I just spent the past 3 months in India looking at the education system and how ICT could play a role in improving student outcomes. After countless discussions with local scholars, school visits, teacher interviews, and conversations with students and parents (both in rural and urban India), I’ve come to the conclusion that lack of technology is not the reason for the abysmal quality of basic education in India.
In my opinion, here are the top 3 things India needs to do for improving quality of education, and none of them involve technology directly (although technology can be a powerful tool in addressing these issues if used the right way):
1) Make the Teaching Profession Valuable:
Currently, majority of the educated youth in India choose teaching as a profession only after other options are exhausted. As a result, the wrong people are entering the teaching profession – people who are not motivated, and are really not interested in teaching. Ofcourse, India being a democracy, one cannot stop people from choosing any career they want. But what one can do is improve the process of teacher eligibility/selection, and improve the value of a school teacher. Similar to some of the Scandinavian countries like Finland, the teaching profession needs to be made respectful in India….on par with the Engineering, Medical, Law professions. Easier said than done ofcourse, but India desperately needs to bring some fresh blood and enthusiasm in the teaching profession.
2) Address the Teacher Accountability Issue:
After the 6th Pay commission gave teacher pay and benefits a great boost, the implementation of the Right to Education Act has put heavy emphasis on the inputs to the education system – infrastructure, student enrolment rates etc. The Indian government has spent 88,000 Crore rupees on education since 2004, yet the quality of education is abysmal, with high drop out rates (50% student drop out by 8th grade, with only 12% actually graduate college). What explains this?? One statistic stands out – 65% of the teaching resources are wasted in India due to the combination of teacher absenteeism and teacher inactivity in school classrooms. And the main reason being the lack of accountability. The teacher unions have become disproportionately powerful with heavy political connections, due to which there is total lack of monitoring – the school inspections are a joke. Also, there is a huge demand and heavy shortage of teachers in India (unofficial number is 3 million), which is not helping in improving accountability. Policy makers and the people in power in India know about this issue, but are very hesitant to deal with it. But i think it’s about time, India stops shying away from it and starts addressing the teacher accountability issue.
3) Improve Quality of Demand:
One cannot blame the Indian government for all the educational problems. Equal responsibility has to be shared by the people. Talking to the locals/parents in India, i got a feeling that the people have lost faith in the public education system due to its poor quality. They have given up hope. And the fact that the educated, well-to-do population send their kids to private schools, makes it difficult to motivate them to care about India’s public education system. But that needs to change. India needs a better quality of demand. And this starts with the educated population, motivated, helping out, and demanding a better quality of public education. The illiterate population and the locals/parents from the under-privileged communities, need to be educated about their rights, the need to be given a voice/hope, that good quality public education is their right and the government needs to deliver it. It is also critical that the disproportionate power of the teacher unions is counter-balanced by some sort of parent unions, or student unions.
With the inputs to the education system taken care, it’s about time India starts focusing on student outcomes, and on improving the quality of education. And although technology has an important role to play, it is not the silver bullet, and should not be the focus when creating any educational strategy in India. The focus should be the 3 things mentioned above – raising the value of the teaching profession, addressing the teacher accountability issue, and improving the quality of demand in India; and technology should be used as a tool to supplement other tools that address the social, cultural and economic realities on the ground.
(Fellow in Foreign Service, Georgetown University)