Sunday, September 25, 2016

HIGH-IMPACT ACTION POINTS for NEW EDUCATION POLICY

Background

India is a diverse society having a broad spectrum of formal learners (students) in terms of academic, cultural, economic, ideological and social parameters. It is estimated that 65% of the Indian population is below the age of 35 and 54% of the population is below the age of 25. These statistics are often cited by experts as evidence of the ample demographic dividend that India as a nation has. This demographic dividend if encashed by India can catapult her to become a Superpower within two decades or less.  On the other hand, if India does not educate her youth well and does not equip them with employable skills, a demographic disaster is just around the corner as over 2 million youth are entering the job market every month in India !

The Education policies pursued by successive Indian Governments in the past 70 years have placed India in an unenviable position to lose this historic opportunity and precipitate a demographic disaster by 2020. The unprecedented mandate that the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government secured in May 2014 presented the Union Govt with an excellent opportunity to reverse this unfortunate trend and positively transform India’s dismal educational landscape.  However, two years have passed by and little has been achieved so far. The only 3 good things which the HRD Ministry has done from 2014-16 are building toilets for girl students in rural areas, creating a National Rankings Framework (based on 5 measurable parameters) for all senior colleges and initiating a nation-wide consultation process from Gram Panchayats in villages to urban civil societies via personal or public meetings and also by online means towards framing a New Education Policy. 

The Union Govt of India had framed an Education Policy Document in 1968 and in 1986 (modified in 1992). It is only after 30 years since 1986 that the Union Govt has resolved to come up with a New Education Policy 2016 for the nation. It remains to be seen when the New Education Policy is finally presented to the nation and to what extent the diverse viewpoints presented by millions of citizens and experts are factored in. The New Education Policy 2016 has the potential to be a transformative document which can significantly alter the course of India’s future if implemented right. Hence, this article highlights the realities of India’s education sector in 2016 and makes select but extremely powerful suggestions to be incorporated in India’s Education Policy 2016.  I have already submitted these suggestions to the Union HRD Ministry for their consideration.

Current key Statistics & Data in Education sector :

When anyone wants to transform anything, it is essential that one is aware of the current state of affairs. This helps one to set reasonable time-bound targets and also prompts us to identify the major factors due to which certain desirable parameters are poor. This in turn can start the process of implementing innovative solutions to remove the blocks and bring progress and growth. So, let us take a quick look at the key statistics in Education sector in India today as per the data available from various authentic sources. 

As per the Union Govt. records, in 2014-15, there are about 29.25 crore students and 94 Lac teachers in India’s education sector. There are about 25.95 crore students in school education from Std.1 to 12 and about 3.3 crore students (2.7 cr in UG courses, 36 L in PG courses, 23 L in Diploma, < 1 L pursuing Ph.D.) in Higher education. There are about 80 lac teachers in the school education sector from Std.1-12 and about 14 lac teachers engaged in the Higher Education sector of India. India has 15.1 lac schools from Std.1-12, 711 Universities, 40760 colleges and 11922 stand-alone institutions.  Thus, India’s education sector is one of the largest in the world and almost one-fifth of India’s population is involved either as a student or teacher or non-teaching staff member in education sector.

For every 10 students who enrol in Std.1, 9 reach till Std.6 but only 6 students reach till Std.8 and hardly 5 (47/100) reach till Std.10. The Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in Higher Education stands at 23.6%.  Hardly 0.25% of students who enrol for UG courses go on to enrol for Ph.D. / Research courses. There are hardly 55000 Ph.Ds which India produced in the 10 years period from 2006-2015. Despite being an IT Services hub, hardly 50 Ph.Ds are produced by India in Computers Science which is what an average American University produces annually.

Every year, about 20 lac students complete their education in the technical domain and arrive in the job market. Out of these, 9.5 L are Engineers, 7 L are Diploma Holders, 2.4 L are Management professionals, 35000 are Doctors, 30000 are Architects and 50000 are B.Pharm graduates. NASSCOM, FICCI and CII have repeatedly said in the past 10 years that barely 15% of Engineers coming out of India’s 3500+ Engineering colleges are employable!

