The treatment of school education in a holistic manner and improving school effectiveness in terms of equal opportunities for schooling and learning outcomes has been the aspiration of all and multiple challenges are faced to maintain and provide proper education. On the occasion of India@75: Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, as part of its series- the State of Education- #EducationDialogue, #IMPRI Center for ICT for Development (CICTD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organised a special deliberation on The State of School Education In India with Prof Muchkund Dubey, who is the President of the Council for Social Development, New Delhi. The moderator for the event, Dr Simi Mehta CEO and Editorial Director of the IMPRI.
The chair of the event was Prof Jandhyala B.G. Tilak, an Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) National Fellow, the Distinguished Professor at the Council for Social Development, New Delhi and also a Former Professor & Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration. The esteemed discussants for the event were Prof Poonam Batra, Professor of Education, Co-Investigator with TESF India and formerly associated with the Central Institute of Education, University of Delhi; Dr Manish Jain, Associate Professor at the School of Education Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi; Dr Hem Broker, an Assistant Professor of the Department of Social Work at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Challenges in School Education
Gross enrollment ratios and net enrollment ratios are increasing in elementary education, primary education, and upper primary education as well. According to the official statistics, the net enrollment ratio in elementary education is higher than 90 per cent based on which, it is considered that universalization of education is completed. Though elementary education is nearly universalized, the quality of education is at a depressingly low level in almost the entire country irrespective of area (rural and urban), gender, caste or class. The tentative goals of universalising secondary education along with universal elementary education are also aspired. However, there is a serious problem of teacher shortage which is an important reason for perhaps the low quality of education hence, low levels of output as well.
The training of teachers is in fact an issue which has to be taken in a much more serious way. One of the significant challenges is that the public expenditures on school education or the entire education have not significantly increased over the years, in fact for some years the relative proportions have declined as a proportion of total government expenditure both at the centre and state levels. In the national education policy, some serious actions and implementations are already being done but the restructuring of the whole school system, with foundational and basic literacy taking grades from one level to the other, is missing.
The question that needed to be asked is how far this restructuring of the school system again would be an efficient proposal and would promote enrollments, quality and equity in education which should be the focus. Prof Poonam Batra mentions that the gender gap continues to hover around 17 per cent and even the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) levels of education are anywhere between 7% to 14% below that of the upper class. The analysis done about five years ago for a book that has been published by orient long band on inequality and education says that bullets are likely to take more than seven decades to come anywhere near the levels of higher education of the general population. This demonstrates our promises in terms of education universalization in a free India and it’s quite clear that educational inequality has manifested in many different ways in the country which needed to be taken into account.
Right to Education
According to Right to Education (RTE) norms, India requires 8.3 million teachers to cater to 25 million elementary and secondary school children in 1.5 million schools. These figures are daunting because not only is there a shortage of teachers but also most employed teachers are contractual in nature. There are 1.13 million contractual teachers in Indian schools and largely these are women who show a trend of feminization, which is largely still an urban phenomenon. But it shows how more and more women are being drawn into lesser-paid teaching jobs which means the provision of cheap labour is filled by women. These are the questions of educational inequality and also of the larger system which impacts our society. If we look at the 1950’s figures, there were 18 women for every 100 men teachers and now, according to 2009’s figures, there are 75 women for every 200 men teachers; this demonstrates that the schools are sites of discrimination.
This kind of unethical landscape has been now mediated more and more through global trends of commercialization, privatisation and internationalisation. A lot of questions about accountability and surveillance of teachers have actually become part of what one would call technocratic regimes. These are the regimes that have become the centre of education. This was happening specifically during the pandemic when teachers had a little bit of elbow space in the classroom to exercise little agency. But this space got lost beause teachers in the Delhi government schools were instructed not to talk to their students unless it was through video links. The worksheets that were provided to teachers were just passed on through WhatsApp groups to children, making them lose out the agency they used to exercise earlier.
Even teachers were surveilled to such an extent that private schools had different kinds of problems in comparison to government schools. Right to equitable and quality education is a fundamental right, at least at the elementary level; we have a central legislation but RTE has been subject to very serious amendments. These three amendments have already diluted the act- whether it’s the no detention policy or extension of teacher qualifications or the most skating attack on the RTE- whereby the inclusion of learning outcomes and converting the Right to Education into the Right to Learning means reducing education to just learning, which is not what education is all about. The state of education system in the country is about developing citizens who are active and can question not only government policy but even question and assert their and others rights; but our education is reduced to learning mere skills. Niti Ayog moved on with its policy of school mergers but it is about rationalisation- which actually is called rationalisation because school mergers are actually taking away the rights that the government have given to our children through 1986 policy.
Solutions to the Challenges
The solution could be the establishment of common school system which was to reduce these 13 categories into three categories- based on rationality of providing education and not how they originated; so, number must be reduced rather than being further through infrared. There is no doubt about that if someone really want to have a move towards a common school system. The schools should be more developed at the local level and the state government should oversee its progress, fund the local governments, and prioritise the maintenance of these schools at local level.
Acknowledgement: Khushi Agrawal is a research intern at IMPRI.