So, who educates the other India?

Written by  //  September 7, 2010  //  Science & Technology  //  4 Comments

This is my second post discerning the important features of education in India. The first post in the series can be found here.

A quick recap of the important points in the first post. I identified four broad pillars of education in India, need for a structural reform to ensure the following basic requirements.

a) Meritocracy to ensure that the brightest minds get incentives to work harder b) Special attention to ensure that majority students are able to cross a minimum threshold c) The most difficult part of how to include the ones that have been severely undereducated and under performing for decades into the system.

Indian education is characterized by a deep and vast chasm between the best and the neglected, that it can leave even the best analysts wondering of how to even approach the question of fairness in such a society and what approach can bridge this ‘great divide’. Needless, to say such a huge divide in accessibility creates very serious social tensions in the whole society, and if not adequately addressed, it leads to strong resentment from the neglected sections, chronic underdevelopment, illiteracy, and the vicious cycle of decay and dilapidation resulting in a fractured bickering social fabric, that is susceptible to repeated destabilization.

A lot of cliches have been used to characterize this social fabric. Some common one, that find parlance in journalistic hyperbole are: a) At one end India is producing the best software engineers building the software systems for the developed world, at other end, in the slums of Dharvi, people are struggling to get basic access!  b) As one part of India is blazing at the speed of light into the echelons of development, that other part languishes and watches in restrained silence, as a new generation of elite English masters have replaced the previous generation of the colonizers! etc. etc.

Although, such hyperbole is good for journalistic purposes and generates quick soundbites, easily gobbled by both media and its audience, all the important questions are essentially relegated to the background, resulting in a discussion that largely seeks to feed its own prejudices, instead of doing the harder task of finding an intellectually clear path, that can help us arrive at some beginning comprehension of the magnitude of the problem and the amount of intellectual resource needed to start arriving at a solution, and the difficult barriers imposed by decades of negligence, poor polity, and a brutal history of continual caste and gender oppression that continues unabated to this day.

I will try to characterize the magnitude of the problem in this post. The later posts will focus on how both extremely poor policy making has largely contributed to the existing state of affairs, and how rampant caste based violence, repeated degradation and humiliation of certain sections, and history of tribal and communal warfare makes the task of reform a highly difficult, almost intractable problem.

Let us quickly arrive at some base understanding of the magnitude of the problem. I will not do a figure based analysis here, but instead focus on rough approximate analysis, that adequately models the problem and gives us a sufficient basis of thinking through the most important factors, without losing the forest for the trees.

Let me take the state of Uttar Pradesh, where I worked for an year in the field of education. Of the 20 schools we worked with, almost all of them in different parts, a) Almost no school children till class fifth had basic reading and writing skills. Most students failed to spell even their own names. b) Most teachers are so unqualified and poorly trained, that one is left wondering about the efficacy of the examinations that help them getting appointed to such positions in the first place c) Many teachers are made to do extremely pointless tasks like survey collection, working for the government etc. that leaves them with inadequate time for their teaching, the incompetence notwithstanding d) There exist strong teacher unions, that have a lot of district and in some cases state level political support, and there is strong orthodoxy and objection that creates a strong barrier towards any task of policy reform.

All these factors combined mean that most students who pass ‘high school’ have almost zero skill set and hence unemployable by even basic industries that require some base skills for employment. This makes them unfit to enroll in professional colleges across the country, making the career prospects bleak and dim. In the modern ‘information age’, when most industries require some familiarity with basic tools of computer systems, such students have almost zero familiarity with such tools, thus severely limiting their prospects. Economic and political factors combined mean that there is very little interest either among the functioning institutions or the frameworks that support them to do the extremely difficult task of reform. Also, any ‘outside’ effort made to change the existing state of affairs, can only achieve very limited success because of rigid and orthodox political structures (eg. unions) that underlie the current institutions.

Thus, not only is the current crop of students lacking in capabilities and severely undereducated, the combined factors mean that it is very unlikely that there is a sea change sometime soon, and only a very strong and integrated effort at socio-political level, and introduction of new methodologies of effective teaching and learning that can be scaled up by private investment or a coordinated public enterprise can hope to alter the existing state of affairs.

In this post, I have tried to highlight the magnitude of the problem that India faces in educating the majority of it’s ‘rural’ young. In the future sections, I would further highlight, how other factors (mainly caste and gender oppression) further complicate these issues and the necessity of designing education systems that can be both vigilant to these social ills, and combat them effectively at the same time.

About the Author

Sumeet has a degree in computer science and engineering from Department of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Delhi. He enjoys studying science and technology both from an abstract perspective and the applications they can have in solving some compelling real world problems. He also frequently writes on some socio - political issues and enjoys working and interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and interests.

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4 Comments on "So, who educates the other India?"

  1. Vipul September 7, 2010 at 2:10 pm ·

    You talk of the “ones” who have been under performing for decades. But people are not in school for more than 1.5 decades (and many stick around for less time), so I don’t know what that means. And if you are talking about primary school, students there have not even been alive for a decade.

    Also, you contrast the “best” with the “neglected” and that is asymmetric. Best goes with worst and neglected goes with pampered. Which one is it?

  2. Akshat Rathi September 7, 2010 at 10:55 pm ·

    I am losing track of your argument here. What you have highlighted in this post is nothing new. I would like to hear your thoughts on how can we make some difference to the structure.

  3. Sumeet September 8, 2010 at 7:15 am ·

    What I was trying to indicate in this post was that the structure is so rigid and static, that it is very very hard to alter it. I was trying to prove it through some arguments.

    Once we can get an idea of how intractable the problem is, we can try to better think it through, and find some possible approaches. But it will take a long long time for anything concrete to change here.

  4. Sumeet September 8, 2010 at 7:16 am ·

    What I mean specifically is the people who belong to certain specific set of communities, backgrounds, who generation after generation have been under performing.

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