Current expenditure on Education is 3.5% of GDP when the recommended figure is 6%. Two-thirds of schools in school education sector are run by the Government whereas two-thirds of colleges in higher education sector are run by private sector.

India’s education sector suffers in quality at all levels of education. As per successive reports prepared by the National Assessment Surveys (NAS) which is under NCERT or the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by NGO Pratham, the dismal quality of education in the school education sector from Std.1-12 has been amply highlighted. For example, a recent ASER report found that 50% of Std.5 students and 25% of Std.8 students could NOT read texts of Std.2 !!!

In the Higher education sector too, hardly 2-4 colleges from India (mostly the IITs) figure in the Top 1000 colleges as per the Times Higher Education Rankings and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Rankings. Hardly 9% of the accredited Indian colleges have accorded been A-grade by NAAC. In the Engineering domain for example at undergraduate programs, there are 18 lac seats available across the nation in first year of Engineering of which only about 60000 are in A-grade colleges.

Every year, about 3 lac students from India go abroad (the US, UK, Australia and Canada are favourite destinations) for studies (mostly post-graduate and doctoral programs) and spend about 60000 crores per year. The annual spending by Indians for studying abroad is twice the amount allocated in the Union budget for higher education, and nearly 20 times what the Indian higher education institutions spent on research collectively. Some of India’s brightest minds are amongst these students who study abroad and most of them never return back to their motherland. This causes the infamous brain-drain problem which India has suffered since independence.

Out of the 1.5 lac IITians (regarded as the topmost echelon amongst Indian students) produced since 1960, it is estimated by IIT Alumni bodies that about 65% are settled in India as in 2015. The net economic impact of the activity of these 1.5 lac IITians across the globe annually is estimated to be a staggering $1.5 Trillion which is almost 85% of the GDP of India. Much of this economic activity however happens in US and Europe benefitting nations in those continents.

Principal Dilemmas :

While framing any Education Policy, there are some fundamental dilemmas which must be resolved by any Govt. clearly. Else, the confusion on these aspects is mirrored on to all elements of the Education Policy and defeats the very objectives of such a policy. The principal dilemmas are as under :
1) Should Education be a not-for-profit sector or for-profit sector ?

2) What must be the divisions of power between Central & State Governments as concerns Education sector ?

3) What must be the level of autonomy and powers between the Government and Private players as concerns Education sector ?

Ambiguity, sloppiness in implementation and Ad-hocism as concerns the above 3 are the major reasons why the Education sector in India is in a terrible state despite 70 years of Independence.

However, if the Union Govt of India taking into confidence the incumbent State Govts frames a clear Education Policy 2016 keeping in mind the current politico-socio-cultural-economic trends across the globe, a lot of damage done so far in the past 70 years can be repaired and a refreshing lease of energy can be inducted into the critical Education sector which can potentially make or break India’s tryst with destiny to become a superpower.

A possible resolution of the 3 dilemmas :

I would firmly advocate clarity to the most minute details on all the 3 dilemmas irrespective of what stand the Govt. takes on each. However, based on my understanding on the functioning of the Education sector, I would like to propose the following resolutions to the 3 dilemmas given the current global and national socio-cultural-economic scenario.

Dilemma 1 : School Education must be not-for-profit and Higher Education may be for-profit ! This means that private senior colleges shall pay taxes to the Govt. Let us not forget that the fees paid by students for Higher education is actually an investment with a clear Return of Investment calculation in terms of salaries that they are likely to get. Hence, the commercial angle is inextricably entwined to the cause of Higher education and hence one must not fear the “for-profit” paradigm. In practice, the not-for-profit paradigm in higher education nurtures many unfair practices and is hypocritical or pseudo-socialist by its very design.

Dilemma 2 : School Education must be under State Govt. only and Higher Education must be under Central Govt only. The tasks of providing Rankings to senior colleges, everything about ENTRANCE & EXIT exams, designing curriculum for Maths & Science from Std.1-12 must be with Central Govt.  The State Govts can introduce elements in the school curriculum which instill a sense of pride in students for the nation and their State and also create harmony and respect for all religions and cultures in minds of students.

