Monday, May 12, 2003

Knowledge of Learning

As an ancient civilization, India knew sciences & under stood art eons ago. It could boast of some of the earliest universities and education system, unknown to mankind till that time when much of the world lived in bushes. Some of the finest minds and an array of exceptionally gifted litterateurs were distinctly Indians. Alas! Not now. In the race to a more scientific, learned & logical age, India stood still, moving by small steps when the world at large galloped like spotted gazelles, never to look back. India was left behind in something very cardinal ~ Education.

Motley of factors compound to reason this fallacy. Fundamentally, flaws exist in our school education, our higher education & the way we actually impart education. Government & bureaucracy are equally hand - in - glove.

The super-structure of a great nation is laid on its school benches. The state of Government schools in India, where most of the nation is educated, is simply put abysmal. A paltry pass, percent age of 26. Mere 100 teaching days in a year, poorly trained teachers, overcrowded .classes or classes with no benches at all (to lay foundation of a nation on). These are real stats. The dropout rate is quite high. In India, the schooling levels can get alarmingly low. Parents are dissuaded in sending their wards to school because schools go up to a certain grade & are often run-down. Although elementary education is largely free, hidden costs are many. Students abhor schools because there is no demarcation between punishment & discipline. No matter 35 million children in the age-group 6-10 are not in schools.

Apart from keeping the fees stagnant at 50 cents a month for close to fifty year, Govts in near succession have lacked a clear national educational policy. Red tape is too involved (incidentally their own children study in public schools or aboard & often cites poverty as a hurdle to illiteracy. Not with standing the fact that even the poorest of parents are keen to have their children educated. It is another matter that various barriers keep them at bay. The rot lies in the administrative inefficiency & indifference. For a change, why not grant some efficient professionals a space in our education vast lands. A degree of accountability & hard work coupled with greater results is expected of them.

A recent survey revealed that north Indian parents spend an average of little over 318 Rs/year on education expenses such as fees, basic books, slates et al to send a child to a govt. primary school. This is a major financial burden, especially for poor families with several children of ­ school-going age. The government of land would do its inhabitants a great peace of favor by increasing the level of expenditure on education from approximately 3% of GNP to 8% of GNP. More than the PM's annual musings, India needs concrete steps on the all important education front.

Another problem area is language. The constitution of India recognizes, 15 national languages but there are 227 recognized mother tongues plus dialectical variations. Regional and national language apart, the introduction of English as sort of a neutral national language is need of the hour. We can well expect an increased number of students willing to pursue higher education, as they will be well conversant with the language of science & technology. English long ceased to smack of colonialism; it is a global language now. It merits to be taught from class 1 in government schools.

A major obstacle is the allocation of funds that are available. In the past, institutions of higher learning have been supported, at the expense of primary schools, with the intention of developing homegrown talent. In effect, other countries like US, the UK etc siphon off computer software writers & engineers, leaving India to foot the education bills. Meanwhile primary schools are left wanting & those village schools, which exist, are especially handicapped with infrastructure. It never occurs to the establishment to end the subsidies to the universities, privatize higher education & let the Govt schools flourish, let the tiny classrooms have chalks & benches. Let a great nation be raised.

Sameer Bhat