We are now on the threshold of a new decade, the second decade of the millennium. We can all look forward to exciting years ahead, full of opportunity and promise, wherein India will be a leading global economy. In fact, I believe, India will witness its second golden age and we will excel globally in each and every field namely, science and technology, literature, dance, drama, music, art and design, sports, academics, trade, etc.
Today, whereas developed countries like US, UK, Japan, etc have a talent shortage, India has a talent surplus, but it is largely untapped and at the same time there is a massive talent mismatch. As the 'destiny of India is being shaped in her classrooms', we need to leverage the quality, access and impact of education, in particular, vocational and higher education.
Before analysing the felt needs, let us examine the key attributes of a world class university, which are as follows:
* Highly qualified faculty
* Excellence in research and innovative ideas in abundance
* Effective teaching with a focus on development of cognitive and higher order thinking skills
* State-of-the art infrastructure for teaching
* Students with the requisite potential and talent
* Well defined autonomous governance structures
* Government, as well as non-government, sources of funding
* An outstanding management team with strategic vision and implementation plans
* Graduates who attain positions of influence and/ or power
* A notable contribution to society
* Continuous benchmarking with top universities worldwide
* Confidence to set its own agenda
With this frame of reference, we need to analyse the following limitations of our institutions of higher learning:
a) Since independence, there has been inadequate focus on education, higher education, in particular, by successive governments both at the Centre and state levels
b) Educationists and academicians have been among the most neglected professionals in the country in terms of recognition as well as remuneration. The salary structure of the Indian academic fraternity has been one of the lowest in the country. Thus teaching as a profession, though considered noble, has failed to attract the best talent.
c) There is also an adverse PhD to non-PhD ratio in the composition of the faculty in most universities.
d) While India has some of the globally recognised leading institutions like the IITs, IIMs, Indian Institute of Science, National Law Schools, National Institutes of Fashion Technology, etc, the general standard of education is mediocre.
e) Public spending has not been commensurate with the increase in student enrolment
f) There is no central and single point regulatory authority for the various institutes of higher learning in India. Moreover, the focus has been more on control and regulation rather than process and development
g) There is hardly any integration with industry and other stakeholders.
Some of the other pressing issues are:
a) Lack of involvement of the governing councils
b) Absence of academic committees
c) Low level of student involvement
d) Adverse student to faculty ratio
Dr R A Mashelkar's vision (president of the Indian National Science Academy and director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) of India becoming 'The World's Number 1 production centre', though highly ambitious, is achievable if the following doable steps are urgently implemented through the commitment, dedication and perseverance of all stakeholders namely, government, university leaders and administrators, teachers, students, corporate sector, etc.
* Upgrading the quality of faculty by recruiting highly qualified professionals with a passion for teaching, offering commensurate remuneration, encouraging research and holding regular need specific faculty development programmes
* Focusing on the creation of intellectual capital by upscaling research and development as well as publication of research findings and literature of an academic nature.
* Revamping and redesigning content and curriculum to ensure quality and relevance by also incorporating the latest trends in each field
* Moving away from traditional methods of "lecturing" in classrooms to facilitating a learning and research based knowledge approach.
* Introducing and integrating new and innovative approaches in every aspect of the delivery of best practices of higher education
* Improving the standards of assessment and evaluation
* Besides, academics, imparting the necessary soft skills so that the graduates become much sought after not just domestically but internationally as well
* Improving the infrastructure of most universities and institutions of higher learning in terms of teaching facilities, libraries, laboratories as well as accommodation facilities for students
* Bridging the gap between school and tertiary education through appropriate backward and forward linkages
* Establishing strategic links among institutions of higher learning and industries, scientific labs, business entities, etc. for enhancing the relevance of the curricula as well as the employability of the graduates.
* Streamlining the bureaucracy and enhancing the efficiency of the governing bodies and administrators of higher education
"The empires of the 21st century will be the empires of the mind"! This trueism compels us to refocus on strategic measures to upscale the quality and standards of our institutes of higher learning. Along with strategic reforms to reach the unreached by bridging the gap between the haves and the have nots, these interventions in the field of higher education will surely add value to the intellectual capital of Uttar Pradesh while leveraging India's position as a world leader.
About the author
Dr Amrita Dass is a leading educationist and career-consultant of India. She is the founder-director of ICS-International (established in 1985) and has the distinction of pioneering the career counselling and guidance services in the country. ICS has conducted career counselling and training programmes in over 150 educational institutions in India and abroad. Dr Dass has had an outstanding academic background. Having topped in MA with two gold medals, she pursued her doctoral research at London University. She has been member, Advisory Committee of the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), Ex-officio director of the State Bank of India (SBI) and member-steering committee on women and child development, Planning Commission (9th Five-Year Plan).
RTE: Stakeholders need to act
The Right to Education (RTE) exists only on paper. But it can be implemented in spirit as well. How? If the stakeholders, both the central and the state government, get their act together and mount some sort of pressure on private elite schools, this mission is achievable. The RTE came into force last year. It is not being implemented by the schools even now. This has deprived poor children of the opportunity of entering the portals of top city schools.
A public outcry and campaign by NGOs can also be a great help.
In Lucknow, the nursery admissions are on in the English medium schools. But most of these schools are not adhering to the key features of the RTE that says 25% children belonging to the weaker sections should be given free and compulsory elementary education. The admission forms do not carry any reference related to RTE.
Why? UP is a big state. The state government has not yet formulated any guidelines and has not issued any notification to implement the RTE. Once it is done, the RTE will come into effect both in letter and spirit, says DC Kanujiya, director, basic education, UP. So it's official. Leave alone private schools, it cannot be implemented even in government-run schools because the rules have not been laid down yet.
Thus parents who want their children to study in elite schools have no choice but to get their kids enrolled in aided schools. Radhey, a peon with a private company, says, "I want my two children to study in a school where children of my boss are getting education. But there is no initiative on the government's part to enforce it."
The Right to Education (RTE) not only talks about the child's right to free education, but it also lays stress on imparting quality education. But in UP, there is a army of not so well-trained instructors or para-teachers.
The official take is different. Ashok Ganguly, former director, SCERT, says: "All micro planning has been done and the requirement vis-à-vis the RTE Act has been finalised for UP. Also, efforts are on to strengthen the block resource centre (brc) and nagar panchyat resource centre (NPRC) to ensure quality training of the teachers. Thus strengthening of BRCs is being taken into account."
The schools are not ready to throw open their gates for the poor, citing a number of flaws in the RTE Act itself. Refusing to be named, a school principal said, "The RTE talks about free and compulsory education for all children between 6-14 years. The nursery admissions are done at the age of 3-4 years. So it cannot apply to the nursery admissions."
Salient features of RTE
*No examination till completion of elementary eduction
*No child shall be failed or expelled up to class 8
*Bars corporal punishment, mental harassment
*No screening or tests for admission