Dilemma 3 : Govt. and private sector must run the school education sector as per the norms laid by the State Government. But Higher education must be left mostly for the Private sector (including Foreign Univs). However, norms for giving admissions (Entrance exams), granting degrees (Exit exams), Rankings of colleges and maximum fees chargeable shall be in the hands of the Govt. The Central Govt. must however run 10 model colleges for each professional course to set the fees and quality standards for private colleges and foreign Univs operating in India. The Govt. must play the role of a facilitator in Higher education and not get embroiled in running too many colleges. Instead, the Govt. must help students to finance their higher education by energising the Education Loans market in India and also provide scholarship schemes to meritorious students. A vibrant Higher education system can attract foreign students too in a big way.

The above represent my views on the 3 dilemmas which may have their pros and cons. The Govt. must invite experts and evolve a clear resolution to the 3 dilemmas. If these 3 prickly dilemmas are resolved with black and white policies leaving negligible grey areas, a lot of positive momentum and exuberance will dawn in the Education sector.

HIGH IMPACT ACTION POINTS for NEW EDUCATION POLICY 2016

There are 7 aspects which merit attention in overhauling the entire Education system of the nation viz. Ideological, Academic, Legal, Administrative, Financial, Infra-Logistical and Technological. Any change suggested will have its repercussions on all these 7 aspects.

The 5 suggestions which are given in this article below can have very high impact on the edu-scape of the nation and will need work to be done on all 7 aspects which the Govt. machinery is adept at doing. So I will not discuss the details of the 7 aspects in this article but shall make the suggestions which are essentially policy decisions. Secondly, there are 3 principal objectives in the Education sector viz. Access, Equity and Quality.

The Govt and private sector are doing their bit in improving access by starting huge number of schools and colleges across the country and allowing poor students into private schools via RTE (minority schools must not be exempt of RTE though). The obnoxious License Raj system in Education needs to end and the process of starting a new educational institution must be liberalised of the stringent rules and also simplified so that private entities without political blessings shall be emboldened to start new educational institutes. The Govt. must also encourage the formation of Online Universities and private MOOCS courses which can be authorised to grant certifications and degrees.

The challenge of Equity is complex and is evolving with different types of reservations in place. I believe that reservations policy must be based on economic backwardness as it is quantifiable. Reservations based on social backwardness (a non-quantifiable parameter) if allowed for whatever reason must be time-bound (say 10 years for a community). The other challenge to address the aspect of equity is the easy access to Education loans and edu-finance to students. Here, the Govt must take the lead and create innovative avenues for students to finance their education. Banks, Corporates, NGOs and Philanthropists can be involved in the Govt schemes to finance universal education. However, this article shall not deliberate further on the Equity aspect.

This article primarily focuses on the crucial yet often neglected Quality aspect. As concerns the crucial aspect of Quality, I wish to make 5 cogent suggestions as under :

1) The biggest challenge to revamp India’s education sector (school education as well as higher education) is the extreme paucity of good teachers. Teacher recruitment is a big scam requiring jacks and bribes. Teachers and Professors due to a lack of a feedback-oriented system have become rigid and insensitive to the teaching requirements of students. Most Indian students shall tell you that they find most lectures in their schools and colleges boring and need to join coaching classes and tuitions to develop interest, understand the content and do well in exams. 
    
     Teachers training on a massive scale have been suggested by many experts to solve this problem. However, I don’t think this solution will work on the ground as the time required to train teachers is quite long and teachers must have the mindset to change their teaching styles which is rare.
Another solution given by experts is to allow any knowledgeable person who may or may not have a B.Ed. degree or may or may not be NET / SET passed to teach in schools / colleges / universities. This is a good solution but must be augmented by a feedback system. This solution however does not guarantee that the demand-supply ratio will be benign.

