“Education is not a preparation for life, education is life itself.”
India has a large population of around 135 crore which is 17.74% of the total world population. This pool of human resource is invaluable. It should be provided with access to necessary skills in order to empower them to live purposeful lives and contribute to the economy. Most developed countries have reached where they are today because they understood the importance of education and literacy. The lack of proper education is the root cause of many problems in India. In this article, I discuss some of the policies implemented by the Government of India in order to improve the quality and the reach of education in the country.
The National Literacy Mission, 1988 had brought about the highest increase in literacy in any decade. Eradication of illiteracy has been a major concern of the government since Independence. India’s education system is divided into different levels such as pre-primary level, primary level, elementary education, secondary education, undergraduate level and postgraduate level.
India is committed to the goal of universal elementary education for all children. This goal is part of the Education for All (EFA) goals adopted at the World Education Forum, Dakar in April 2000. Another programme intended for enlargement and growth of primary education is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. The aim of this flagship program was to attain universalization of primary schooling at an acceptable level by 2010. SSA is being implemented in partnership with State Governments to cover the entire country and address the needs of 192 million children in 1.2 million habitations. The present rules of SSA have been modified recently by putting into practice the “Right of Children to free and Compulsory Education” which has been enforced from April 1, 2010 onwards.
The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan is a flagship programme in secondary education, launched in 2009 for universalising access to secondary education and improving its quality, while ensuring equity. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Schools Scheme was launched in December, 2004 to provide opportunities to build their capacity on ICT skills.
India’s higher education system is the third largest in the world, after China and the United States. The main governing body at the tertiary level is the University Grants Commission (UGC), which enforces its standards, advises the government, and helps coordinate between the centre and the state. Important policy initiatives in higher education are programmes for general development of universities and colleges, special grants for the construction of hostels for women, scholarships to students, scheme to provide interest subsidy on educational loans for professional courses to ensure that nobody is denied professional education because he or she is poor and making interventions to attract and retain talent in the teaching profession in the higher and technical education. Some schemes were launched especially for women. A prominent scheme was Saakshar Bharat which was launched in 2009 aiming to accelerate adult education, especially for women in the age group of 15 years and above. Its target was to raise literacy rate to 80% by 2012 and reduce gender gap to half in the same period.
To provide financial assistance to meritorious students from weaker section for pursuing higher studies and professional courses, the Central Sector Scholarship Scheme has been started for College and University Students. A new Central Scheme has been launched to provide full interest subsidy during the period of moratorium on educational loans for students belonging to economically weaker section. In addition, schemes like Mid-day Meal Schemes have also been lunched in order to augment infrastructure and enhance the quality of education. The MDMS provides nutritional support to children from class I through VIII.
In spite of having a plethora of well targeted schemes, India is falling behind in converting its human resource into human capital due to a number of reasons. Massive gaps exist in the system due to shortage of resources and lack of political will. High pupil to teacher ratios, shortage of infrastructure, large dropouts and poor level of teacher training work together to demolish all efforts made in this direction. If the number of dropouts is not controlled soon enough, our country will end up with two-thirds of its population lacking minimum education. There is an urgent need to reduce the number of students per classroom and enormously increase the number of teachers. Large resources should be invested in school buildings and in the preparation and distribution of educational materials. The opportunities for higher education, in terms of the number of places in universities, are simply not adequate, in relation to our needs. The objectives of reform and change, in our higher education system, must be expansion, excellence and inclusion. The higher education system needs a massive expansion of opportunities which would enable India to attain a higher Gross Enrolment Ratio. Promotion of research and development, improvement in employability of trained graduates, redefining elements of vocational education are some other spheres which must be kept in mind while instituting the reforms. The female education system in India is riddled with the problems of inadequate school facilities (such as sanitary facilities), shortage of female teachers and gender bias in curriculum (majority of the female characters being depicted as weak and helpless).
The nation should strive towards total health of children, education will follow. Education for the masses is a massive task. It would need a single minded focus of the State, to implement this programme in a country, which is the 7th largest in the world in terms of size and the 2nd most populated of all. Reform in education is a cultural, political, financial and administrative challenge. The children of today are to be the citizens of tomorrow. Hence, we must traverse this difficult path of revamping the education system of this country in order to protect her future.