. If some of the proposed rules go into effect, even those private schools that do not receive government assistance will be required to admit students who have not demonstrated satisfactory academic performance to be able to keep up with the higher academic standard of those institutions. Further, without the ability to charge sufficient fees for study, these private schools cannot afford good teachers and offer a good program. The net result is that private schools will also lower their standard.
The injustice of the achievement gap between the children of the poor and the rich must be closed. The question is how? Nothing is gained by enacting rules that would de facto result in lowering the quality of education offered by private schools. Instead, the focus must entirely be on improving government schools where children from poor families attend.
I believe deeply in social justice and equity. It must be achieved by sensible and positive measures. In this case, the government should be the catalyst in improving all schools. It must play direct and indirect roles in achieving such an outcome.
Of course, there are many factors that influence student learning and achievement. Of all those factors, the most important one is teachers. I know from my personal experience running Shanti Bhavan that effective teachers – those who not only have the highest expectations of their students, but also have the desire and the ability to help them achieve those expectations – are the most important ingredient in this undertaking.
Until such time the nation finds a way to adequately train and motivate teachers and hold them accountable, the education gap will remain. I pray that the government will be wise enough not to attempt to close that gap by lowering achievement among the few who can afford to join quality institutions. By improving the quality of education offered by all schools and colleges, both private and government-run, there will be millions more young adults each year having the required educational background to seek skilled jobs. There is no superior strategy than this to achieve higher productivity from the workforce to create far greater national wealth.
Written by Dr. Abraham M. George
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