Suggestion: 
The most effective solution to circumvent this huge challenge of providing good teachers in all subjects at all levels of education is by using technology. The Govt. must record lectures of charismatic teachers in all subjects from KG to PG and make these video lectures available FREE of cost to students of all schools and colleges via apps, internet, tablets and pen drives. There are over 1 lac schools in India which has only one teacher ! Making schools and colleges technologically enabled which shall show the video lectures will make the teacher’s job easy. The teacher shall maintain discipline in class when the lecture is played and shall clarify doubts and difficulties, counsel and motivate them besides making students do homework and check it. This way the quality of lecture input can be uniformised across the nation. The Govt. can have a Screening procedure to select such charismatic teachers from schools, colleges, coaching institutes and industry. Corporates, NGOs and philanthropists can be encouraged to donate funds to make schools and colleges technologically enabled so that the video lectures can be beamed in every classroom across the nation. This single step shall usher in a veritable revolution in education in India.

The MCOOS program under the SWAYAM platform of the Union Govt. is an excellent platform to launch this program.

2) India needs desperately thousands of professionals, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs in the coming years to create and sustain a vibrant economy. A culture of logical and applied thinking in India’s education system is the foundation for developing quality professionals in any field today. And a logical thinking process at school level is essentially instilled by the study of Maths and Science.
It is absolutely necessary that the policy of ONE NATION – ONE SYLLABUS – ONE TEXT BOOK must be implemented across the nation. The subjects of Languages and Social Sciences can be different for each Board. But it makes every sense to have one curriculum in Maths and Science for the entire nation. It is ok if there are two levels in Maths and Science for each Standard and students may opt for Basic Level or Advanced Level as per their aptitude.
Having a uniform syllabus across all the 30+ Boards of the nation will not create problems for students who shift their Boards during the course of their studies from Std.1-12.  If this uniform curriculum (at 2 levels) is designed by a team of professionals and the curriculum is benchmarked to prepare students on par with students in the technologically advanced nations like Israel, Russia, Germany, Japan, France, China and South Korea, this step can produce miraculous results within a decade for the nation.

3) The intersection of school education and higher education is the phenomenon of ENTRANCE exams for professional courses. There are multiple Entrance exams for a single professional course with different exam syllabus, pattern and exam fees. It is highly essential that the policy of ONE NATION – ONE EXAM must be implemented for every professional course.
The NEET has already become the Single National Entrance exam for all MBBS and BDS courses in all colleges of the nation. Likewise, a Single Entrance exam must replace all existing CETs for Engineering, Law, Pharmacy, Architecture etc. The modalities of these ENTRANCE exams may be handled by an independent overarching body like the National Testing Agency similar to the ETS in US which conducts the SAT, GRE, GMAT exams.

It is also essential that just like a Single Entrance exam, a Single National EXIT exam must also be held for critical courses like Medicine, Law, Engineering etc. There are many sub-standard Universities in the nation which dole out degrees without any credentials thus creating unemployable graduates. The EXIT exam will arrest this phenomenon.

It is quite feasible to conduct these ENTRANCE and EXIT exams in Multiple choice questions pattern in On-demand, Online formats with two attempts allowed per year per student with best performance taken. This shall considerably reduce the stress on students too !

4) Students find it extremely difficult to choose a college and field for higher education. If the Govt. makes it compulsory for every college (about 40000) to participate in the National Rankings Framework which is already in place, every college shall then be accorded a Rank and students shall find it easy to make their choice of college based on their performance in the relevant Entrance exam. This appears to be a trivial step but is a very powerful step towards ushering in quality education. This Ranking exercise shall create a healthy competition between colleges to attract more quantity and better quality of students which will naturally lead to improvement in overall quality of all colleges.

One of the parameters in the Rankings criteria must be the cumulative feedback scores of teachers in a college given by students in a confidential written manner. Another important criterion for Ranking of senior colleges must be the level of college-industry interface that is present in terms of curriculum, projects and placements.

