Realign teaching methods to the needs of tomorrow

Notwithstanding the increase in education spending by Rs 6,000 crore in the Union budget, there is an urgent need to restructure educational materials, teaching and curriculum caught in a time warp

education Updated: Feb 22, 2017 10:24 IST
Right To Education,Annual Status of Education Report,Higher Education
Students inside the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, campus. The recent initiative of according autonomy to IIMs must become inclusive and embracing(HT Photo)

Mahatma Gandhi once observed that “True education must correspond to the surrounding circumstances or it is not a healthy growth”. There can be no magic fix for India’s education problems. Access and quality, equity and seeking private capital, adapting pedagogy to changing demand have inherent contradictions. Optimising the opportunity cost of investment between primary, secondary, higher secondary and technical education remains challenging. Some years ago, I remember speaking in a panel with Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow at the Stanford India Annual Conference who arrived at a somewhat uncommon conclusion. In a short regression analysis, he believed that maximum returns would accrue from enhanced outlays in the higher secondary Sector. This is a complex issue but there are of course serious challenges which go beyond inter-sectoral balancing. As a consequence of the Right to Education (RTE) Act enacted in 2010, enrollment ratio has been steadily rising. Regrettably, outcomes and more so academic excellence have remained stagnant. Adequacy of educational spending remains an endemic concern. There was a sharp increase of around Rs. 6,000 crores in the recent budget.

Read: Cabinet approves bill that empowers IIMs to award degrees instead of diplomas

It is another matter that operational inefficiencies, flawed administrative architecture elude outcomes not commensurate with even current levels of spending. Identifying and addressing the allocative inefficiencies from available resources is a smarter way forward. Improved quality in education is contingent on multiple variables. These include teacher attendance, quality of teachers, the pedagogy process, classroom assessment systems and school management to mention a few. The 11th edition of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has just been published. This year’s report highlights that enrolment ratio in primary education is approaching 100%. There is also a marginal improvement in reading and arithmetic ability among students, especially in primary grades, even though only 47.8 % of Std. V students 73 % of Std. VIII students are able to read Std. II level texts. A meagre 26 % of Std. V students and 46 % of Std. VIII students could do simple division. The report does, however, mention an improved performance in public schools while outcomes from private institutions remain stagnant.

Equally, issues of equity are worrisome. Equity along with access and quality form the troika of challenges facing our education system. ASER 2016 suggests wide inter-state differences in learning outcome among schoolgoing children. States like UP, MP, Bihar, Jharkhand have lagged behind on all assessment metrics of the survey. Similarly, the variations among the social groups too are considerable. According to All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2014-15, Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education for male population is 25.3% and for females, it is 23.2%. For Scheduled Castes, it is 19.1% and for Scheduled Tribes, it is 13.7% as compared to the national GER of 24.3%.

Read: Directors of 10 IIMs, including IIM Bangalore, appointed

The recent initiative of the HRD Ministry to recognise the importance of autonomy especially in the higher education sector is a positive step. The HRD Minister must be complimented in recognising that autonomy in school management when benchmarked with performance criteria is a path forward. Stepping back from the heavy hand of government in managing institutions of higher learning has eluded successive governments. I was a member of the Parliamentary Standing committee on HRD along with the present HRD minister for several years. A number of legislations for reforming the higher education sector like The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, The Central Universities (Amendment) Bill, equally suffered from the lacunae of enhancing state control. Reducing the state governments’ autonomy and seeking to micromanage learning institutions is problematic. In this context, the new initiative deserves encouragement.

Going beyond the present, there are five key issues. First and foremost, the recent initiative of according autonomy to IIMs must become inclusive and embracing. The parliamentary legislative approval is a time-consuming process. So, when there is time and willingness the Bill must provide non-discriminatory treatment to institutions beyond IIMs like ISB, MDI, and other private institutions with impeccable track record. Hopefully, the government will move an amendment or the standing committee would insert an enabling provision for similar treatment to be received by private institutions that adhere to stringent performance criteria. Besides, a separate legislation for each institution by the Parliament is neither practical nor desirable. An enabling provision which enlarges the ambit of the Bill to cover a wider array of institutions which fulfil the stringent criteria would be efficacious.

Second, what about the archaic regulatory structure and the labyrinth of current rules and procedure which govern institutions of higher learning? True, neither the Sam Pitroda, nor the Yashpal committee nor the Bill piloted in the Parliament may be perfect responses. However, an appropriate regulatory architecture which segregates licencing, accreditation and performance monitoring must be spelled out.

Third, viewing private investments with persistent suspicion is a zero-sum game. To believe that all private sector investments in education are for profiteering or for commercialisation of education would be misleading. Given paucity of funding and employment challenges, harnessing private capital and innovative practices is inescapable. A private entrepreneur would undoubtedly be driven by the opportunity cost of investment. Giving them latitude and flexibility in management to attract and retain high quality faculty and focusing on outcomes needs attitudinal changes which encourages private investment and public private partnership. For instance, a focus on outdated land norms must be replaced by norms on infrastructure, high faculty and fostering creativity.

Fourth, bridging the gap between education and employment is essential. Several employability surveys have highlighted the growing disconnect between our education and industry requirements. Impetus to vocationalisation, with robust certification and enabling apprenticeship system would build wider industry-academia collaboration.

Read: UGC asks varsities to review curriculum

Finally, realign pedagogy to serve the needs of tomorrow. This means educational materials, teaching and curriculum caught in a time warp need to be restructured for the jobs of tomorrow. Most importantly, constant learning and ability to leverage technology is needed. For the future, Einstein was right when he said “education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”.

NK Singh is a member of the BJP and a former Rajya Sabha MP

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Feb 21, 2017 22:03 IST