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In recent years, India has been given to boasting about its IT prowess and vast pool of young workers. But a recent Nasscom-McKinsey report doesn?t quite see things this way.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 00:24 IST

In recent years, India has been given to boasting about its IT prowess and vast pool of young workers. But a recent Nasscom-McKinsey report doesn’t quite see things this way. It says that if India does not bring in relevant reform in the education sector, it will face a shortfall of 350,000 business-process workers and 150,000 IT engineers by the end of 2010 — target year to meet universal primary education goals. The problem, the report adds, does not lie at the university level, but at India’s rickety base in primary education. It’s almost five years since Parliament passed a constitutional amendment to make education for children aged between 6 and 14 a fundamental right. Yet in these five years, the government has failed to pass the required legislation to achieve this goal.

The government’s flagship project towards this goal is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programme. Claims of improved utilisation of funds since 2002 have encouraged the approval of Rs 11,000 crore for the SSA in 2006-07. Yet, a recent survey by NGO Pratham on measuring the outcome of government-run projects in schools shows up the big gaps in stated goals — enrolment did not translate into literate students. The numerous State initiatives undoubtedly mobilise a large amount of money, but there is no way of measuring outcomes except for figures on expenditure and enrolment. For instance, the Rs 8,000 crore mopped up as education cess is often described as a ‘drop’ in the ocean of requirement. The absence of a demonstrable outcome makes the average citizen more sceptical of government policy, especially in the face of the never-ending saga of quotas, State interference in the running of unaided private schools, tweaking of syllabi and irrelevant curriculum changes. Whatever drive spurs the SSA campaign seems to wither at the state level to peter out at the block and district level. Government schools are so poorly run that the under-privileged prefer to send their wards to private schools, no matter the quality of education. The government needs to recognise that private, unaided, unrecognised schools can also be a pillar of strength in the effort to achieve universal education.

What is required now is a paradigm shift in thinking that will measure education in terms of greater utilitarian outcomes, rather than literacy. Only then will India’s growing young population have the capability to exploit the opportunities of a new world.

First Published: Mar 14, 2006 00:24 IST