Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Indian Education System — Part 1

The fractal nature of the generalization that education matters holds across time and space. Irrespective of the granularity of analysis, education aids development through the intermediate step of economic growth. At the finest level of detail, an educated individual anywhere in the world is more productive than an uneducated one. At the broadest level of analysis, the modern world is more productive arguably because it is more educated compared to the world that existed before. A cross-sectional study of the world today, or at any earlier time, reveals that the general level of education of the population is a good predictor of the success of the population.

The observed positive correlation between the macroeconomic variables of the level of general education and economic well-being has microeconomic foundations. There are two avenues, private and public. An educated person is simply more likely to make better-informed private choices regarding his or her production and consumption. Aggregated over the lifetime of the individual, that translates into greater individual production and therefore individual income. Individual incomes aggregated over the entire population determine the macroeconomic health of the economy. At the public level, an individual indirectly contributes to greater economic development by making informed choice among various public policies. An educated population is more likely to endorse enlightened public policy.

India’s present economic standing – both in its limited successes and its myriad failures – is to a large extent a reflection of its education system. It takes justifiable pride in the successes of its handful of elite institutions of higher education in turning out world-class super-achievers. But that exceptional success of the few is overshadowed by the dismal failure of the educational system as a whole. At the primary level, the enrollment is around 90 percent but studies have revealed that even after five years of schooling, around 50 percent of the students fail basic reading tests and are unable to perform single-digit subtractions. Ninety percent of Indian children drop out by the time they reach high school.

Of the ten percent who do get post-secondary education in India’s around 300 universities (comprising of 17,000 colleges), their results are disheartening. India produces around two and a half million college graduates, including 400 thousand engineers annually. But the quality is so poor that only a quarter of them are actually employable. Stark statistics reveal the oversupply of raw graduates and the undersupply of employable graduates. Infosys, an IT giant, last year sorted through 1.3 million applicants only to find around two percent were qualified for jobs, according to a recent report in The New Yorker.

That India is not an economic success today is significantly attributable to its failed education system. More importantly, its prospects of even moderate economic success in the future are bleak unless the educational system is urgently fixed. The fatal flaw in the system most likely arises from its near-complete government monopoly control. Practically all aspects of the system suffer from political and bureaucratic meddling. Who can run schools and colleges, what is to be taught, who is going to teach, how much they are to be paid, who is going to learn, how much fees must they be charged, what will be tested and how—every minute detail of the enterprise is rigidly defined and mindlessly enforced. Consequently the system has degenerated to become ineffective, inefficient, and irrelevant.

In this series of brief articles, I present a personal perspective on what is wrong with the Indian educational system, and why. I believe that if we have to fix the system, we have to necessarily first understand the system and what ails it. To the extent that the problem is understood, it is tractable. I hope to present the broad outlines of a solution as well.

[Continue reading: Part 2.]

  • Jayant N.

    Atanu, ich sage nur…..BINGO! Komplett korrekt! Hast wieder sehr gut formuliert und treffend analysiert.
    Gruss aus Deutschland!

  • http://indiamusing.blogspot.com Indiamusing

    Is that Sanskrit Jayant? :-)

    I hope some of your posts also cover the rarely covered but catastrophic state of affairs in the area of faculty student ratio (in all educational institutions – K12 and above). No point setting up 1000 universities unless you have good faculty teaching in them. No point setting up 100000 schools unless there are good quality teachers teaching.

  • http://ankurindia.blogspot.com ankur

    allowing foreign univ. to operate in india might be solution of this problem

  • http://oltsm.blogspot.com Abhijit Gadgil

    I had written a blog on rediffiland sometime back about the same.. Here is the URL May be you’d be interested

    http://quixotic.rediffiland.com//scripts/xanadu_diary_view.php?postId=1149970572

    I stopped writing on rediff subsequently, the reasons are obvious! :-)

  • sriram

    atanu

    I dont know if you are going to touch on this.. but here is one source of inefficiency.. poor learning.. note: I didnt say poor teaching.. The ROI on getting the equivalent of an A is vastly greater than getting a C or less (on a course). What I mean is that very long term memory is essentially zero if the student doesnt master the material beyond a threshold level thats well beyond a passing or even satisfactory grade. The research thats been done on this pertains to university courses. From this perspective it makes sense to learn less (in shorter time) but learn it well enough and leave the more able to learn more.

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  • Sajith

    Atanu, Loved your articles on the “new” Indian cities reqd. Totally agree.

    In the case of education, it is a mixture of several things:
    - compensation & respect to teachers. We need to go back to the ancient times when a guru was revered.
    - a sense of dedication to do things even if it means that the teacher has to go and stay in a rural area without water/elec etc and this is national thing that is lacking. I remember reading the Daewoo founder talking about how in SKorea, one generation slogged it out so that the coming generations will have a better life. We need this kind of a drive in India.
    - private education, but without the hassles of the multiple approvals reqd for setting up a school – they should be regulated, but not in the usual sarkari-bribery regulation mentality. Allow private schools, preferably allow small communities to set them up.
    - get politicians out of our educational system – especially the idiots like Arjun Singh. Do not allow marxists to control education.
    - have a standard curriculam across the country and separate state addendum for vernacular language, state history.
    - no madrasas or any such stupid ideas like that.
    - no teacher’s unions

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  • http://www.bloglines.com/blog/srini Srinivas

    Atanu,
    Some thoughts on the Education platform you seem to be working on. A E-learning platform that enables creating user generated content and building a focussed community around (primary) education and vocational courses is needed. If we can disruptively use media platforms with ‘smart mobs’ we may more efficiently address the huge literacy gap.

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