The Indian education system is in distress. It is critically in need of reform since it is inefficient and ineffective. What exists today is something that was designed to serve the needs of a different era with different objectives and compulsions. For sustainable development of India, the country needs a new system which is economically efficient, socially equitable, functionally effective, and consonant with the altered needs of the present.
Fundamentally we have to recognize that there are severe resource constraints. There is a capital constraint, of course, but more importantly we have a human capital constraint, mainly in terms of limited numbers of trained teachers. The former can be circumvented by borrowing the required capital; the latter is much harder to overcome because it takes years we cannot afford to train the millions of teachers required.
To meet the challenges of the different world we live in compared to the one for which the existent educational system was designed, we have to fundamentally rethink the educational institutions. Merely tinkering with the system will not suffice. However much one modifies a bullock cart, one cannot transform it into an efficient fast all-terrain vehicle.
The fact that our age is characterized by high technology is both a challenge and an opportunity. To participate in today’s economy, one needs not only to be literate and numerate, one has also to be fully competent to use the technology. Fortunately, it is technology itself which can help in the transformation of the educational system.
Here is a short list of specific problems that plague the system and a brief suggestion on possible solutions.
- Financially too costly. If money was no object, then the tens of millions who need education could be accommodated with ease. A good education is affordable only for a vanishingly small percentage of the population. The costs can be brought down by substituting the most costly factor: teachers. Use ICT (information and communications technology) as a substitute for costly teachers.
- It wastes too much time. The current system does not efficiently use time. It should not take over a decade to provide students with the basic foundations of a good education. It can be done in much less time, so that the student has more time to build upon that foundation. Greater specialization of the economy requires that the foundation be laid more efficiently so that more time is available for specialization. The recommendation is to reduce the time spent in the foundation to about 8 years and allow five years for specialization, to arrive at a fully qualified employable person by age 20.
- Students are overburdened. The few who are lucky enough to be in school, have a pretty hellish life. They have very little free time, between attending classes, doing homework, going for “tuitions” and so on. A lot of disjointed information is thrown at them and they are never able to fully comprehend what it is all about. The solution is to reduce the amount of information that the student is fed, and instead motivate the whole exercise of learning so that the student spend more time internalizing a comprehensive coherent set of information. The system has to allow the student more free time.
- The system is inflexible. It does not encourage creativity and does not reward individuality. The system must be made ‘student-centric’ instead of ‘teacher-centric.’ The student must have the freedom within to system to follow the path that is most natural and which is consonant with his or her talents.
- The system is supply constrained. The competition to enter the limited number of educational institutions is fierce beyond description. In the scramble for limited seats, a very large number do not get a chance at getting an education. The supply has to be increased.
- Credit constraint. Even after the supply is increased, individuals have to be able to afford the quality education. The returns to education are positive. Which means that those who cannot afford the education due to credit constraints are unable to get the returns of education. The solution is therefore to increase the amount available for loans and to massively subsidize primary education.
Education is the master key which can unlock the potential of the nation of over a billion people. If we continue to neglect education, all our efforts in other spheres is likely to be in vain.