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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Did we achieve the Kalam’s 20/20 vision in education?

India’s former president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam decided to write about the India of the future in the mid-1990s, he had a 25-year time frame and the term 20/20. 20/20 is a phrase used to describe a perfect eyesight.  He called his writing “A Vision for the New Millennium” and it was published in 1998. Kalam’s 20/20 vision in education, not only a desirable one but a practical one too. Amid the cuts in FY 2020 budget, this is an attempt to take a critical look at our progress in the sector.

As “the week” magazine puts it: Indian education system suffers from a syndrome called “The Mediocrity syndrome”. The Mediocrity starts at the elementary level and continues up to Phd level.  The article points out to Facebook CEO’s letter to his newborn daughter Max. In his letter, Mark says

“Our generation grew up in classrooms where we all learned the same things at the same pace regardless of our interests or needs. Your generation will set goals for what you want to become—like an engineer, health worker, writer or community leader. You’ll have technology that understands how you learn best and where you need to focus… advance quickly in subjects that interest you most, and get as much help as you need In your most challenging areas….explore topics that aren’t even offered in schools today. Your teachers will also have better tools and data to help you achieve your goals”.

The letter while envisioning a beautiful education system for today’s generation, hints at the tall goal our hamstrung Indian education system should aim for. To understand the hollowness in our primary education system, consider this: 

The World Development Report, the surveys of Programme for International Student Assessment and the findings of ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) reveal shocking facts about India’s current education system. More than 50 per cent of fifth standard students cannot read text at the second standard level, nor can they do single digit additions and subtractions. Shirish Chindhade, writing for The Week, points out, Indian Education system has a “no-detention” policy to boot, which results in students being advanced to higher classes half-baked and ill-equipped. This flotsam will soon strike the tertiary shores. What can be salvaged? Will it supply robust building blocks for the nation? The buzzwords today are innovation, cross cutting approach, tangible learning outcomes, quality and excellence. Excellence is a fruit of rare cultivation; it does not grow on ordinary trees.”

Speaking of the Mediocrity at the higher education level, Shirish reminds us “Let us not forget that casualness is the mother of mediocrity and the enemy of excellence”. Shirish points out; is there any innovation worth the salt?

Infosys founder Narayana Murthy once raised the question, “Is there one innovation from India that has become a household name in the globe? No such contribution in the last 60 years? India is about a country with around 40,000 colleges and 800 universities! Most of our PhD level research is like exhuming a corpse from one grave and interring it into another! It Is either recycled or rancid plagiarism. Innovative research occupies the top-notch in world ranking. 

Connecting the linkage between elementary and research level education Shirish asserts: “If you sow peanuts, you cannot reap almonds!”

This is not to suggest the changes in the education both at the primary and secondary level is not in the minds of our policy makers. The ideas are on paper. It is the execution that lacks. The National Policy on Education was framed in 1986 and is modified in 1992. Since then several changes have taken place that calls for a revision of the Policy. The recent one happened in 2019. The draft Policy provides for reforms at all levels of education from school to higher education. It seeks to increase the focus on early childhood care, reform the current exam system, strengthen teacher training, and restructure the education regulatory framework. The draft policy which is not public yet, sets tall goals for our policy makers. For example in the Early Childhood Care and Education, the policy points out to a plethora of problems including:

  1. Lack  of access,
  2. a curriculum that doesn’t meet the developmental needs of children, 
  3. lack of qualified and trained teachers, and
  4. substandard pedagogy. 

The Committee headed by Dr. K. Kasturirangan submitted its draft national education policy on May 31, 2019. For a proper implementation of policy, the report requires, a 10% year over year increase in the budgetary allocation to education for the next 10 years.  

However, the latest money allocated in the Budget 2020-21 is only 4.5 percent more than last year. A budget of Rs 99,300 crore is allocated to the education sector this year. It was Rs 94,854 crore in July, 2019. Additionally, this year, a Rs 3,000 crore is allocated for skill development. 

To worsen the problem, there are spending cuts in the recent budget allocation for the related programs. For e.g. There is a 50 per cent reduction in the funds for research and innovation in the higher education sector—from Rs 609 crore last year to Rs 307 crore this year, and there is a whooping 85 percent reduction in the allocation to the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). Last year it was Rs 2,100 crore and this year it came down all the way to Rs 300 crore. In addition, last year saw issues in the utilization of the allocated funds. An audit by implementing agency Tata Institute of Social Sciences found misappropriation of over Rs 2 crore in the RUSA expenditure. 

Allocation of Budget to education sector. Will we achieve the Kalam's 20/20 vision in education?
Allocation of Budget to education sector. Will we achieve the Kalam’s 20/20 vision in education?

On one occasion, Kalam said “Education system needs to breed and bring the best of creativity from the students…. In India, the education system needs modifications to nurture ground level and practical creativity.” Bringing out the creativity from students requires access to resources, a structured way of thinking and a mode of education that pushes them towards the path where their creativity takes them. As Mark Zukerberg points out, our education system makes everyone learn the same things at the same pace regardless of our interests or needs.

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