I believe that education is one of the most important factors contributing to a country’s development. Education can weed out or scale down problems such as poverty, crime, communalism and suppression of freedom. So, I was excited when the Indian HRD minister (Kapil Sibal) recently announced that he was reforming the education system in India as this was a long time coming.

Kapil Sibal’s mantra of “expansion, inclusion and excellence” along with his announcement of a few reforms such as optional Class 10 board exams, accreditation agencies for schools, free education and private sector involvement in primary learning is certainly a step in the right direction and if such reforms are implemented with passion and perseverance, then they will contribute towards giant strides along the road to India’s development.

You may wonder “Does India really need to overhaul its education system? After all, aren’t most of the IT jobs being offshored to India? Isn’t the gruelling Indian education system getting the best out of kids?”. Well, I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Kapil Sibal on the dire need to reform India’s education system as I believe the current Indian education system has several inadequacies, some of which are listed below:

  • All read, all forget: A famous proverb “When you read, you forget; when you see, you remember; when you do, you understand” explains why the current education system churns out theoreticians, rather than students with practical know-how. India’s schools (especially state schools) focus almost entirely on theory. Students will read pages and pages about an electric motor without even seeing one. Students typically read, learn by rote and purge out everything during an exam with the primary aim of securing the highest rank they can. No wonder then, that India is the world’s largest IT back office with loads of hard-working (not necessarily smart-working) software professionals.
  • Unhealthy competition: Obtaining the first rank in class is more important to a student’s parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and even the family dog than it is to the student. A huge amount of pressure is placed on the young shoulders of a student to cope and this is where many parents tend to be unreasonable (perhaps because they feel that if their kid cannot become a doctor or an engineer, the kid is a failure). This leads to stiff competition for every mark squeezed out of an exam. Students and their parents tend to believe that a student who scores 100% in a one-off Math exam is better in Math than a student who scores 99%.
  • Quality of teaching: While there are good teachers in many Indian schools, I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar that a majority of teachers in Indian schools are simply not good enough to impart education. Private schools are run like capitalist businesses wherein the primary focus is on huge revenues from school fees and donations, rather than on providing an excellent education to its students. As a matter of fact, several schools employ young men/women who’ve just graduated from an Arts/Sciences college, as teachers without any formal training in teaching. They do this so that they can pay such teachers small salaries and maximize profits. In the end, it’s the students that suffer with a poor quality of education. And that’s why tutorials are thriving businesses in India!
  • Corruption: Corrupt practices such as teachers accepting bribes to pass students, leaking of question papers, subjective evaluation, etc. are quite rampant in many schools.
  • Poor Infrastructure: When some schools (especially outside cities) don’t have enough money to buy adequate furniture for classrooms, computers would be a dream for them. In order to provide all kids with an equal opportunity to good education, all schools must be provided with at least the minimum required infrastructure to impart a good education.
  • Sporadic evaluation: Most Indian schools have 3 periods of examination in an academic year – quarterly, half-yearly and final. This method of evaluation means that students are given only 3 opportunities to prove themselves in an academic year. Also, all the cramming for exams is concentrated in those 3 periods.

 

Now, for some suggestions (apart from Kapil Sibal’s reforms):

  • Lab Classes and Projects: The structure of the subjects being taught in most Indian schools must be radically changed. Rather than pertaining all evaluation to a text book, I believe certain percentage of evaluation (~ 25%) must be assigned to projects/lab classes. Given the ubiquitous www and the wealth of easily accessible information, students must be encouraged from an early age to do some research on their own, present their views on a topic, debate with others, provide a critical review, etc. Schools need to provide a well-rounded knowledge to students. Also, students must be encouraged to be innovative and creative.
  • Continuous evaluation and Grading: Mr. Kapil Sibal mentioned the need for “continuous, comprehensive evaluation” and I’m glad he realizes that need. I have great admiration for the evaluation mechanism followed in my alma mater. In every academic semester, we had no evaluation in the first month, perhaps to cool off, go dating and prepare to get screwed (I mean by the evaluation to follow). After the cool off period, we would have 3 tests, 1 quiz and 1 comprehensive examination (sum total of 100 marks) for every course such that we would have a couple of evaluations every week (given that we typically had 5-7 courses a semester). This form on continuous evaluation ensured that every evaluation counted and there wasn’t much time to fool around (no idea how some of us found time!). At the end of the semester, every student would be graded (not ranked) for a course based on his/her performance relative to the others who took that course and based on the grades in all courses, a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) would be calculated. This evaluation system used by my alma mater was modelled on the system widely used in American colleges. Such an evaluation system would greatly benefit the Indian schools.
  • Education Boards: For any education reforms to work, there cannot be too many education standards out there. Currently, there are several education boards such as ICSE, CBSE, State, Matriculation, Anglo-Indian, SSLC, etc. Education boards must be consolidated to enable the reforms have a far-reaching effect.

 

Of course, India has some of the best brains in the world making significant contributions to Science, Technology and other disciplines, but then most of these brains have left India for better education and more opportunities in developed nations like the USA. A better education system, better facilities and more opportunities can stem this brain drain.

Revamping the education system in India is, by no stretch of the imagination, an easy task. However, Kapil Sibal has made a promising start and is heading in the correct direction.

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