Crisis in the classrooms

Cut through the hype that governments like to spin out. You then realise that India’s growth story is quite shaky. Its education related numbers (see chart) tell a very bleak story.

2015-07-27_DNA-PW-chart-criisis-in-educationOf 100 students who went in for primary education, only 51 opted for upper primary (Std VI-VIII). Of these only 28 sat for Std IX and Std X. And of these 28, barely 17 went in for higher secondary and college education.

But the shocker comes later when you realize that of the 17 hardly 4 would have passed the relevant examinations. And of these four, only one would have been considered employable as a ‘graduate’.

The remaining three would have to ‘make-do’ with jobs that graduates would normally shun. One hears of graduates becoming janitors, sweepers or worse. They will remain malcontents, who will always believe that life has been unfair to them; that despite being ‘graduates’ they have not got the jobs that befitted their educational qualifications. Few would have the courage to tell these malcontents that they got a graduation certificate that they did not deserve; that the education system has cheated them after taking away almost 15 years of their lives.

As a result, almost 75% of the money spent on higher education (almost half the funds spent on education overall) goes wasted. Unfortunately, this is what has been happening for the past few decades, and it will be wonderful if the present government can arrest further damage.

The decadence is visible everywhere. It is most noticeable in the total disregard that officials and legislators have for good school education. To cover up slipping standards, these officials point to increasing numbers. To get bigger numbers, government officials have arm-twisted teachers to go easy on evaluation (

The former education minister made matters worse with his “Right to Education” (RTE) Act which decreed that no student could be detained for any reason right upto Std VIII (

Clearly, the present government has an opportunity of transforming the destiny of this country by revamping school education. The big question is: Will it?

What is needed is that India’s planners learn to become institution builders. They must stop what some hotheads try to do.

Aware of how some of the best educational institutions are those that are run by minority managements, they have tried to demand that these institutions must be treated at par with other (non-minority) education centres. They forget that one of the reasons why these centres have remained excellent, is that they were sheltered from government interference – by using the provisions guaranteed to them under the Indian Constitution. Without such a protection, the fate of these institutions would also be the same that happened to other venerable educational institutions like the Banaras Hindu University.

Moreover, the biggest danger that the present system poses is that of making education elitist — for, of and by the rich and powerful. Instead of ‘making India’ the system could actually sow the very seeds of disintegration of this country.

Consider this: the poor quality of education imparted at schools has become so terrible, that the only children who can benefit from good education are those who are the offspring of the rich and powerful. If you are rich, you can afford a private teacher to educate your child at home. If you are powerful, you can get your child admitted to the best of educational institutes. True, there is always the possibility of a child being exceptionally bright and tenacious who can blossom despite the numbing condition of schools. But that is a rarity. An exception.

As a result, future managers will largely be those who come from affluent and powerful families. That will further exacerbate inequality in the country ( and

Thus, even though India has the demographic advantage, the education system could make it a demographic nightmare. Rotten educational standards are worsening inequality. The consequent unemployability will adversely affect economic output and even worsen poverty.

So what should the government do to make India vibrant once again?

It could do the following: First, focus on improving the quality of education at primary and secondary levels — something that was discussed last week (

Second, provide more up-to-date data on the ministry’s website. Stale data does not inspire confidence. It also prevents timely correction of bad decisions.

Third, learn from centres of excellence run by ‘minority’ managements. Don’t erode their right to manage themselves, lest the government actually destroy what is good and working in the country. Remember good education is the best way to upgrade a population.

Fourth, Let IITs, IIMs, and other centres of excellence manage themselves. The need of the hour is to salvage schools, not get distracted elsewhere.

Lastly, stop diluting entrance level norms for centres of excellence. Remember, how one IIT had to detain as many as 63 students in a class because they just couldn’t cope with studies. A laggard student pulls down other students as well, and drains the teacher. That is not very helpful for lifting the standards of education.

The present government has an opportunity to undo the damage that 70 years of education mismanagement has caused India. Good education — especially at schools — is still the best way to make India.