Another related measure which the Govt. must take is to allow flexibility to the student to shift from one course to another in the first two years of undergraduate  education as most students are not clear as to which field to pursue. The level of flexibility allowed in a college must constitute another criterion for Rankings of undergraduate colleges. For example, a student who takes admission in the first year after Std.12 in Mechanical Engineering should be allowed to take courses in Law or Management before being allowed to freeze his line of course by the end of the 2nd year. There are creative solutions possible to address the multiple possibilities that a student may want to take. But having flexibility in programs is essential to channelize students into a field which they love to pursue. Currently, Indian education system (even the IITs) is very rigid and students cannot make a choice after exploring a few fields. This is grossly unfair and undergraduate programs must have flexibility over a wide spectrum of courses. The need for professional career counsellors available in all Indian educational institutes is very high.

One must keep in mind that more than 70% of Engineering students do not pursue Engineering after their graduation. Why so ?  Simply because they did not love the Engineering course ! But they realised it later in the 2nd year or 3rd year of Engineering !! Had they got flexibility in the first two years, they would have discovered the field of their choice and would have come out of the University as graduates with characteristic passion in their field of choice instead of lacklustre unemployable graduates which is the dominant situation today.

5) The Education industry (if we may call it so) in India is currently valued at $100 Billion of which $40 Billion is the coaching / tuitions industry alone which is almost like a parallel universe in Education sector ! It is indeed surprising that a phenomenon which comprises almost 40% of the Education space in terms of finance is brushed under the carpet and hardly discussed in formal Govt. policy making circles and instead is referred to in derogatory terms. The coaching industry of India is ubiquitous from KG to PG across the length and breadth of the nation. The growth of the coaching industry is the biggest proof of the failures and inadequacies of the formal education system in India. It is shocking that even after 70 years of independence despite advocating a socialistic ethos, no Govt has tried to regulate the coaching industry.

Currently, the coaching / tuition industry comes under the Finance Ministry and the Education / HRD Ministry has no jurisdiction over it.  But it is a fact that the coaching industry has an overbearing influence on the academic activities from KG to PG. Hence, certain regulatory norms on the coaching industry must be laid down by the Finance Ministry. It would be unfair on the coaching industry which is contributing hugely in terms of taxes to the Govt to be subjected to a fees regulation. But certain simple rules can be framed which every coaching entity must abide by which will regulate the industry in a big way. Some of the rules which could be used to regulate the coaching industry are :

a) Banning any advertisement in print, outdoor, electronic media as any advertisement of coaching institutes brazenly humiliates the formal education sector thereby embarrassing the Govt. as well. This rule is implemented in the US and many other developed nations. 
b) Payment of fees must be done strictly in cheque / DD and not in cash. Harsh punishment can be levied on the customer too who pays fees in cash. This will end the cash economy prevalent in the coaching industry.
c) Refund of fees for those students who wish to quit a course midway must be done on pro-rata basis till 50% of the course duration. No refund thereafter. This is a fair rule for the coaching provider and receiver.
d) No teacher who has a permanent job in formal education sector and is entitled for pension and salary as per Pay Commissions must be allowed to teach in coaching institutes. Punishment can be termination of teaching job and fine.
e) Coaching institutes shall have to mandatorily declare names and phone numbers of enrolled students and their payment details on a Govt. website as a matter of rule. The students must also simultaneously do this registration. Hence, a cross-check can naturally happen.

Alternatively, if the Govt. does not wish to regulate the coaching industry at all, then it must give formal recognition to coaching institutes (which satisfy certain clear specifications) as formal educational institutions on par with schools and colleges. So if this is done, a student shall simply register in a particular Board and give Board exams but shall not attend any lectures in any school or college. For learning purposes, the student shall depend on the coaching institute.

These 5 suggestions on FREE video lectures, uniform Maths-Science curriculum, One Nation-One Exam policy, compulsory Rankings of colleges and Coaching industry regulations, if implemented in the right spirit, can revolutionise the education sector in India and produce world-class human resources within 2 decades and catapult India into a global superpower redeeming her to the status that India enjoyed for thousands of years till about 1000 AD.

2 comments:

  1. I really like your take on the issue. I now have a clear idea on what this matter is all about..
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