Frequently I write articles for newspapers and magazines on poverty, and I thought more people will get to read them if they are available as blogs.
Since 1995, I have been engaged in social work through The George Foundation to help alleviate poverty in India, focusing mainly in areas of income generation, education, healthcare, community development and social justice.
Your comments and thoughts are appreciated.
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Why is India’s Educational System Failing to Bring about Economic Equity?
While India continues to churn out millions of graduates from high schools and colleges each year, only a small fraction of these students receive a high-quality education and graduate equipped with the necessary skills to be employed in well-paying jobs. India’s educational system which remains under considerable government control and essentially closed off from global competition caters to few students who attend good institutions, while all others attend mediocre, sub-standard schools and colleges. It is under these circumstances that India’s economic inequity and caste barriers thrive, and the country loses an opportunity to provide its students the innovative, high-quality education needed to compete in a global market.
For decades missionaries have run several high-quality schools in India charging reasonable fees, now supplemented by hundreds of elite international schools for those who can afford them. These schools feed India’s few top colleges, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management, and other reputable technical institutions. The great majority of high school graduates, especially those from the deplorable rural schools, attend sub-standard colleges run or financially supported by the government, or other private institutions that offer low-quality education.
Unlike the industrial sector, which has been greatly privatized and has opened up to global competition, the educational sector remains under considerable government control. While a number of colleges are run by private individuals and organizations and, in many cases by politicians and influential individuals, most treat this activity as a highly profitable business. On the other hand, government-run or aided colleges offer low-quality education resulting in graduates who lack the knowledge-base or skills required for obtaining more responsible jobs.
Instead of opening up the educational sector to improve its quality, the government constantly attempts to control it for political gain by appearing as the provider of essential services.However, those who have the power and influence to circumvent the rules are able to run private institutions that may not adhere to government regulations. Students from “low caste” communities are not provided the opportunity to go to quality schools, and hence cannot get admission to good colleges on merit.Some of them are given admission to higher-quality colleges based on quotas set by the government in the name of “social justice.” Despite their inability to improve the quality of education in government colleges that charge low fees and offer subsidies for students from poor families, official regulatory agencies attempt to implement rigid standards and requirements on private colleges to ensure uniformity in the educational system. These restrictions in turn hinder the ability of private colleges to offer progressive and innovative programs in keeping with the evolving needs of a global economy.
For example, consider the work of the government agency All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), which approves the operation of all technical and management colleges in India. AICTE sets rigid guidelines on everything from land requirement for college campus, classroom size, number of students allowed, size of physical library and requirements for computer facilities to the amount of money that must be set aside in the name of AICTE, with interest earned on such deposits to be credited to the Council. Accreditation by AICTE is required within the initial two years of operation, after which the college must abide by government-approved curriculum and operational requirements. Under the pretext of protecting the interests of students, AICTE imposes bureaucratic and outdated academic requirements that do not permit sufficient flexibility for the institution to offer quality programs.
AICTE operates under the assumption that it knows best what is needed in every field of study, and that, unless it micro-manages the entire process, no academic institution will do a good job in meeting the required standard. It appears that the quality of education that it attempts to ensure across all colleges is nothing more than mediocre. This perspective fails to appreciate the evolving techniques in teaching, research, and learning, such as: virtual instead of or in addition to physical libraries that provide a wealth of current information on developments in every field; instant search andaccess to proprietary databases and archives, remote learning and live on-line interactive classes; video conferencing with experts and guest lecturers; virtual computer rooms with the use of Wi-Fi communications and notebooks; practical experience achieved through internships at companies and research laboratories; collaborative learning through academic social networks, and exchange programs with foreign colleges; video participation in complex tasks such as medical surgeries; field work through community services; and many more. The government forces every academic institution to adhere to conventional ways of teaching and learning, which in turn limits the progress of higher education in India.
A proposed bill on the entry of foreign academic institutions into India is presently (July 2010) being debated in the Indian parliament. According to the ministry responsible for crafting the bill, it is designed to “prevent exploitation of Indian students by foreign colleges.” In its present form, the bill calls for an increase in corpus funds to be set aside by the foreign university from Rs. 5 crores ($1.10 million) presently to Rs. 50 crores ($11 million) when the bill becomes law. Repatriation of profits will not be permitted, and the college must meet AICTE regulations. These rules prohibit foreign institutions from entering India, thereby protecting inferior-quality institutions in the country from foreign competition.
Unfortunately, this and similar interventions by the government create serious obstacles to improving the quality of education for India’s student population. The country doesn’t seem to have learnt the important lesson of openness when it comes to education: only through competition and innovation will the educational system improve. In that event, employers would choose colleges to recruit from that offer graduates who can meet their job needs; most students would join only those colleges that are able to market them when they graduate. In other words, a competitive marketplace will demand better-trained students, and consequently, colleges will be forced to compete on quality.
Instead of acting as a catalyst in advancing the quality of education at all levels, and financially assisting economically disadvantaged students, the government’s current policies protect inferior-quality institutions and establish mediocrity as a leveler for all others. At a time when India shows great promise from its recent economic progress, the direction of its education policies does not favor much benefit to the poor and fails to keep pace with the growing needs of the country in a competitive global economy.
Dr. Abraham George is the Founder of Shanti Bhavan School (www.shantibhavanonline.org), a world-class institution for children from socially and economically deprived families, and the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, in India.
It seems many people are trying to find innovative solutions to improving the quality of education in rural areas, especially among the poor. Since most rural children study at government-run schools, the focus of any effort to improve quality and performance must be on those institutions. Without waiting for the state government to act, NGOs can directly interact with the administrators of those schools, especially the headmasters, and village leaders to implement measures that can yield positive results. That is precisely what The George Foundation has been doing since 2004 in the 17 villages surrounding its own school, Shanti Bhavan.
Three years ago our foundation initiated a community development plan that included working with government-run schools in our area. Deverapalli Government School was the first one we took on, and within two years of starting the program, it was judged as the “best” in the district by the educational authorities. Based on this project and our Shanti Bha…
It has been quite a while since I wrote my last blog. For some reason, I had concluded that there wasn’t enough readership interest in my personal notes and critiques of the country’s system. But recently, a friend of mine who stumbled upon my earlier blogs urged me to continue. Moreover, I had promised in my last blog to write about my experiences as an artillery officer along India’s western border with Pakistan, but I hadn’t kept my word. So finally I made up my mind to venture into writing blogs once again. My medical leave following the dynamite explosion in which I was injured while at Se La Pass was to last six weeks. I had returned home to Trivandrum sufficiently frost bitten to have my large ear lobes and nose turn dark, and skin pealing like a snake’s scales. It was a central topic in several hilarious conversations with guests when they visited our home, and I had a lot of stories to tell about my adventures in the snow-covered mountains of the Himalayas. Everyone wanted to …
am frequently asked by visitors to Shanti Bhavan from America whether our
educational model would work in the West.
They are curious to know how caste and class prejudices experienced in
India can be overcome by our graduates when they enter the workplace. These are
complicated questions, and they need a broad explanation that cannot be fully
covered in this blog. The
landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Brown v. Board of Education was meant to rectify the unequal status
of racially separate schools. Now, even after several decades of desegregation measures,
including busing children from some affluent families to poor neighborhood
schools, their impact on the academic progress of minorities is being
questioned. Many factors contribute to reducing the achievement gap in
American schools, and racial integration may not necessarily be a solution to
the difficulties faced in lifting the educational levels of minority students. As
an Asian immigrant who came to America fif…