It will not be an exaggeration when I say, ‘the Union HRD Minister and her ministry are always caught in controversy’. The decision to end German Language learning in Kendriya Vidyalayas and impose Sanskrit in its position was imperious to a secular and democratic nation. In between there were suggestions to introduce common syllabus at the national level. Even in the case of UPSC exams there were controversies towards the end of UPA tenure. Many are settled for the time being but vulnerable for inconsistent policy decisions and the desired outcomes.
India, according to many experts could be one of the world’s leading economies (among the first four) in another decades time. Everyone is pleased to hear this whenever and wherever the jubilation is around. But many forget to understand that for any growing economy, one of the key supplementing factors is the‘quality education’ provided to the young generation. In this country, as stated above, most of the times the discussions, debates and controversies are around the imposition from the above and least about the flexibility and innovation that could bring a sea change in the sector.
I started using internet by 1998 and the mobile phones by 2005. It was expensive to use both of them and luckily others were funding me on these at that time. But the neither so called funders nor the educational institutions of that time bothered to teach me how to use them. I belong to the generation that witnessed the growth and development of desktop computers to Laptops to Tablets. In the phone segment, we have experienced the basic bar phones to smart phones of different features.
I remember one of my friends presenting a note on the future of computer taking the photographs of the users in the early years of development of desktop computers. At that time we did not understand his arguments but today I use my tablet to document all the events and functions that I attend ignoring the costly camera I had bought a few years ago. This teaches me the valuable lesson of informed choices and access to opt them. Imposed learning is not always the right choice to many.
How did this happen; there is an element of spontaneous order in the whole business of evolution, adaption and maturity. It takes time but with interesting results at the end. Why not apply the same logic in a modified way in the school education providing opportunities to the stake holders to innovate and be flexible? Where are we missing the link?
In the school education sector in India, many consider and it is a fact that there is a division on the quality of education received in rural and urban areas. Students who come from the urban middle class are sent to elite schools where they are taught the prerequisites of reasoning, analytical skills, interpersonal skills, mental ability and all that is required for management and engineering education. What about those in rural areas and the backward regions; they are catered by the government schools which are normally dysfunctional and the teachers do not show up. The students of the government schools are most vulnerable to the trial and error processes in the education sector that the various Governments follow.
In the state of Kerala, these issues are largely addressed through a systematic reform in the education sector. Density of the schools is very high in Kerala where the competition among the government, private and aided schools ensure the quality outcome, transparency and accountability among the stake holders. But this is not true for many other states. The kids are forced to study in educational institutions/government schoolsas they can’t afford the education in private schools. While the philanthropy in school education system in various forms (which also played a major role in the development of the sector) are known for many decades, the eco systems are not so encouraging at other parts of the country.
Most of the times, more than the syllabus and the content, it is the class room environment and teaching methods bother the parents. While the choice and option are still out there, the poor and rural folks find it difficult to send their kids to the best quality schools around for the lack of money and support systems. While the state governments offer scholarships and grants to the needy students, the work and effort to get them on time which are confined to the benefits of government school do not help the aggrieved parents.
In the case of the United States of America, the education sector has tried to offer many innovative solutions to these challenging problems. One early proposal was that of ‘Vouchers’. A school voucher is a coupon or certificate awarded to parents or to a private school on behalf of a parent so that a child can attend a private school. This has raised protests from the teachers union across the states. Also it denied opportunities for the special need students. Further innovation in the domain has led Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signing education savings accounts (ESA,officially called “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts”) into law on April 12, 2011. A critical feature of the accounts is that they enable parents to purchase a variety of educational products and services.
With ESA, parents can choose from a wide variety of online classes, personal tutors, educational therapies, textbooks, and private schools. In fact, parents do not have to send their children to private school at all. For example, they can use a combination of homeschool lessons, virtual school classes, and individual public school classes. ESA allows individuals to deposit up to $2,000 per year in an educational savings account for an eligible beneficiary (child) without being taxed on earnings from interest, dividends, appreciation, etc. – as long as the child uses the funds before the age of 30 for qualified educational expenses. The account must be started and all contributions made before the child is 18. The age 18 and age 30 limitations are waived if the beneficiary has special needs. This waiver allows the ESA to be funded after age 18 and allows the assets to remain in the account after age 30. This system helps the corporates and the individuals who fund for the kid’s education can monitor the progress and the quality imparted. This in fact made it very competitive informed choice for the parents and kids to choose from among the different practices.
Let us hope the trial and error processes that our ministries follow start focusing more on the actual issues in the Education Sector that are stumbling blocks to our development. Let us hope for an India where all children, irrespective of whether rich or poor or from urban or rural areas are empowered to have umpteen options to choose from, for their education.
*Dr D Dhanuraj is the Chairman of Centre for Public Policy Research
**This article is a reproduction of views which appeared in Pallikkutam, a monthly magazine published by Rajagiri Group of Educational Institutions