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Get the basics right

india Updated: Jan 21, 2008 20:48 IST

“A vibrant good quality and universally accessible government school system is the basic foundation upon which the schooling system of the country must rest.”

This may sound like stating the obvious, but as things stand, the Sam Pitroda-led National Knowledge Commission (NKC) has enough reasons to have said as much. Governance of education has been appalling. So when, last week, the NKC blamed government inaction for the poor state of the education infrastructure, delivery and accountability, it wasn’t stating the obvious.

It was reiterating the need to arrest the downward spiral of standards in our schools and colleges and inability to cope with India’s goals for education. Mushrooming institutes, from the primary to the higher education levels, defunct and apathetic monitoring bodies and staggering amounts of recommendations are the hallmark of our educational system. On one hand, the government seeks to muzzle private enterprise, imposing upon them fee restrictions and quota regimes, on the other, they choose to ignore the crying need for a revolution in government-run schools and colleges.

The NKC has ‘strongly’ recommended “a substantial increase in the central allocation, including funds to be provided to states for elementary education”. Blaming the “rigid territorial mindset” of the government is one thing, it is quite another to figure out just who is responsible for what.

Since the Human Resource Development Ministry seems loathe to be progressive on any front, choosing to play tweedledum-tweedledee politics instead, the Prime Minister must make this a priority area. At the end of the day, this isn’t only about funds. It is about approach, attitude and commitment. Forget the United Nations’ millennium goals, we do not even have a roadmap on how to ensure that a child enters school, and leaves after six/eight/ten/12 years, armed with the tools to be a responsible citizen, skilled and able to achieve his/her dreams.

Instead, we are saddled with quota politics and corruption, with scant regard to the purpose of the government’s role in this sector. At the same time, the sector attracts a mediocre workforce — a fallout of the low priority given to it.
The NKC’s report has sensible, achievable and endurable strategies to overhaul the higher education system. The big picture has been sketched. It is entirely the Centre’s prerogative, and duty to create manageable systems to achieve the dream of an empowered India.