What is the Problem with the Public Education System in India?
The challenges facing the Indian education system are immense, and the need for reform is immediate. The Services sector (mainly Informational Technology) led economic boom in India has really masked the issues in its educational system. Here are some mind-boggling statistics that will give some perspective on the seriousness of this issue:
- India has 22% of the World’s population and 46% of the global illiterates. Female illiteracy rates in India are higher than even sub-Saharan Africa.
- Teacher absenteeism rates in India are the highest in the world – 13 percentage points higher than the next highest country.
- India has a very young demography – 54% of the population is under the age of 25. With 10 million people expected to enter the Indian workforce every year for the next few decades, if the education system is not fixed, there will be huge disgruntled uneducated population in India, and the demographic blessing will soon turn into a curse and a disaster for India.
What are the Main Reasons for the Educational Issues in India?
Poor Quality of Education: Since the 1970s, the Indian government has been focused on quantity, and has ignored the quality of education. Although the student enrollment rates have significantly improved in India in recent years, enrollment does not mean attendance, and attendance does not mean that the students are learning in schools. The repetition and drop-out rates for students is high, due to the lack of trust in the education system, and its poor quality.
Low accountability in the system: One of the biggest reasons for the poor quality of education in India is the lack of accountability. The monitoring of the education system is weak due to the extreme centralization, bureaucracy and corruption. The local community has no power and hence the cannot contribute towards helping the monitoring process. Due to this, the teacher accountability is very low, which has led to high teacher absenteeism rates in India.
Social/Cultural issues: The Indian culture is very rich in its ethnic diversity, and the caste system is still prevalent. One of the drawbacks of this is the lack of interaction between the teachers and parents, due to the difference in their social and economic background. The lack of opportunities of girls and the people belonging to the lower-caste groups in India also has a deep-rooted cultural reasonings behind it.
What Needs to be done?
Need Political Will: Although this sounds obvious, the will of the Indian government is the first and the most important step needed for making any educational reform. The government needs to realize the gravity of the situation and think long-term in terms of sustained equal economic growth and social stability. The Right To Education Act slogan should be changed to the Right to Right Education. Support for equity in education for the females and the disadvantaged groups in India will also be crucial.
Need to Focus on Quality of Education: Although the inputs to the education system (building schools, providing teachers, books etc) are important, India needs to start focusing on the outputs – student outcomes. The first step in this process is to improve accountability in the system. This will require decentralization of the education system by making legislative changes to give more administrative power to the local community, for them to assist in monitoring the local school system. There also needs to be a serious focus on improving teacher accountability, at the same time, improving the motivation for the teachers in India. Currently, the teachers don’t get salary raises if they do a good job, nor do they get fired for doing a bad job in school. Hence, there is no motivation for them to do well in their profession. We can help motivate the teachers by improving the teacher monitoring techniques, and by giving them incentives in the form of bonus salary payments. Studies have shown positive impact that incentives and monitoring can make on not only reducing teacher absenteeism, but on the student achievements. It is also critical to reform the current seniority-based teacher salary structure, and make it a performance-based salary structure.
Need to Monitor, Measure and Assess the Quality of Education: Measuring the quality and the impact of education is always a difficult thing. But it is nevertheless a crucial step. India needs a relentless focus on student outcome results, and to retool its educational strategies based on those results. This needs improving its monitoring and measuring systems. As mentioned in the sections above, technology can play a big role in improving the monitoring capabilities. Internationally comparable tests like the PISA is also a good first step in regard to measuring the student achievement levels. School rating systems can also be very useful in this process and is required in India. Schools can be rated based on not just the inputs to the schools, but also the outputs like student outcomes. This not only helps in creating competition among schools, but it also gives the parents information and helps them in their choice of picking the right school for their children. Having a better monitoring and measurement system in place in the education sector, is also beneficial for justifying the public and/or donor investment in education, for improving the country’s economic performance, and most importantly, for providing a better quality of life for the students in India.
How can ICTs help?
When used in the right context, ICTs can play in important role in supplementing the other structural changes (political, social, economic) required in the Indian education system. Traditionally, ICTs have been used in education by their direct access. But I think there is an untapped potential of the power of indirect access to ICTs that we need to harness, for empowering the administrative side of education system, and local community by getting them more involved. Mobile phone technology will make teacher monitoring, and the concepts such as conditional cash transfer programs, crowdsourcing and crowdvoicing easy to implement. The combination of mobile and radio technologies can be used in implementing Interactive Radio Instructions in school, to improve the student achievement levels. Thus technology will definitely assist in improving the efficiency, and the accountability in the Indian education system, if used the right way.
The educational issues in India are very complex, and varies from state to state based on the cultural, social and political system of that particular state. But it is not impossible to fix the public education system in India. It will need the political will and a serious civic society involvement for implementing the reforms. Education is a make or break issue for India. And although Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are not the silver bullet in solving the educational problems, if all the political, social, and economic structures mentioned above are in place, the diffusion of technology will serve as a catalyst for improving transparency and accountability in the system, and providing an improved quality of education to the millions of kids in India.